"Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings," which is set to make history this weekend as Marvel's first Asian-led superhero movie, has some strong ties to San Diego.
Director Destin Daniel Cretton got his start making movies as an undergraduate at Point Loma Nazarene University, then as a graduate student at San Diego State University.
"I think my time in San Diego was very grounding," Cretton said. "I was not only able to be exposed to the tools and experiences that allowed me to figure out how to direct actors, how to frame a shot, but I was also really grounded by life there."
During his time in San Diego, Cretton worked at a group home for at-risk youth and taught film and video production classes at Canyon Crest Academy.
"All of those experiences, I think, for me, grounded me in the human experience, and those are the types of themes and characters that I continue to like to explore," Cretton said.
In "Shang-Chi," which Cretton co-wrote with David Callaham, the writer/director said it was important to him to be true to the characters and show all the sides of their cultural backgrounds.
"When I saw that they wanted to tell that same story, that’s when I felt like, 'OK, I can do this,; " Cretton said.
Dean Nelson, Cretton's former writing professor at PLNU, said Cretton always had something special.
"Destin got my attention right away as a student because he wrote such interesting stories," Nelson said. "He was so shy and unassuming, that then to see him at this level – it just shows you can be your authentic self and really do well in this world."
The importance of maintaining that sense of self is a lesson Cretton passed on to his students at Canyon Crest Academy.
Cretton's former student Jason Segal said Cretton helped shape him as an artist.
"He was like, 'Look, tell your own stories, tell it from the heart,' you know, be sincere about your stories," Segal said. "Don’t go looking elsewhere, especially when you’re a young filmmaker, and I’ve definitely stuck with that."
Cretton hasn't forgotten his San Diego ties. He still keeps in touch with both Nelson and Segal, and speaks to classes here from time to time.
"We’re really proud of him," Nelson said. "He’s awesome."