If you’re a comic geek that has been keeping up the social media about Marvel’s latest TV series on Netflix, “Iron Fist”, you know that there has been a lot of chatter. A lot of it has been about the casting of Finn Jones who plays Danny Rand a.k.a. the Iron Fist. Buzzfeed had recently published an article about Finn Jones responding to the “white savior” persona that some fans are either tired of seeing or are against because it can be identified as “white washing”. I thought Finn Jones response was good and am glad to read that the story reflects contemporary times and that it doesn’t follow through with the stereotypes.
I myself have grown up as a comic geek or superhero geek in general. I have been enjoying the Marvel Cinematic Universe and I think they’ve done a great job in piecing together an entertaining experience with action and storylines amongst TV and movies. I’ve kept up with quite a bit of the social media posts on Iron Fist and some responses have some valid points and substance to it, while other posts lead to cursing and ranting about how things have always been that way and goes out of scope of what the topic is.
As an Asian-American comic book fan, I would’ve liked to see an Asian-American in the role of Iron Fist. Not an Asian immigrant but an Asian-American. I’ll get into it on why later in this post. Now, I know that Iron Fist has been Caucasian in the books but I also know that Marvel has been publishing a lot of refreshed characters to meet equal opportunity quotas, figuratively speaking. For example, Nick Fury who is portrayed by Samuel L. Jackson used to be Caucasian in the books and later became Black-American. The Incredible Hulk is now a Korean-American while you have a huge Spider-Man multi-universe with a hispanic Spider-Man, named Miles Morales and an Asian-American woman, Cindy Moon. I felt some of this worked well and I think Sam Jackson is a great actor and if casting another ethnicity, doesn’t hamper the story and fits the narrative and writers can make the character more compelling, then why not? But I also believe that producers and writers shouldn’t be forced to change the color, race or ethnicity for the sake of it either. It should serve a purpose but should be devised in a way that makes it interesting or fits the story and goal of what you’re trying to accomplish.
Many of the comic book characters you see today, were created many years ago so the comics will usually reflect those times. It would be nice for writers to create new characters instead of recycling older characters but I can see how it can be challenging to create a whole new character when nowadays, no idea is original, there’s really nothing new under the Sun. But if we were to look back at the times when a lot of comic book characters were created, other ethnicities didn’t have much representation back then like you see nowadays. So, often you’ll see a lot of Caucasian male actors in the lead roles which is nothing wrong with that but should it HAVE to be that way?
Now, back to the reason I would’ve liked to see Iron Fist as an Asian-American. In the books, it’s pretty evident that a privileged Caucasian male goes to Asia to learn martial arts and comes back to the United States and becomes a superhero. This story sounds very similar to a lot of movies and TV shows in Hollywood. The character was published in 1974 during the Kung Fu boom. Now, if you were to say Bruce Lee didn’t have an influence on Iron Fist, I think you’d be mistaken as he really pioneered martial arts in film with his first major feature in 1971 and he contributed heavily towards its popularity with “Enter the Dragon”. Although, the creators may state that they had an idea for an a martial arts superhero before the Bruce Lee movies, the Kung Fu boom really helped push it forward. To this day, Bruce Lee has made the most impact in Hollywood, not to say that Jet Li, Chow Yun Fat and Donnie Yen didn’t have an impact as I’m a fan of them as well.
In response, to those that fans that write, “Danny Rand has always been Caucasian in the comic books.” Yeah true, but I believe an Asian-American would’ve worked too because there’s much story to tell from that world. I think a lot of people that are in less diverse locations, do not have an eclectic group of friends from other countries, and those that are not aware of Asian culture or the upbringing of Asian ethnicities will stand by this statement. I, for one, was born in Seoul, Korea but raised in the U.S. since I was an infant, so it would’ve been cool to see more Asian superheroes growing up. I think media has a strong effect on how you perceive things and when people around you perceive it the same way, it starts becoming true to you as well and you can become a product of your own environment. I have always been an open-minded individual wanting to see the world and I don’t feel that things should always have to be a certain way. If this was the case, we wouldn’t have the United States and we’d still be paying high tea taxes to the British and we’d still have slavery. As an Asian-American, I felt like I grew up very out of touch with my culture because of what I was surrounded by. It was mostly people that were Caucasian or Black. It wasn’t until I went to a diverse university that I was able to be exposed to more cultures. In addition, I am an adoptee who is a minority, I don’t think many people will have a clue what that is like as it can tack on more issues to identity crisis. But I won’t get into identity crisis as this is an ongoing issue amongst minority races with immigrant parents and is another beast to discuss about. Why not tell a compelling story about an Asian-American adoptee that’s trying to find his birth family and his roots and becomes immersed into a mystical universe of martial arts? I think many people don’t realize there were over 250,000 adoptees that were shipped out of Korea. I can only imagine how many have been adopted in other countries.
In response to fans saying, “Why should Marvel change the character’s ethnicity for the sake of changing it?” I agree, it shouldn’t be for the sake of changing it to make it diverse without having a purpose. Like I mentioned before, many people are not educated on Asian-American topics because it doesn’t directly apply to them if they are not Asian themselves. We’re still tackling racial issues after so many years, so I don’t find that so surprising. Asian-American males specifically are not very represented in Hollywood. Can you name one Asian male superhero? Or even the last time he got the girl? How many times can you name a Caucasian actor getting the girl on screen? I’m thankful we had Steve Yeun on The Walking Dead and have Daniel Dae Kim on Hawaii Five-O or even John Cho and Kal Penn on Harold and Kumar. I was happy to see such a diverse cast with Star Wars: Rogue One. Now, I agree, that maybe new characters should be introduced but if you can change a character’s race on one of the thousands of existing characters to inspire a generation of minority kids then I say it serves a great purpose. I think the bigger purpose is to show that America isn’t only Caucasian people but it is a very colorful spectrum of people from all over the globe.