Why is it so important for Marvel’s Iron Fist to be white?

10.11.16 10 months ago

The other day I spoke on the “white savior” trope as it pertains to Matt Damon's new film The Great Wall, but the same conversation has been going on around Marvel's next Netflix series Iron Fist.

First of all, it's important to note no one is saying Danny Rand wasn't created as a Caucasian character back in 1974 – most of us were just hoping for an update to the classic story that would allow for some much-needed diversification on screen and give representation to folks who don't normally see themselves there. “Iron Fist” is also a mantle that's been held by many different characters through the years.

Also important to note, while not everyone was pushing for it, fans were campaigning for an Asian-American to be cast with the hashtag #AAIronFist long before Marvel decided on an actor. We got our first trailer for Iron Fist our of New York Comic Con, but recently, actor Lewis Tan (who plays the villain Zhou Cheng in Iron Fist) revealed he almost played Danny in the show.

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“I don”t see male leading roles for Asians. The thing is, I want to be the lead, the hero, the love interest character,” the actor has previously told His Style Diary. “I know kung fu, I”ve been doing martial arts for 15 years, and I love it. But I think there are these expectations. These are the roles they are comfortable with Asians doing. They aren”t comfortable in seeing you in lead roles– the ones I want.”

At NYCC Buzzfeed decided to ask Jeph Loeb, Marvel”s Executive Vice President Of Television, if they ever considered casting an actor of Asian descent for the role.

“To answer that, just really flat out, the way the story is told and when people see the story, the importance of Danny as an outsider is something that is a theme that runs throughout the entire show,” he said. “So I think once they see it, they”ll understand why the story is told the way it”s told.”

Fans have heard “wait and see” a lot and it doesn't always equal a happy resolution to serious concerns. Also, Danny can be something other than Caucasian and still be a fish out of water. The phrase simply means someone who's uncomfortable in their situation or surroundings, which many other ethnicities could be.

Comic creator Rob Liefeld waded into these same waters today. “I simply don't understand this. Danny Rand has always been portrayed as blond-haired, Caucasian, fish out of water,” he wrote, later adding, “It's unnecessary to alter a character after 40 years for PC reasons. Period.”

Agree to disagree on that, I guess. One person's “politically correct” is another's “treating people with respect.”

Nostalgia plays a big part in fans getting defensive over changes in casting (though it's interesting to note we didn't see this kind of reaction to Thor's origins being altered for his film). To say you're against it because you grew up with the character one way and that's how you would prefer for it to be adapted is one thing. Ignoring the more important reasons others may want a change is another.

But not everyone is against the change. DC Comics writer Gail Simone came down on the other side tweeting, “Iron Fist might be my favorite Marvel character. I went and bought the big IF omnibus. There's NOTHING HERE that says he has to be white.”

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ComicBook.com reports speaking to Jones about the critiques as well this week:

“What I would say to that is, people should wait, and watch the show before they pass judgment,” he said. “We're working with Netflix and Marvel, two of the most leading entertainment companies in the world right now. They know exactly what they're doing.”

“The comic books were written in the '70s. 1970s was a very different world to 2016, and we're going to reflect that. We have an incredibly diverse cast; incredibly talented. What I would say to that is, wait until you've seen the show, and then pass judgment, before you make comment, because people will be very, very, very pleasantly surprised with what we're doing in the show.”

Diversity at Marvel Comics and Marvel Studios has been a major topic for several years now. Most notably the discussion around the casting of the Ancient One for Doctor Strange. Something tells me we'll be talking about this for the foreseeable future. Why? It's important.

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