It Actually Really, Really Sucks That TV's Iron Fist Is White

It Actually Really, Really Sucks That TV's Iron Fist Is White

Last week, white actor Finn Jones (best known as Loras Tyrell on Game of Thrones) was cast as Danny Rand, the white comic book character who becomes Marvel's martial arts superhero Iron Fist. In terms of bringing the original character to life on screen, it was an accurate choice. But for many it was an upsetting choice, and guess what? They have every right to feel that way.

Those people who know why they are upset, and angry, and disappointed need no justification for the way they feel, especially from me. But I have seen far too many people call Marvel's Iron Fist casting decision a "damned if they do, damned if they don't" situation, where they're weighing both sides as if they were equally valid.

They aren't. Yes, it's true that the comics character Iron Fist is white, and thus it is indeed technically accurate for a white guy to play the role on TV. But technical accuracy does not equate "the right thing", for lack of a better term. Because as with so many superheroes, there is nothing about the character of Iron Fist that requires him to be played by a white person. Nothing. It is fundamental to no aspect of his personality, his origin, his powers.

In fact, Iron Fist is unique among Marvel's other superheroes that have made the leap to live-action in that making him, say, an Asian-American would have unequivocally improved him. Why? Because Iron Fist never should have been white in the first place.

Ever since his comics debut in 1974, Danny Rand has been a rich white kid who happens across the mystical city of K'un L'un, gets taught martial arts, and of course turns out to be better at them than any of the natives. His preternatural talent allows him to defeat the dragon Shou-Lun, which gives him the mystic power of the Iron Fist — at which point Danny immediately leaves to be a superhero in America, because why would he stick around in K'un L'un?

His character was, and is, an appropriation of Asian culture — no different from American Ninja, Shogun, The Karate Kid, The Last Samurai, and all the other movies/comics/stories where a white guy discovers a foreign culture, learns its ways, and becomes better at it than the people born into it. It is both crappy and a cliché, and one that still gets used too often.

This obviously wasn't considered a problem in the '70s, but it sure as hell is a problem now. And it would have been easily rectified by casting an Asian-American (or even an Asian non-American) in the role of Danny Rand. How perfect would it be if Danny Rand was looking to reclaim his Asian heritage, instead of taking it from others? Besides being more culturally sensitive, it's narratively much more powerful if the character Danny Rand has an authentic bond with the setting of his origin story, as opposed to merely co-opting it. So not only would a non-white Iron Fist have increased diversity and fixed an problem inherent in the character, but this change could have arguably made Iron Fist a better character.

So let's not pretend that Marvel faced with an impossible dilemma here. Marvel wasn't "damned if they did, damned if they didn't". The company had the chance to increase the diversity of its live-action universe and its multitude of media projects, and to rectify a problematic character created to co-opt another culture. There was an opportunity here, and you absolutely shouldn't feel bad for Marvel that the company didn't take it. Marvel also had the chance to cast a non-white actor to play Dr Strange, because there was literally no reason his character needed to be white. (In fact, there's an argument to be made that the comic book Strange actually was Asian, since he was portrayed as such by luminary comic artists like Steve Ditko.) Marvel passed on that opportunity, too.

Why? Besides racists, there's only one group of people who had an emotional stake in keeping Danny Rand a white guy, and that's the small group of die-hard Iron Fist fans for whom changing anything would be a betrayal of the highest order. However much they might have complained, they would all have absolutely watched an Iron Fist TV show anyway — and let's not pretend that Marvel is in the business of satisfying fans over mass audiences. There's no way Finn Jones was cast solely to appease comic fans. Instead I'm sure Marvel thought that a white star would attract the widest audience. And maybe Marvel is correct in this.

But again, that doesn't mean it's the right thing. If Marvel Studios was actually committed to diversity — really committed, not just "taking 10 full years to give us a movie with a non-white lead, and god knows how much longer for a movie with a woman as the star" committed — then it would take at least one of the multitude of additional opportunities it's had to increase its diversity.

Diversity isn't a quota, or it shouldn't be. It's 2016. Diversity should be the goal. It something to companies like Marvel to constantly consider and to strive for, and for us fans to ask for.

With Iron Fist, Marvel had an opportunity — a golden opportunity — not only to increase the diversity that it claims is so important, but to update a character who was created in a less sensitive time to one who makes sense in the 21st century, too. It chose not to take that opportunity — the easiest, most natural opportunity that Marvel Studios will likely ever have to recast one of its infinite stock of white male heroes as someone else. It chose to perpetuate the problem, instead of helping to fix it.

So don't feel bad for Marvel and its "impossible choice". There was very clearly a right choice here, and Marvel didn't make it. Be upset. Let them know. And don't let them forget it.


Comments

    "omg this is just pandering this is awful sjw sjw /wrists"

    "omg marvel is anti-white!111!!!1"

    "omg because of course the asian guy gets cast as the martial arts master"

    they really are damned if they do and damned if they don't, if you don't see that you're very, very naive.

    Last edited 07/03/16 12:35 pm

    wwaaw.... so this is the new standard now?!?!

    "white actor Finn Jones" compared to asian actor xxxxx

    We as a society of advanced and intelligent organisms are lost... and the people like these authors are only making us dig our own grave faster.

    Last edited 07/03/16 12:58 pm

      Hollywood whitewashing is a serious issue don't get me wrong.

      I'm just not sure I see why the hatred for this decision and do agree they're in a tough spot either way.

      Personally if I was adapting it if have Danny's training be pretty incomplete, have him very much not be the best. Be a brash American who stumbled onto something he didn't understood and through his bravado he tackles a challenge he isn't ready for.

      By luck more than skill he triumphs by the skin of his teeth and gets his superpower... He then panics and flees back to America. Where he finds himself compelled to use his new abilities to help people, it seems like he isn't going to be a selfish douche till he tries to start charging people.

      Yada yada, eventually as he faces challenges he refocuses on his training or gets more in order to overcome his failings. That way the theme is about how contact with other cultures can improve us rather than one of appropriation.

      Now of course my idea would work with an Asian American too, I'd probably stay white to push the fish out of water aspect and try make him realise that world is so much bigger than he is.

      There's ways to do this that are appropriate, give it a chance before ripping into something based on just casting.

        And that would be a perfectly fine way to adapt Iron Fist, because you'd be doing the appropriate 'origin' for him.

          I think I'm just getting a little tired of the reading purely being that "the white man is the only one who can perfect these exotic arts" that the stories had 30 years ago instead of adapting it to a more modern version like "our culture and technology is not absolute and there's always room for improvement from other sources" that matches the characters and updates them for a modern audience without simply pretending all the racist shit didn't happen.

          It's like old looney toons cartoons having racist caricatures edited out, yeah they're pretty inappropriate these days but pretending that didn't happen is just sort of tone deaf.

        Apalling how 'white-washing' is terrible when they took nick fury and ff human torch and dumped african-americans in the roles. If anything, it wasnt the characters it was the company that saw no value in inclusiveness until it was too late. BAD MARVEL. BAD.

        How about...skin colour, religion, and culture are not race...human is race. Plead your case until i grow weary of the noises you make.

          To be fair the current Nick Fury is most likely Nick Fury JR considering Nick Fury SR was in the WWII group the Howling Commandos.

          That's not whitewashing.... Fury is a great example of altering a characters race to great effect as well.

          Whitewashing is making roles that shouldn't be white and casting white actors. Which is much more common.

          Altering racial mixes is a response to that, and though I dislike purposefully choosing it I'm all for casting blind of race and choosing the best actor for the role in most cases.

    People need to quit whining and instead of criticising studios for the choices they make with THEIR own budget, start their own studio. Remember, most of the stuff you say isn't right, you still watch.

      You know, in any marketplace (be it of ideas or of products) people have more than one way to influence what is produced. For instance you suggest that rather than complain just open our own studio and compete in order to change the market out there.
      But we can also voice our criticism and opinions in order to let content owners know what we want. That is what people are doing here, it isn’t detrimental to things, nor is it pointless; it has a place in our world today and if we didn’t have people bitching on the internet, then we wouldn’t have our Deadpool movie today.

      The jurors are obliged to look at the evidence before deciding if they are guilty.

    Marvel were screwed either way on this one. They would have received criticism regardless of the choice they made. I am certain long discussions were had.

    So you think American ninja is being racist/non diverse...... right......

    I don't see it as white guys shitting on another cultures lore and being better than them, it's about someone being an unlikely prodigy at something. If the story was about a female black englishwoman growing up in 1800's western america learning to shoot, hunt and rob banks better than anywhere else in the land, it has the same impact.

    Here's the synopsis:
    "Danny Rand has been a rich white kid who happens across the mystical city of K’un L’un, gets taught martial arts, and of course turns out to be better at them than any of the natives. His preternatural talent allows him to defeat the dragon Shou-Lun, which gives him the mystic power of the Iron Fist"

    Even in writing that the author is seething at what he sees as racist undertones. I can definitely see his point and how HE comes to his conclusions, but I do not agree with it at all. Show me something actually racist and I'll call a spade a spade, this is just grasping at straws.

      It's gotten so bad that it seems some people are actively trying their hardest to find any kind of perceived sleight against them or their culture.

    Wait what???. The dude is white in the comic books and you're upset that they cast the position to a white guy. Man that is so racist. Do white people have to feel guilty that when a movie is made, it's made with white people in it. That's so screwy it hurts. Maybe you would be more happy if the movie studios include a person that is part white, part black, part yellow, part gay, part Muslim, part Buddhist, part red, part animal and part alien for fear of alienating anyone. Good grief.

      We'll see the frightfully delusional otherkin in our films eventually.

      Last edited 07/03/16 2:33 pm

    If the character was an American boxer and was portrayed as an Asian character who travelled to the US and became the best boxer, would that still be racist?

    Honestly I can see the issues with the story line. It's quite ridiculous but at the same time, if you look up the Karate World Championships from last year, most of the winners weren't Asian. Not because of racism but because the champions happened to be from non-Asian countries.

    Add to this the fact that Marvel is already ridiculous. People fly.

    It seems like you're trying to find racism where there is none and you're asking them to completely rewrite a characters story for the sake of PC.

    If you're looking for casting mistakes turn to movies like The Last Airbender which deliberately white washed Asian characters. The racism you're looking to attack doesn't exist here.

    I think they should recast Chuck Norris with an Asian actor, what about Batman he knows martial arts. Isn't it possibly racist to say a white person couldn't be good at martial arts, or because he's a martial artist that he should be Asian. Is it sexist that a woman wasn't cast, would it have changed the basic elements of the story. -HL

    I think that progress moving forward must come in the form of new content rather than half-correcting apologetically the old properties. We have to live with the fact that good people in the past, creators, inventors, thinkers, etc. had some wrong ideas, fruit of their zeitgeist, such as subtle racism, cultural appropriation, sexism and the such which informed their creative output. I believe that we have as much right to blame them for it as we have the right to try to alter their work to fit with our modern ideas, which is, very little.

    I'm not racist at all (I'm not even white) but I think the inclusion of Idris Elba as Heimdall in the Thor movies was absurd in every possible way. Not only the original comic character was white, but the whole mythology he and the other characters in those stories were based in was as white as you can get. Forcing a person of colour in that role reeked of tokenism, of quota-filling and of keeping appearances. Imagine if they cast a white guy as Anansi in a movie based on African mythology. How bad would that be? Why is it not bad to do it the other way to satisfy a bunch of people's white guilt and self-righteousness?

    Same with Iron Fist. Why would you alter something established through decades, even if the original inception was motivated by non-ideal beliefs? It's not like Marvel has not been doing the responsible thing and creating totally new characters that are believably and honestly meant to be culturally inclusive, like Kamala Khan and Miles Morales. Let the people who have enjoyed the character of Iron Fist for years get a good interpretation without trying to group them with racists or without implying that Marvel was lazy and that the choice was an easy and automatic one.

      Imagine if they cast a white guy as Anansi in a movie based on African mythology. How bad would that be?

      Don't even need to imagine - they cast a white girl as a native American recently, queue the (justified) furor.

    The correct analysis is surprisingly simple.

    1: Danny Rand is white.
    2: Rob Bricken objects to Danny Rand being white.

    Therefore, Rob Bricken is racist.

      Correct, Rob Bricken you strange brainwashed little man.

    I think the message here is that the right choise is "anyone but a white guy", especially if the character is white. White people should no longer have roles in media at all, or in anything ever.

    This is insane. Are we going to start criticising every white male casting now for whatever reason that strikes our fancy?

    As others have mentioned, Hollywood whitewashing is definitely a problem and its important for people to advocate for equal opportunity in all aspects of society. However I think that sometimes peoples passion for this kind of thing and the access that social media provides, can deliver the equivalent of an abuse of power. Meaning that things get swung too wildly in the opposite direction without any justifiable reason.

    This doesn't add anything constructive to the conversation and only diverts attention away from legitimate whitewashing that should be criticised.

    Also I am of the belief that the issue is a cultural one and that cultural preferences determine the market for entertainment, not the other way around. So definitely keep on advocating, but be patient and ease up on the executives trying to make entertainment that is popular enough to be profitable. Instead focus on placing criticism where it is really justified and on advocating for equality so that over time cultural preferences will change and with it the need to produce entertainment for reflective of the cultural diversity in current society.

    As a fan of the character it's more important to me that the show is good and stays true to the hero than what color who is.

    While yes there are movies that are ridiculous with their white washing (some examples already posted here and a previous Gizmodo article) I don't think it should apply here.

    The reason these characters/comics are white/black is because that's where the subject content is made from; just like if you went and watched a local tv show in India or in China you aren't going to see any white actors. I will however take this opportunity to point out that if you look at both DC and Marvel the race and color of their heroes is disproportionate to the population spread on the planet. I.e. the two largest populations on Earth have the smallest representation. Once again this isn't so much a racist thing as it is a proximity thing. Writers write what they know and what they're familiar with.

    Gizmodo, why is this anti-white hate speech allowed here? I'm sick of self-righteous fake liberals invading our internet with their silly views.

    Wow. So many responses on here, so quick, and so very much against the author. I am surprised that this has garnered this much vitriol.
    Honestly I think Marvel missed a good opportunity to improve Iron Fist, and that though they may have received hate which ever way they went on the decision, there probably would have been less disagreement one way, and I would say it would have been the better way for it to go.

      It's because the article is overtly racist...
      I'm still trying to decide whether the fact that the author doesn't understand this, actually makes it worse.

        Yes but it's the 'good' and virtuous kind of racism so beloved of the unhinged PC Left today.

      They stuck to the source material, I don't think they should be criticised for that?

    Shang chi will be in this show too. He's Chinese.

      But he MUST be played by a Latino!

        Nah, make them all extremely black Africans.

    Was there this much outrage when a white woman was cast as Jessica Jones? I don't remember there being any problems with it.

    Suddenly "martial arts" means the character has to be Asian? Seems like a stereotype to me.

    Are we supposed to be outraged that Captain Boomerang is being played by a white guy instead of an aboriginal person in Suicide Squad?

      To be fair.....they did cast an Australian to play Captain Boomerang.

        But not an aboriginal. That's racist. It's cultural appropriation. It's offensive!

        (Don't actually care)

    No. Stop. The studio is portraying someone else s story, so stop with the whole debate. People have written and drawn this before, so they have a fair idea. Don't change an author's vision.

    What foolishness. "Iron Fist never should have been white in the first place."

    No. A creator owes the public nothing. NOTHING. If members of the public don't like a particular creation, they can find one they do like, or make their own. This modern conceit that creators somehow owe representation of particular groups in their creations is ridiculous, and inverts (perverts, even) the relationship between the artist and the consumer of art.

    Only a minority is capable of understanding this issue well enough to write about it in a non-problematic way. Rob Bricken, the whiny and entitled little cracker, should resign immediately as a Gizmodo columnist and give his position to an Asian, preferably female.

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