Iron Fist just launched its first season on Netflix March 17th and it seems all sorts of different nerds, geeks, SJW, comic fans, and ordinary citizens are up in arms.
I’ll start by quoting my bud Mikey Wood from a Facebook post:
Danny Rand’s casting is the Kobayashi Maru of casting choices.
The character is a white American. He’s Kung Fu Batman. He’s as much a product of the 70’s as disco, bell bottoms, and soft rock. The American Kung Fu master is to the 70’s as the “gaijin ninja” is to the 80’s. Much like the character of Luke Cage (the Power Man in POWER MAN AND IRON FIST) the character is a stereotype. A trope. In the case of Luke Cage they embraced the character’s blaxploitation roots in the TV series and it worked.
But, back to Iron Fist…
So, they cast him American (well, British) and people complained that it was a wasted opportunity to cast an Asian actor, which may very well be true.
However, I posit that, had they cast an Asian actor, they would have had complaining on multiple fronts: the fanboys and internet racists (saying “but he’s not Asian in the comics” and “YOU PEOPLE ARE RUINING EVERYTHING WITH THIS DIVERSITY GARBAGE! MAKE AMERICA WHITE AGAIN TRUMPTRUMPTRUMP” respectively) and people asking the very real question as to why every Asian character has to be a Kung Fu master?
I hadn’t watched Marvel’s Netflix shows. Well…I had watched about three episodes of Daredevil and while I thought they were good I never continued. I got excited when they announced Iron Fist’s premiere date and started back with Daredevil again. I blew through Season 1, watched Jessica Jones Season 1, then moved to Daredevil Season 2. Luke Cage had just come out but besides listening to some of Ali Shaheed Mohammad’s music for it I didn’t get into it. Why?
It might have been a bit of fatigue and, perhaps, some let down. Daredevil Season One was fantastic thanks to the Kingpin. Jessica Jones was amazing thanks to Kilgrave. Even though they could have made each season a bit more lean I thought them fantastic. Daredevil Season Two was that let down. I sort of liked the Punisher, didn’t really like the Elektra stuff, and not having the Kingpin as the main bad guy hurt the series for me. So I stopped watching. Now Iron Fist is finally out but I have to watch the first season of Luke Cage first. It’s the OCD in me.
Back to Iron Fist. As a kid I collected Power Man & Iron Fist up until it was cancelled around 1986. I still loved the characters and would buy back issues I didn’t own. When I learned that John Byrne had done the Iron Fist series in the seventies I acquired all of the issues. As time went on I would continue to buy Iron Fist in whatever book that would come out…I really loved the Heroes for Hire book in the nineties. Eventually I stopped collecting most Marvel books but I still had a great love for the character.
Wood is completely right that Iron Fist is a product of its era. It is all thanks to Bruce Lee. The man could not get a gig here in the States but when he went to Hong Kong and made The Big Boss he became a superstar. Warner Bros and America came calling with Lee starring in the American-made Hong Kong filmed English language Enter the Dragon. It was MASSIVE. Even though Bruce Lee died it opened up the world to all sorts of kung fu flicks. The world had kung-fu fever. Marvel responded by creating a white martial artist (Iron Fist) and an Asian martial artist (Shang Chi). Who was more successful? Iron Fist ran just 15 issues…though he eventually joined the Luke Cage book at issue 50 which ran for another 75 issues.
Shang Chi? That book ran 125 issues BY ITSELF.
So what’s the hubbub? It seems that since the casting of British actor Finn Jones as Danny Rand some people have been up in arms about “a white guy playing Iron Fist.” Even though the character has always been white some saw it as white-washing.
There’s been some blatant white washing as of late. The worst offender is Marvel’s own Doctor Strange movie where the Asian Ancient One was replaced by Tilda Swinton. There’s nothing against Tilda. She is a monster actress. She is amazing. She has done comic book stuff – I loved her performance in Constantine (an underrated DC film). But as The Ancient One? Awful. I find a ton of stuff wrong with the Doctor Strange movie – but casting wise I feel it was a poor choice and a wasted opportunity.
The same goes for Scarlett Johannson as The Major in Ghost in the Shell. This film is actually coming out in a few short weeks…a March release. I think that is telling in itself as they don’t believe that even with Scarlett starring it is strong enough to be a summer film. Should the main actress be Japanese? Well this is an American film and, perhaps, the filmmakers thought they needed a big name American actress to star. White-washing? ABSOLUTELY. Are they wrong? I’m not sure. I’ll need to see the film. Could they have just hired a Japanese actress? ABSOLUTELY. Are the Japanese incapable of making their own live versions of their Manga? Of course not and there’s plenty of films from Space Battleship Yamato to Gatchaman that have made it to the big screen.
Now Marvel and other studios are not against casting against type. When Iron Man was released the filmmakers tacked on Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury at the very end. While Nick Fury looked just like Jackson in its Ultimate Universe line – the one in the “regular Marvel” comics was a white guy. Before that Kerry Washington played a black Alicia Masters in the first Fantastic Four film. In the newest one Michael B. Jordan played Johnny Storm. Heimdall, the Asgardian God, was played by Idris Elba. Marvel has no problem changing their characters as they see fit.
So should Iron Fist become Asian? It would be a huge opportunity for an Asian star to be a STAR in a Marvel production. Ming-Na Wen is in Agents of SHIELD but beyond that, Asian’s are severely lacking. My thoughts is….I DON’T CARE. If they had cast, let’s say, Donnie Yen to be Danny Rand I’d be like, “Cool!” It’s their character and they can do what they want. When they cast a white guy to play the white character I was like, “Cool!” It is what it is.
But for some odd reason there is a wide group of people who hate that the white character was not made an Asian. They postulate about how the series would be better with an Asian star in it. They said it before the series came out. They said it when the reviews came out. And now that the series is out? They talk how lackluster the series is and how it would have been better with an Asian star.
I’m going to turn right for a moment. I can acknowledge that in this superhero universe there was a huge lack of diversity in Marvel’s early comics. A bunch of white guys in the 1960s created a whole bunch of new white characters. Black characters would finally follow like Black Panther, Luke Cage, and Falcon…but change has been slow for many years. We are finally seeing change in the past few years though they are ones that slightly get under my skin. A Muslim Ms. Marvel. Asian Hulk Amadeus Cho. Female Jane Foster Thor. Black/Hispanic Miles Morales Spider-Man. Black female Riri Williams Iron Man. It gets under my skin just because they aren’t new heroes, just revamped versions of the same characters. Why are they changing these heroes instead of just creating new ones?
The reasons is simple. People are afraid of creating new characters for Marvel…because then they belong to Marvel. Many people have learned from Steve Gerber to Marv Wolfman to Rob Liefeld that what you create for Marvel ends up belonging to Marvel. People are smarter these days. They rather just change existing characters and make them diverse then create a new superhero that they won’t own. Does it really matter? Name a HUGE superhero character who was not published by Marvel or DC in the past couple years. There’s not many huge sellers. There was Kirkman’s Invincible and I’m sure someone can totally point me to some other books. But huge superhero characters usually come from the major publishers. Does it matter? Not really. Creators can bring books to Image or Dark Horse, not sell tons of copies, STILL MAKE MORE MONEY, AND own the characters. It’s still a win/win.
So why not? Why not create an Asian Danny Rand? Why not indeed. But the producers, showrunners, and exec producers cast their choice and decide not to. So why…WHY…lambast these poor people on their decision to keep the character as is. Obviously Marvel is not afraid to make an Asian character Celtic or make a white God a black one. People did talk crap about Michael B. Jordan being the Human Torch but you know what? That movie was AWFUL and he was probably the only thing good about that nonsense.
I had a long conversation with a pro Asian Danny Rand type and basically I’ll boil his side of the conversation as being, “Throw the Asian community a bone.” He might not see the convo like that – but that’s what it basically came down to. If he’s a martial artist he should be Asian. Because Cynthia Rothrock, Jean Claude Van Damme, Steven Seagal, Jeff Speakman, Jim Kelly, Michael Dudikoff, Scott Adkins…hell even TAIMAK don’t hold a candle to Asian martial artists?
Actually…put any of them against Yuen Biao – especially in his prime and he would have blown them away.
America’s best martial arts film? The Matrix. Hands down, no contest. And who trained a bunch of regular actors for 18 months before the movie started? Yuen Woo-ping. Don’t know who Yuen Biao or Yuen Woo-ping are? They you really shouldn’t be in any conversation about martial arts on film. But the Wachowskis didn’t feel the need to cast a whole bunch of Asians in The Matrix just because a lot of the film was rooted in martial arts.
Should only Asians be martial artists? There seems to be a plethora of karate and kung-fu studios throughout North America that would lead me to be believe that, for some reason, it is okay for non-Asians to do martial arts. Let’s go back to Bruce Lee for a moment. Did you know that Bruce Lee got in trouble with the Asian community for teaching kung fu to non-Asians? It is absolutely true. Martial arts was sheltered but Bruce felt that it is not just a fighting technique but a way of life. The Chinese community called Bruce Lee out on it and tried to force him to stop. It all came down to a fight between a famous instructor named Wong Jack Man – known for being an expert in the Shaolin styles. Bruce, taught by the famous Ip Man, was well versed in Wing Chun. If Bruce lost the fight he would need to stop teaching non-Asians kung fu. There are differing accounts of who was there, what took place, and who won…but you know what? Bruce continued to teach white, black, Asian, and whoever else wanted to learn kung fu. Why? Maybe he needed the money. Or maybe it is because he knew kung fu was for everyone. Some of his people may have thought it racial appropriation. But Bruce did it anyway. Today? Bruce Lee is one of the most famous martial artists of all time…up there with Ip Man…Wong Fei-Hung…etc…
So when does the griping stop? It didn’t stop with the casting? It obviously did not stop with the show being released. Will is stop when the Defenders comes out? With Iron Fist Season Two? Will it ever stop…ever?
Holden McNeil once put it bluntly, “The Internet is a communication tool used the world over where people can come together to bitch about movies and share pornography with one another.” That was 2001. It’s more evident that the Internet, 4Chan, Reddit, message boards, Twitter, Facebook…it’s all here for us to bitch about crap. You can’t make everyone happy. Ever. I’ll just enjoy it when everyone forgets about Iron Fist and goes on to gripe about something else. Hopefully it’ll be about something I don’t give a shit about…