In November 2013, it was announced that Netflix would be home to Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and Iron Fist, leading up to a miniseries based on the Defenders. So far, the Netflix-Marvel partnership has been successful with Daredevil and Jessica Jones, but this may not be the case with Iron Fist.
For those of you who are unaware of who Iron Fist is, you can read up about him here. In short, he is a martial arts warrior with the mystical power of the Iron Fist, which gives him superhuman skills including super-strong punches, telepathy, and healing. Iron Fist’s alter ego, Daniel Rand, was born in New York and raised in K’un-L’un, a mythical Asian city where he learned his martial arts and supernatural skills. His story is an Asian one, and many believe that the televised series should reflect that.
The call for an Asian American Iron Fist began with Keith Chow from The Nerds of Color. In March 2014, Chow argued for swapping the originally Caucasian Iron Fist with an Asian American because changing his race would add depth to the character, remove elements of Orientalism, and correct a legacy of cultural appropriation.
Taking away Danny’s Caucasian ethnicity removes the “white guy is better at being Asian than the Asians” trope and we don’t need another Tom Cruise in The Last Samurai. The story of Danny Rand was conceived during the 1970s kung-fu craze, so elements of Iron Fist’s story relies heavily on his martial arts training in K’un-L’un, the fictional Asian city. The concept of a white protagonist telling the story of a non-white culture has been exhausted, and Iron Fist could fall into this category if Danny Rand is kept a white saviour. Rather than a story of cultural appropriation, an Asian American Danny embracing K’un-L’un culture would tell the story of cultural reconnection. Chow suggests that the creators “play up Danny’s rejection of his Asian heritage prior to venturing to China” because it could resonate with Asian Americans, like himself.
One argument for keeping Danny white would be that it stays true to the comic books. Comic book purists (and racists) hate when adaptations stray from the beloved comic books. Both Michael B. Jordan and Idris Elba received racist backlash when they were cast to play the Human Torch from Fantastic Four and Heimdall from Thor, respectively.
However, Netflix seems to be the place for Marvel’s more authentic characters. The Marvel Universe is decidedly more realistic and grounded on Netflix compared to blockbuster movies. If they are really interested in reflecting the real world and developing authentic characters, then they should realize that Danny’s story is an Asian one and not all superheroes should be played by a blond guy named Chris.
The Netflix-Marvel partnership has already been subversive in its casting, take Carrie-Anne Moss as Jeri Hogarth for example. The character was originally male (Jeryn Hogarth) but the ambitious lawyer’s gender was switched for the Netflix series and Jeri became Marvel’s first lesbian. With the success of Daredevil and Jessica Jones, the streaming service has proved itself worthy as a place for Marvel to tell darker storylines with edgier characters.
The rumour is that Danny Rand has already been cast, but the actor hasn’t been named yet. It would be great if the Netflix-Marvel partnership continued reflecting real world demographics and he turns out to be Asian American, since this could be the only opportunity to switch the race of a popular Marvel character and actually improve his storyline as a result. If he turns out to be Caucasian, I just hope the story can become one of cultural appreciation rather than one of cultural appropriation.