Saika and I just finished Luke Cage, the third Netflix installment of Marvel’s four-part NYC superhero adventure. Luke, along with Jessica Jones, Matt Murdock, and some guy called Daniel Rand are supposed to make up The Defenders, a group of superheroes who will be showcased in a later Netflix miniseries. I thoroughly enjoyed Jessica Jones, but I gave up on Daredevil a few episodes in thanks to its relentless grimdarkness and racism, so I wasn’t sure if I would enjoy the last Defender. “Who even is Daniel Rand?” I asked Saika.
“Oh, he’s Iron Fist, he knows martial arts and stuff,” she told me.
“Oh, cool!” I said. “So they cast an Asian guy finally!”
“They got fucking Loras Tyrell to play him,” she said. “So… not really.”
As you might imagine, I watched the newly dropped Iron Fist trailer with some trepidation.
The trailer doesn’t show us much of the plot, but what is there isn’t looking very good. As Rand beats up Asian enemies, a voiceover calls him “a child touched by fire, destined to be our greatest warrior”. So basically this is going to be Marvel’s take on the Mighty Whitey trope—a white guy goes to a foreign culture, becomes the greatest at all the things, and saves the world. As a reward, he might even get the Asian girl, Colleen Wing (played by Jessica Henwick, whom you might know as Star Wars’s Jessika Pava). Sounds fun, right?
Iron Fist was created by white authors in the 70s who, and I quote, had just “seen [their] first kung-fu movies”. While that was the 70s, Marvel is adapting this in 2016, when our understanding of race and diversity should have progressed much further. Why not cast an Asian actor (like this incredible fancast of Osric Chau does) as Rand, instead, and allow Asians to reclaim a tired, racist narrative? Instead, we get a billionaire white guy who somehow knows and is better at kung-fu and Buddhist traditions than all other Asians.
Thematically, Iron Fist doesn’t fit into the rest of the Defenders, either. The other Marvel Defenders used the marginalized identities of its protagonists to tell more compelling stories—Jessica Jones used its white female protagonist to discuss sexual assault, trauma, rape culture, and even abortion, while Luke Cage used its Black male protagonist to discuss police brutality, racial profiling, and police-community relations. Daredevil had a great opportunity to discuss disability and ableism, but with the way Matt Murdock threw away his white cane at every possible opportunity, I don’t know how much it succeeded. Nevertheless, each Defender protag had a unique point of view as a jumping point from which to talk about issues that we don’t normally talk about. So from a thematic standpoint, what is Iron Fist even going to be about? The only thing I can possibly see it discussing is cultural appropriation, and as our Buddhist kung-fu monk is a white guy fighting Asian villains, any possible discussion is not going to turn out well. Iron Fist also seems a lot more “fantastical” than the others, which both doesn’t mesh with the other Defenders’ pseudo-scientific explanations of their powers and ties the show to the Magical Asian trope for an extra uncomfortable helping of racism.
Marvel’s Iron Fist will be released in March 2017. Are you going to watch it? Let me know what you think in the comments.