Another controversy, which seems to be today’s norm, is upon us as Netflix announced the casting of Danny Rand this past Thursday for their upcoming Iron Fist series. Finn Jones was cast to play Danny Rand and his alter ego Iron Fist. Jones is best known for his role as Loras Tyrell on HBO’s Game of Thrones Upon being cast, a firestorm of complaints erupted over the fact that the series creators decided to follow the origin story, instead of reformatting the show to bring in a new Asian Iron Fist as some have been calling for over the last few months.
The controversy stems from the social media movement over the last few months to have Danny Rand cast as someone of Asian descent instead of Caucasian, even though in the comics the character is white. This movement has even spawned a petition garnering close to 4,000 signatures. One of the biggest gripes about the Iron First narrative is that by casting a white man it perpetuates “an orientalist-white-man-yellow-fever narrative” according to Marjorie Liu who wrote the X-23 series at Marvel and is currently working on her creator-owned Monstress at Image Comics.
The idea that Liu posits seems to come from Iron Fist’s origin story. Danny Rand is the son of Wendell and Heather Rand. He ends up in the mystical city of K’un-Lun at the age of nine after his father, mother, and father’s business partner go on an expedition to find the city. Wendell’s partner, Harold Meachum betrays him leaving Danny as a student of Lei Kung, the Thunderer. In time, Danny is seen as the Thunderer’s most talented student with his intense training in the Martial Arts, he ends up becoming the legendary Iron Fist. It’s this origin that many take issue with, since it’s a white protagonist taking upon himself the identity of what some assume is the identity that only belongs to someone who is Asian.
This is seen as Orientalism, where aspects of art and culture are depicted by those who are Western in origin. In this view, the Western creator sees the Oriental culture as less developed, static, and under the standards of the west. However, anyone who has read the Iron Fist comics realizes this isn’t the case. It is quite clear that Danny doesn’t see the K’un Lun culture in the eyes of Orientalism based on his personal history and the respect he shows to his own culture. We’ve seen this claim in the past with music videos from Katy Perry and Iggy Azalea to even Halloween costumes that depict cultural stereotypes.
Even if this is a problem, is it really as simple as recasting characters for the sake of of slaying the so-called cultural appropriation monster? If we were to go by that line of logic, a number of problems begin to arise . One such issue would be writers have to be careful not to include the lifestyles of certain characters because they enjoy aspects of other cultures? So should only Hispanics like myself partake in Hispanic culture while being on guard so others cannot enjoy it as well? Personally, I enjoy watching people of all cultures enjoy what we have to offer, from foods, to music, and arts. This has me thinking, since when was separating the diverse cultures of the United States seen as a positive? I thought that we answered this question many, many years ago.
It just doesn’t stop there, you have a movement of self proclaimed Social Justice Warriors who use the power of social media, keyboards, message boards, and the threat of burning people at the figurative stake to rally behind the idea of “protecting” the cultures of people of color. They feel that they are the ones who are our guardians while we are forced to take a back seat in our own destinies. Regardless of their intentions the results aren’t positive, and as it’s said, Hell is paved with good intentions.
So instead of creating new characters to reflect the growing uniqueness of the combined American culture, it’s just easier for many in that movement to use existing stories and changing it for their own personal cause. We have to be concerned about such movements because without allowing natural demand for new characters of color to be born, we would lose the chance for new, and creative stories to be brought into the mainstream.
If it wasn’t for this type of creative outlet we wouldn’t have The Black Panther, Luke Cage, Blade, Black Goliath or Jubilee just to name a few. These characters came into their own through storytelling, not by pandering. Though it seems we’ve come a long way in our society, there are elements who in the name of equality, and cultural appropriation wish to build walls between people.
As comic book based television shows continue to grow in popularity there will be plenty of opportunities to show the diversity of the superhero realm. For example, Luke Cage will be getting his own Netflix series after making a number of appearances on Jessica Jones and a possible Blade movie has been rumored with Wesley Snipes reprising the lead role. We even saw Ben Urich portrayed by Vondie Curtis-Hall in the first season of Daredevil as well as Jeri Hogarth being played by Carrie Anne Moss. Only time will tell if the choice of actors will continued to be based off of talent, or will we see our beloved heroes become victims of a quota system where talent and skill takes a back seat. I for one am looking forward to the opportunity to enjoy both Luke Cage and Iron Fist as they’re released.