I recently watched the new Netflix series IRON FIST, and really enjoyed it. Is it my favorite of the Marvel Netflix series? No, it’s not, but that is not because of the reasons I’m hearing other people dismiss the series, and I am honestly a bit perturbed by these dismissals.
I first encountered this attitude when listening to NPR recently. A reviewer named Eric Deggans reviewed IRON FIST on the day it was released, March 17th, prefacing the interview by claiming to be a superhero-aholic. He said, “Yes, I actually paid to “download the awful "Batman v Superman" movie, and I still watch "The Flash" and "Supergirl" on the CW Network.”
Ok, fair enough. I saw that movie and watch those shows too. He then goes on to give a very biased review of the show. He calls it clunky, the plot and pacing bad and actor Finn Jones (Danny Rand) overmatched, without any real explanation of why he thought so. It was clear from the comments and his tone that he didn’t give this series a fair chance.
The review then peels off to talk about and play clips from two other movies he had issues with – GHOST IN THE SHELL and DOCTOR STRANGE. You see, Eric had a problem with the fact that the lead character in Iron Fist, Danny Rand (Finn Jones), is white, and travels to an Asian city to train in martial arts, and returns as a Kung-Fu master (therefore supposedly appropriating their culture). In fact, he even said nothing has made him more ashamed of his love of superhero movies than IRON FIST.
This honestly isn’t anything different than Eric’s beloved Batman. In the Christopher Nolan movie BATMAN BEGINS (2005) Bruce Wayne goes off to an Asian city (Bhutan) be trained by Ra’s Al Ghul and the League of Shadows, becoming their greatest warrior and returning to Gotham to fight for justice. Or how about ARROW on the CW, another show Eric undoubtedly watches. In it Oliver Queen is shipwrecked and eventually travels to an Asian city (I’m sensing a trend here) and trains with the League of Shadows, becoming a world class fighter. And how about any of the older superhero movies – like Tim Burton’s BATMAN (1989) for instance – there’s barely a face of color in the entire movie, and the women are set dressings or stereotypes at best.
BUT no objections were raised about any of these shows... Why the hate for Iron Fist?
Let’s step back for a minute and look at the history of the character of Iron Fist, aka Danny Rand. His partner and best friend was Luke Cage, Power Man, a black character, during the 1970s, a time of serious racial disparity. They operated in the roughest part of town and ran a business together, HEROES FOR HIRE in the book POWER MAN AND IRON FIST (note the black character is listed first), helping all those in need, without regard to race. He falls in love with Misty Knight, another black character. The book is full of characters of minority status. In fact, the whole point behind Power Man and Iron Fist is racial harmony and acceptance, and it’s a huge part of the character of Iron Fist. But that is all ignored in this review.
In fact, Iron fist wasn’t even the first Marvel martial arts character. The reviewer is either oblivious to, or intentionally ignoring the fact that Iron Fist was not the first Marvel martial arts character. SHANG-CHI: MASTER OF KUNG FU was created in 1973, six months prior to the first publication of Iron Fist. That was probably as much a part of the decision to make Danny a Westerner as anything else. They were differentiating him from the recently established character of Shang-Chi, an Asian. That’s important to note.
Marvel was merely staying true to the book with this TV series. They were depicting characters the way they were created, by writer Roy Thomas and artist Gil Kane, a faithful adaptation of the source material, which is an admirable way to approach it. I am all for diversity, and in this case would have been fine with them changing the character to another race (in fact I think it would have been an interesting take), but that’s not the direction the show creators chose to go. And that’s a perfectly valid decision as well. Unlike the two examples cited in the NPR review – Ghost in the Shell and Doctor Strange, which both changed races of characters FROM Asian to white, Iron Fist depicted the character as he appeared in the book since his inception in 1974. Which is a totally different thing. The comparison to those two movies is unfair, as they aren’t the same.
The reviewer mentions he would prefer if the creators of this show made Danny Rand Asian. I’m curious if he would have been fine with them making Luke Cage (from the Netflix series of the same name) Asian, or any other race, as well? And if not, why not? Perhaps that speaks more to his own racial biases than any problems in this show.
Shame on NPR for allowing such a shallow and unfair take on this topic. Why not contact Iron Fist creator Roy Thomas and ask him about the creation of the character and his thought process? Or better yet the writers of the new TV series and ask about their intentions? Why not get a real comic book expert on the show who could address the history of the character? Why not mention the diversity of the cast of IRON FIST, and the strong female characters in the show, and in fact the diversity of all of the Netflix superhero series? They’ve done a tremendous job in that regard.
But then none of that was the point of this NPR segment, was it? You just wanted to attack this perceived racial injustice of “white washing” and promote an agenda, and I guess that is ultimately what NPR is most interested in.