Thanks for the read! Always open to critique! Please, feel free to disagree (amicably of course). Would love to read your opinions.
Over the last week, we’ve been seeing awful review after awful review for Marvel’s Iron Fist based on the six episodes that Netflix released to critics. Headlines read that Marvel had made their first misstep. Like a raging wildfire, the negativity from the reviews roared across the fandom and the Internet. Doubt seemed to be heavy amongst fans and interested prospective audience members. But, we’ve go to judge it for ourselves, right? I go into everything I watch with as much of an open mind as possible, but even these early reviews had my expectations dampened. So how was the series?
Not that bad. Not as bad as critics would have you to believe.
It’s hard to get a grasp on the almost vitriolic hate most of the critics have for the show. Examining a bevy of the critiques, it seemed as if folks were just supremely let down as they were so impressed by Iron Fist’s predecessors. Marvel Netflix has given us not just great comic book television, but great television in general with Daredevil, Jessica Jones and LuKe Cage. Each show brought something fresh to the spectrum of TV while also being great representations of the comics they’re adapted from. And even though I enjoyed Iron Fist, it doesn’t have the IMAPCT the other shows have. But that doesn’t diminish its status as a fine and solid entry that is a nice change of pace from what we’ve gotten so far. If anything, Iron Fist is an example of Marvel Netflix’s version of an “okay” adaptation. And their version of okay is still enjoyable. There’s much to like and there’s some real highlights. I think anyone that can’t see the solid amount of what’s good in the series, and yes there’s some real lackluster stuff, is lying to themselves somewhat. But, I do respect opinions. Let me make that clear.
But here, I aim to explore the most delicate aspect of the show: THE WHITE MAN!
The Whitewashing Controversy: What’s Not Being Talked About
Danny Rand is white and has always been white. I think most critics are ignorant of this. They’re so bull-headed in their support of representation and inclusiveness that they fail to accept that this is the story, or at least look for some sort of break in the clouds. I’m a black man and I’m all for representation, but don’t force it and at least contemplate the current casting's purpose. Maybe there's more going on that you're not taking into consideration. Most comic book characters come with decades of history. Look to that.
But, let's consider the popular question: What would it have been like had Danny been Asian?
First, I think this character proves to be extremely problematic whichever way you go. If you maintain his status as a white man, you fall into the trap of the white savior who finds mystic powers from an either eastern or generally foreign (non-white, western) source. He is a character that does rely on Orientalism, and this would still be true if his race or sex was changed. As long as they are a person from the Western world, finding mystic powers from an Eastern source. This is still true if he becomes a Black man, a Latina woman, or even an Asian American man. He still is finding mysticism from an Eastern source, that is not traditionally his own. And if he becomes an Asian American you would still have the trope of the Asian martial arts expert. Sure, there's countless martial arts films with Asian leads, but in today's delicate racial climate would find a way to extract the stereotype aspect out of this. Either way you're given into some stereotype. As aforementioned, I’m inclined to believe that an Asian Danny would spark its own brand of controversy. There’s contention either way.
Also, what some aren’t considering, I think that Dany Rand’s whiteness is integral to his character. But it is only because of his relationships with other characters. His whiteness becomes important when you consider his relationship with both Luke Cage and Misty Knight (and to a lesser extent Colleen Wing).
Luke Cage and Iron Fist are two characters that are closely associated with each the other. They are both more famous as a duo than they are as separate heroes, even to the point where they are frequently shown in the other’s solo series. They are two halves of a much greater whole.
They're even deeply tied through advertisements.
And when they are at odds that means something. It has greater weight due to their deep friendship. It is Marvel’s epitome of blackness, their closest thing to Shaft, in a deep friendship with a white man. To the point where they are each other’s family. Their friendship is supposed to be a friendship that breaks down racial barriers. They are pretty much as close as two friends can be. Now I bet you’re asking yourself, “don’t the mixed-race aspect of his whiteness get enhanced if he is Asian American? I don't see why whiteness necessarily needs to be the center of mixed race relationships.” I definitely considered this, but Asian Americans are still minorities. That common thread of some semblance of marginalization would be there. I think even that slight parallel between Luke and an Asian Danny would diminish the importance of Danny and Luke’s dynamic. There’s a deeper significance to Danny being wealthy white guy. Luke Cage is a black man from the hood. Danny is a rich white guy who owns a billion-dollar company. Just from a visual stand point these guys look so different, and even in terms of the background of who their characters are they’re very different. I think that speaks to the power of what a friendship can be. Because there are so many of us that have these friends where you sort of sit back and look at them and you go, “How are we friends? How did this happen?” And Luke and Danny are that way. These guys have so little in common and that very fact is the foundation of their relationship. If we can strip apart our differences, we can communicate to connect. And if we can connect to one another, we can create bonds that are stronger than any differences. Keep it simple and you can keep it true. This is the greatest kind of friendship. That's Luke and Danny. They have a bond forged through shared experiences and geunuine brotherhood; a bortherhood that doesn't need common interests to flourish.
This is true for his relationship with Misty Knight as well. They are a mixed-race couple who are truly in love. They are people in a relationship that is complicated on multiple levels. They're a mixed race, set of crime fighters from two completely different socio-economic backgrounds (mostly because Danny is somehow both extremely rich and poor at the same time, and I believe Misty would be firmly middle class). If their relationship can’t be complicated, I don’t know whose can. There's an intriguing dichotomy between them that becomes revealed through their romance. They have somedrastically different perspectives and ideologies due to their backgrounds, and even though it often causes friction, it never really degrades their love for one another. It enhances it on some levels.
Danny and Luke are true friends that actively spend time with each other outside of “work.” You are more likely to see them on the streets together on a regular basis, than almost any other pairing.
Luke Cage names his daughter after him, for crying out loud.
He and Luke are a pair. They are described as “The Most Unlikely of All.” That is largely due to their race, as well as their contrasting personalities.
Let us not also forget that Iron Fist also takes second billing in their shared billing in their shared books. A large feat considering the times in which the title was introduced. It is Power Man (Luke Cage) AND Iron Fist. And this is how it has always been.
Because of these relationships his whiteness becomes important. If you cannot change their race you should not change his. His race becomes deeply and tightly interwoven with theirs. Once you move out only slightly from him, it becomes a part of a much larger story about race in general.
Is he a white savior stereotype? Yes. In some aspects. But in my opinion I think that it has become one of the best handled examples of that stereotype. Over the history of the character, I think he comes out net positive when put into context.
His is a series of relationships that is supposed to transcend the racial divide. Which at the time these characters were created, was very important. His whiteness is important because he is a character that is supposed to somewhat transcend race. He was a born a rich, white man with all the privileges that would entail, and then he was nobody in K’un L’un. His privilege meant nothing, only to come back to the world where it does and yet he is still an outcast. He is definitely too white to be Asian, and yet to everyone else he is too Asian to be white. And then this privileged man becomes the best of friends with the epitome of Blackness, while at the same time giving up or heavily utilizing his riches for charity. And is his privilege overlooked by his counterparts? Nope.
They don’t let him forget it, while at the same time realizing that he most of all does not understand it. His whiteness is important because of what it represents in combination of the characters he is closely associated with. Breaking down racial barriers that divided people during the time he was created. His best friends are a Black man (Luke Cage), a disabled Black woman (Misty Knight and her prosthetic arm), and an Asian woman Colleen Wing.
The Netflix series has the opportunity to really delve into these topics that we’ve seen over the decades in the comics. Yes, casting Danny as an Asian or Latino would’ve presented other opportunities as well, but Danny IS and has ALWAYS been white. So, adapting his story means you’ve got to work with what’s there, and there’s plenty there as I’ve illustrated above.
One must hope Loeb and company had all of this in mind when casting. I hope they were looking for the best actor no matter their pigmentation, but when you consider the historical meaning of Danny’s relationships, his ivory culture is important to the complexities and idiosyncrasies of said relationships.
There's nothing wrong with searching for a silver lining and considering that there's more beneath the surface.