Shang-Chi is Coming to Netflix(!), Still Doesn’t Negate Need for #AAIronFist

This morning, our friends at MCU Exchange (with help from The Hashtag Show) broke some pretty big news: mainly, that Shang-Chi will be a featured part of the Iron Fist series on Netflix, with the possibility that he may get spun off into his own series! This is definitely some welcome news, especially considering how a lot of folk reacted to the news of Finn Jones. In fact, I can already hear the FistBros1 queuing up in our mentions telling us to finally shut up about #AAIronFist.

Let me get this out of the way first. This news is really exciting. My hope is that the showrunners will play up the whole international spy aspect of his character. That Bruce Lee from Enter the Dragon crossed with classic James Bond — or contemporary Jason Bourne — is what can really set him apart in the MCU. Also, I really hope to god they give him a pair of shoes!

Here’s the thing, though: just because Shang-Chi will be on the show doesn’t mean all of the points about Asian American representation, cultural appropriation, and Hollywood’s history of whitewashing and icky Orientalism magically go away. If the vitriol on twitter — and elsewhere — that I’ve been receiving since December is any indication, Shang-Chi’s presence will not suddenly open the eyes of fanboys to the need for more and better representation on television. I’ve talked about this ad nauseum here, but you can read more about what I said to Alex Jung at Vulture, if you want.

It’s heartening to hear that Marvel is looking at Asian2 actors for the role, but the real question is what kind of role will they be auditioning for? One of the main reasons I’ve been pushing hard for an Asian American Danny Rand was because of the traits his character possesses (he’s sexy, funny, flawed, etc.). These are not ones that are often attributed to Asian American characters. Like, if Shang-Chi is stoic and silent, or god forbid, has to put on a fake accent, I’m not sure how much progress it is, really.

Also, one of the counterarguments to making Danny Asian American essentially boiled down to “oh no Asians and martial arts = racist!” In the same breath, those same folks would say “you should push for Shang-Chi, instead.” Talk about cognitive dissonance! Like, I’ve already bunked the “Asian martial artist = stereotype” line of reasoning, but if you think Asian Danny is a problem because of martial arts, then why is Shang-Chi okay? Could it be it’s because people like to conflate Asian Americans and Asians?

That’s the other thing the whole #AAIronFist discussion has illuminated for me: just how little people are willing to understand about being Asian American.

People forget, but the main reason I wrote the initial post (almost two years ago to the date, natch) was because I wanted to see, for once, an Asian American play a heroic lead in a superhero property. Here’s hoping that Netflix will go with the Ultimate Comics origin of Shang-Chi and make him an immigrant living in Chinatown, but for all intents and purposes, Shang-Chi is foreign-born, and one stereotype that Asian Americans everywhere must contend with is the notion that we are all perpetual foreigners. Anyone who has ever been asked “where are you really from” know what I’m talking about.

So depending on how the character is written, I’m not sold that Shang Chi’s addition is necessarily a boon for Asian American representation just yet. Let’s see if Colleen Wing will be on the show. Let’s see if Lei Kung gets to be more than the wise old mentor. Let’s see if Davos is 1.) Asian and 2.) gets to be more than a generic bad guy.

Bottom line: Shang-Chi’s introduction to the Marvel Cinematic Universe is not an automatic win for diversity and inclusion. There are still many factors to consider before that happens. It also doesn’t mean I’m okay with Finn Jones as Danny. If anything, Shang-Chi’s inclusion on the show highlights the fact that he and Danny are completely different characters. Why both of them couldn’t be Asian just proves Aziz Ansari’s one-at-a-time rule for Hollywood.

Especially since Hell’s Kitchen will now have two white boy kung fu experts.

  1. Shout out to @FemmesinFridges for the FistBros nickname, btw. 
  2. The fact that we have to breathe a sigh of relief at this fact is telling. Just saying. 

11 thoughts on “Shang-Chi is Coming to Netflix(!), Still Doesn’t Negate Need for #AAIronFist

  1. You only seem to look at specific elements of Iron Fist, and ignore the bigger picture.

    The first thing that comes to mind is Danny’s relationship with Luke Cage. The contrast of race and origin is hugely important to the dynamics of their relationship. A white, priveleged Danny Rand is a much more striking contrast to the black, wrongfully imprisoned Luke Cage than an Asian American, priveleged Danny Rand would be.

    His origin of powers is also impacted. You only view his trip to K’un-Lun as a fish out of water story where a white Danny Rand proves he’s a better martial artists than the Asian citizens of Ku’n-Lun. That’s not the whole of it, and isn’t even supported by a huge amount of Iron Fist comics. Firstly, as well as being a fish out of water story, it’s also a story about Danny’s gaining of appreciation for another culture, and a test of his moral compass as he’s confronted with blatant sexism – the women in K’un-Lun are, after all, slaves. You say this could be a source of cultural reconnection between an AAIF, but do you really want a hero reconnecting with a culture of systematic oppression? This is not a real Asian culture or place we’re dealing with, it’s a fictional location filled with immortals that have an entire culture rooted in stereotypes of Asia that were prevalent at the time of Iron Fist’s original publishing. If you wanted to make it a story of reconnection, you’d need to rework K’un-Lun to stop being an inherently racist concept. Which could certainly be done, but that would also mean closing the doors on most of Iron Fist’s plots having to do with K’un-Lun – the majority of his solo plots that exist.

    I know it probably doesn’t count for much since a lot of people probably haven’t read Iron Fist’s most recent solo series, but it is revealed that Danny Rand isn’t actually Iron Fist by virtue of being the best martial artist in K’un Lun, but simply by the arbitrary decision of the Yu Ti and Fooh that allowed Danny to beat The One, the litmus test of whether an individual is capable of being the Iron Fist. He then proceeds to abandon the people of K’un-Lun in pursuit of revenge. This somewhat ameliorates the idea of Danny portraying a white savior type character. He’s not the best martial artist in K’un-Lun and he doesn’t save anything – he really only leaves them worse for wear.

    I’m really losing track of what I’m arguing for though. Most of my taking points aren’t so much impacted by race at all. I’m not much more in favor of white Iron Fist than AAIF. I really don’t think though, with the inclusion of the past 10 years of comics, that Iron Fist is an inherently racist character anymore, and he’s usually one of, if not the only, white guy in the most racial and gender diverse groups of heroes in comics. I think an AAIF could work, but I think you’d need to address the inherent racism behind the concept of K’un Lun, and I think his interpersonal relationships would be somewhat impacted. I think you’d lose more of the character than you’d gain.

    I think a well-portrayed Shang Chi could do a lot more for Asian American representation in these movies, he just really needs to get his due.

  2. It’s cool news but I’m worried that Shang Chi will be a cringefest of Asian tropes. Really wished they followed Constance Wu’s advice….

    1. 2017 for an own series seems very early given that we won’t be seeing the Iron Fist series ’til at the earliest winter 2016-2017 + Jessica Jones season 2 has been greenlit + + we’re still waiting for The Defenders which some say has too come out sometime in 2017 for legal reasons (Netflix-Marvel deal).

      If he’s introduced before The Defenders (presumably in iron Fist) he could certainly be in there, he’s certainly had his fair share of street level team-ups i would say more so than for example the Punisher (who could also be in The Defenders) at least compared too the number of appearances they’ve both made in the comics over the years.

  3. Why is it that SO MANY of you who have something to say about this have actual not READ the material this is based on, but give opinions like you have? Get informed about the characters THEN comment logically and informed.

  4. Looking forward to seeing the Master of Kung Fu in action! [Do Shang-Chi JUSTICE, please.)
    I suppose this was done to appease all of the #AAIronFist critics. And, I will take it since casting “Ser Loras” is a foregone conclusion.

  5. Honestly not that excited. After binging daredevil season two I’m pretty fucking done. It included Asians but exclusively as cannon fodder ninjas and super steryotypical villains. Electra was little more than an exoticized Asian girlfriend character at the end of the day and her whole character arc is about her loss of agency and grooming. Iron Fist is bound to be more of the same, whites at the front and scores of Asians in the back getting their asses kicked. Also super done white people telling people of color that participating in their own culture makes them a stereotype as an excuse for why we aren’t allowed an Asian lead. If someone springs this logic on me in person they’re getting an un-ironic karate chop to the throat. Whites confused over minority outrage need not express their opinion because it’s uninformed as fuck. The ego is unbelievable.

    1. When over the entire course of one’s life, you’ve seen people that look like you shoe-horned into every culture and situation, you begin to see oneself as the default protagonist in every story. That’s why there was outrage that Star Wars 7 had an African-British male lead.

      A young child raised in the jungles of Africa, no way that person would be a native African? Through all sorts of weird machinations, we get Tarzan, King of the Jungle. I’m over it as well.

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