Five Showrunners Who Could Have Gotten Iron Fist Right

Three years ago, when I initially wrote about casting an Asian American in the lead role on Iron Fist, I had no idea the NOC would become ground zero for the #AAIronFist movement. I just never thought an Asian American Danny Rand was that radical a notion! Now that we’re on the eve of the show’s debut on Netflix — in addition to its star’s recent twitter tantrum — years-old arguments are starting to resurface on twitter and elsewhere. Coupled with early reviews savaging the series, I figured now was as good a time as any to resurrect one more Iron Fist thinkpiece before (hopefully) never having to talk about this goddamn show ever again.

Back in December 2015, we partnered with the fine folks at MCU Exchange to write a series of posts arguing why making Iron Fist Asian American was more than just casting; it would have made for a better story too. If you recall, at that point in time, there were news reports that the series was flailing: it had no showrunner and no one could figure out how to crack the series open. So in addition to giving Jeph Loeb and company plenty of ideas (for free, even!) on how to tell a compelling story — something critics have said is extremely lacking so far — we were also going to help them solve their showrunner problem.

Unfortunately, before I had a chance to put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard, more accurately) and offer up some names who could have steered the Iron Fist ship in the right direction, Marvel and Netflix had announced they found their man! Who better to run Iron Fist — their, admittedly, toughest Netflix series to date — than the guy who 1.) never heard of the character, and 2.) ruined Dexter?! Yay?

I’m not saying there were probably better choices… actually, that’s exactly what I’m saying. So here’s the list of five showrunners who Marvel Television could have hired to run Iron Fist. Whether or not any of these producers would have cast an Asian American lead is beside the point. But if early reviews are to be believed, I’d have to think any one of these writers would have had a better understanding of what it means to live in two worlds without really belonging in either (paraphrasing actual dialogue Danny says in the show!).

Leo Chu & Eric S. Garcia

Need writers who can balance humor and sick martial arts action? Look no further than Leo Chu and Eric Garcia! Earlier this decade, the producing partners were the showrunners of Nickelodeon’s award-winning martial arts comedy Supah Ninjas — starring Ryan Potter, who still needs to be Robin, btw. Prior to their stint on Supah Ninjas, the two also ran the animated hit Afro Samurai and its sequel Afro Samurai: Resurrection. In other words, these guys know how to do a multiracial martial arts show that doesn’t require cultural appropriation to make it work.

Also, an Iron Fist run by these two would likely lean in to Danny’s more humorous side — remember, he’s a bit of a wise ass in the comics — since they have a history in the comedy genre. Not that their Iron Fist would be shot like a sitcom.

If that two-minute reel is any indication, they clearly have a better understanding of how to incorporate kick ass fight scenes than whatever the hell they’re doing on Iron Fist.

Steven Maeda

Steven Maeda is a genre television writing veteran, having been part of writers rooms for X-Files, Harsh Realm, and Lost. He’s also had experience as a showrunner leading the dramas Pan Am for NBC and Helix for Syfy. Basically, if you need a guy able to handle some of the more fantastical elements of Iron Fist, something that has dogged the show’s production from jump street, Maeda would have been a better bet. Also, he got Japanese cinema icon Hiroyuki Sanada to commit to a basic cable sci-fi series!

Just imagine the kind of talent he could have cast for Iron Fist! (By the way, if you haven’t already, treat yourself and go watch Sanada in Twilight Samurai. You’ll be glad you did.)

Albert Kim

Albert Kim is currently the showrunner of Fox’s Sleepy Hollow and a former co-executive producer on The CW’s Nikita. Before writing for television, Kim was a reporter at Entertainment Weekly so he probably understands the ramifications of bad press affecting a show (ahem, like how Sleepy Hollow did Abbie Mills dirty!)

One thing Kim can be lauded for on both shows he’s led? Powerful Asian American women leads. Maggie Q was the driving force behind all four seasons of Nikita and Janina Gavankar is the current co-lead on Sleepy Hollow. In fact, a recent episode of the supernatural series was a milestone for genre television in that it featured both an Asian American writer and an Asian American director on top of the fact that the show stars and is showrun by Asian Americans.

It seems Jessica Henwick as Colleen Wing is the sole saving grace on Iron Fist. Maybe if Kim was running the show, she’d be an even bigger standout! Even better, we could have had a gender bent hero as well!  


Imagine: Iron Fist starring Maggie Q as Dani Rand. You’re welcome.

Keto Shimizu

So you’re doing a show about a rich, blonde, white guy who goes to the Orient, only to return as a superhero? Why not hire a writer/producer who has some experience telling that exact story? Keto Shimizu began writing for Arrow in 2013, including the show’s companion comic Arrow Season 2.5, and has been a major player throughout the Berlanti-verse on The CW. She was also a head writer on the animated Vixen series and is currently part of the Legends of Tomorrow writers room.

While it’s pretty common knowledge that Shimizu is a true blue DC fangirl, her love of superheroes knows no bounds! I’m sure her version of Iron Fist would be way more compelling than what we will be getting on Netflix. And given that Iron Fist and Arrow share many similar qualities, perhaps hiring Shimizu would have led to #AAIronFist after all? You know just to differentiate the two?

I’m sure Lewis Tan could demonstrate a never before seen trick or two on the ol’ salmon ladder?

Maurissa Tancharoen

Lastly, Marvel didn’t have far to look if they really wanted to find a showrunner to steer Iron Fist in a better direction. For the last four seasons, she has turned Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. into one of the most diverse series on television. Not only is she already part of the Marvel Television family, but bringing Tancharoen into the Netflix fold could have been an enticing bridge between Marvel’s Netflix and ABC islands. And let’s be real, if Scott Buck can simultaneously showrun Iron Fist and Inhumans (which will likely replace Agents on the ABC schedule), Maurissa could have totally done both as well.

Let’s not forget, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is still the only place in the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe where you’ll see any Asian American superheroes, so there’s that. Also, if Tancharoen had no problem giving us an Asian American Quake, perhaps she would have been open to an Asian American Danny as well?

Ever since Scott Buck was announced as the head writer of Iron Fist, any hopes that we’d get an Asian American Iron Fist were immediately dashed as well. And that was part of the problem. This was always about more than casting. People who have been pushing back against #AAIronFist never went beyond superficial arguments — i.e., “fish out of water” or “negative Asian stereotype” — and never considered story implications for making Danny Asian American. #AAIronFist was as much about finding a showrunner with a specific point of view — think Melissa Rosenberg on Jessica Jones or Cheo Hodari Coker on Luke Cage — which early reports indicate the current incarnation of the show lacks.

All of the above showrunners are not only Asian American, but have very specific perspectives that could have made Iron Fist special. Instead, we’re stuck with the exact thing we’ve been cautioning against for three years.

Good thing Into the Badlands is debuting the same weekend!

9 thoughts on “Five Showrunners Who Could Have Gotten Iron Fist Right

  1. Thanks for the mention, Keith. I actually pitched Marvel an Asian lead for the show. They went in another direction.

  2. I could not agree more. Into The Badlands season 2 is going to be Amazing.

  3. Danielle Rand, does he have to be young or a guy? Probably now in the realm of fanfiction but I was thinking of Danielle ”Danny” Rand going missing as a freshman in college and she trains all these years in Kun Lun. I picture Ming Na as an older Danny but in an alternate universe alas.

    But I’m a fair guy. I wish Finn Jones and this show the best.

  4. Not true that #AAIronFist detractors only raised superficial arguments. Many of us felt that the call to make Danny Rand Asian sought diversity in a manner that did not force the superhero industry to reckon with the genre’s race limitations.

    #AAIronFist basically suggested that all the violence inherent to White male power fantasies like the superhero could be redeemed once a simple palette swap traded a well-known White superhero for an Asian American . As was said before, this idea treated Asian American heritages like coats of paint, like meaningless wrapping paper.

    Further, the entire idea sought public legitimacy in a transparent, gaudy manner. Instead of pushing a movement to highlight independent characters of color and their comic creators, people drove this idea that any visibility for marginalized communities was positive, no matter the cost. Nerds of color more concerned with being seen than with being seen as human do not convince the superhero publishing industry that they overlook meaningful narratives among non-White populations.

    Now, with the impending release of the Iron Fist show, #AAIronFist achieves a bizarre extreme, where a White male actor playing a White male character based on a White male character within a White male genre endures public derision, just for taking a role and finding work. People don’t have to agree that the show is any good, people don’t have to watch the show, but the idea that substantive critique of the #AAIronFist idea did not exist is not accurate.

    This desire to shoehorn visible diversity into existing comic book properties both devalues the existing canon and betrays a shallow, superficial race politic that finds skin-deep, palette-swap diversity relevant, and fails to grasp that meaningful, humane race consciousness is possible, outside of the superhero concept.

    1. Yes, #AAIronFist would have taken a white male power fantasy and turned it into an Asian male power fantasy. So what? Why don’t Asians deserve power fantasies similar to the ones that white men get to enjoy all the time? It’s a double standard to decry #AAIronFist as “power fantasies” when that’s the main appeal of all superhero media.

      I don’t think anyone was saying that changing Iron Fist from white to Asian, on its own, would be a meaningful change. However, an Asian American Iron Fist would open up the possibility of new ways to write this old story.

      1. No one deserves a power fantasy. Further, if power fantasies offer the main appeal of all superhero media, than we can’t run to superhero media as a useful place to center race and gender , since race and gender consciousness morally obligate people to dismantle unequal and unjust power structures. By definition, power fantasies present unequal and unjust power structures.

        Luke Cage’s Netflix show suffers greatly because it fails to offer a compelling reason why a Black male power fantasy offers an empowered hero who uses his abilities in much the same fashion as ever other White superhero you’ve ever seen, just with a lighter special effects budget. Without a compelling theory of Black superheroics from which to work, one that present substantive Blackness in word and deed and mind, the viewer endures superficial, skin-grafted Blackness in every episode, with a famous Biggie Smalls portrait hanging in Cottonmouth’s office and singer Raphael Saadiq crooning in the first episode.

        In essence, the White male power fantasy that animates the superhero genre is not challenged by Luke Cage, and there is no reason to believe that #AAIronFist would challenge anything. The only purpose it could serve would be to allow Asians “power fantasies similar to the ones that white men get to enjoy all the time”. That’s simply not good enough. For meaningful diversity in comics rise past farce, we should encourage less of the Luke Cage-style superficiality in favor of more thought provoking, holistic, culturally accurate portrayals.

        Further, it’s clear that altering Danny Rand’s race and/ or gender would allow new storytelling possibilities. The relevant question asks why this particular character required such redefinition, when new character creation offers more possibility for authentic minority storytelling. This isn’t about a double standard; it’s about rejecting the idea that equality happens when people of color gaze into the popular culture landscape and find characters who look like them, who behave and think like every White male protagonist within the Western canon.

        None of us should beg for heroes whose race or gender consciousness can be ensured through a casting decision. Diversity should take more than that.

  5. I was talking about this last week with a friend, and she proposed an idea that I haven’t seen elsewhere: a biracial Danny Rand. I think that this could have been a really interesting way to go, as it offers avenues to explore associated with race that could place the character both inside and outside of Asian and white cultures at the same time. It could also give fans something unexpected that could potentially bridge concerns from fans who wanted Danny to be Asian and those who wanted him to remain true to the source material.

Comments are closed.