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The Frustrating Aftermath of #AAIronFist

We are rapidly approaching the release of Iron Fist, the fourth Marvel series on Netflix, and reviews have been less than kind. When the show announced it had a (non-Asian American) showrunner, NOC re-introduced the hashtag #AAIronFist. It was an attempt to get Marvel to acknowledge that Iron Fist is a character whose origins are Asian, and should be played by a person of Asian descent, to increase representation in media.

For my part, I wrote an opinion piece about why we need an #AAIronFist. I submitted that being Asian, or even half-Asian, would give Danny Rand a depth to his character that we hadn’t seen before. The “stranger in a strange land” trope where the white man is the foreigner has been done to death, and is vaguely insulting. An 8-year old orphan comes to magical Asian land and becomes the ultimate martial artist? That right there is the definition of the white savior.

Why would my approach have been more interesting? Let me educate you on what it’s like to be an outsider.

“Jook Sing.”

I heard that phrase many a time growing up. When my parents and older Chinese people would talk about me, they’d use that term.

What does it mean?

Literally, in Cantonese, it means bamboo rod. According to Wikipedia, however:

“The stem of the bamboo plant is hollow and compartmentalized; thus water poured in one end does not flow out of the other end. The metaphor is that jook-sings are not part of either culture; water within the jook-sing does not flow and connect to either end. The term may or may not be derogatory. Use of the term predates World War II.”

Now imagine Danny Rand, on a flight with his mother and father: the plane crashes; he loses his parents. Danny wakes up in a strange land, and people immediately try to help him, because he looks like one of their own who has lost his parents. But when they discover he’s an outsider, an American, they turn their back on him.

Because he’s an outsider, he doesn’t belong. And that’s just the start of it. The internal conflict, the struggle to figure out where he fits in — coincidentally, the ENTIRE STRUGGLE OF MY OWN LIFE, and the lives of MILLIONS OF AMERICANS. Not just Chinese or even Asian: anyone whose family comes from outside the U.S. understands this balance and this struggle.

That is a much more nuanced and more interesting take than “rich billionaire goes to Asia, learns kung fu, and fights crime.” We don’t need more than one of those, and the guy below has got that down on lock:

Also this guy. And this guy. And this guy. This guy, too (though he just went to Asia and built a suit of armor).

Ultimately, the producers went with Finn Jones, who has not acquitted himself well. At all.

And then there’s garbage like this:

Uh no, because positive black representations in media are needed too. We NEED a character like Luke Cage to be black, but does Danny Rand NEED to be white?

Where hardcore fanboys insist that the television show be completely faithful to the original material it’s adapted from.

To which I say:

“SUPERMAN SHOULD ONLY LOOK LIKE THIS AND NOTHING ELSE EVER.” What every Iron Fist purist who comes at me sounds like.

How far does fanboy purism have to go? Comics themselves are always in a fluid state of change. At any moment, your favorite character could die, get a new power or a get a new costume.

Also, people who want to question my credentials… check yourself:

I’ve been reading comics for nearly 30 years. I sold comics for a living at a very, very large comic book shop in New York City (it rhymes with Sidtown Chronics), and I was on national TV talking about comics multiple times. You don’t get to tell me what I do and don’t know. I own my fandom, and I will own you with my fandom.

The above video was in reference to Ghost in the Shell, but it applies here as well… representation is important, and really, when THE ASIAN AMERICAN COMIC BOOK GUY is asking for representation in his media, and your response is to tell him he doesn’t get it, that’s kinda messed up. I mean really, do you know what it’s like to be told you can’t be Superman (shout out to fellow Asian American Dean Cain for repping Big Blue), that you could never be Spider-Man or Batman because of the color of your skin? The way you look? That kinda stuff kills dreams and hopes, friends.

And while I continue to fight and claw and scratch, there are plenty of kids who don’t. Who give up. And I speak for them when I say, IT’S NOT GOOD ENOUGH TO ADAPT THE SOURCE MATERIAL, WE NEED TO ADAPT TO THE TIMES AS WELL!

And I don’t need Danny Rand to be Chinese, or Chinese American. Okay I do, for very selfish reasons, but giving him a diverse background means some kid out there, who’s going to watch this show, does not have to grow up without saying “wow someone on TV looks like me.”

Bruce Lee died nine years before I was born. Jet Li and Jackie Chan are Chinese imports who are likely to think of me as a “Jook Sing” than anything else. I remember Vanishing Son for the brief moment it had on TV, but I also remember white David Carradine in Kung Fu and Kung Fu: The Legend Continues. I remember Captain Hikaru Sulu of the USS Excelsior, but I also remember Harry Kim the permanent Ensign on Voyager. There’s been progress, but not nearly enough.

I love that Fresh Off the Boat and Into the Badlands exist, but I grew up obsessed with superheroes, I’d like to see an Asian American Superhero starring in a high profile project, and not just relegated to guest star or secondary status (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. gets a nod, but that’s an ensemble cast of minor Marvel characters and characters created just for the show).

Look, I get it, Asian Americans make up only about 5.6% of the population, and most of you people out there don’t care to think about us, but we’re out there. We have a voice. We struggle, we strive. People of all different races, genders, and creeds exist. We all want to be represented. I want to be represented.

I’m not just an outsider to two cultures, I’m an American. I have a place at the table, I belong in this country, just like anyone whose family immigrated here. Especially in this day and age, it’s important to reaffirm those values.

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