The Iron Fist That Almost Was: One-on-One with Steven Maeda

It’s been nearly two weeks since Iron Fist debuted all 13 episodes of its initial season on Netflix. Prior to its release, the first half of the season previewed for critics received a drubbing the likes of which is unheard of for a Marvel/Netflix property. I’ve since watched the whole season, and yeah, it wasn’t good. Setting aside my issues with the casting of the lead, Iron Fist suffers from the worst sin of any piece of entertainment: it’s boring! Worse than that, it has absolutely zero point of view. I still don’t know what Scott Buck is trying to say with this show. To that end, I wrote a post about different Asian American showrunners who could have brought a unique perspective to the Iron Fist story that the current show lacks. In response to my article on twitter, one of those writers, Steven Maeda, even revealed he actually pitched an Iron Fist concept to Marvel!

I reached out to the former X-Files and Lost writer to get the skinny on what happened to his pitch to Marvel.

KEITH: Thanks for agreeing to respond to some questions about your Iron Fist pitch to Marvel! When did you first approach them about Iron Fist?
My agent initiated the meeting when Marvel was looking for someone to write the pilot. I’d known [head of Marvel Television] Jeph Loeb from working together on Lost.

What drew you to the show?
First, Marvel has a tremendous track record. I liked the concept and the branding of the four shows on Netflix as a unit.

Can you give any details on what your pitch consisted of? Was your intention to focus on an Asian American protagonist?
The first thing out of my mouth was to make Danny Rand an Asian American. It seemed like a no-brainer to me.

What prompted you to want to go in that direction?
I’d been looking to do a project with an Asian protagonist. I also felt it would differentiate Danny Rand from Bruce Wayne — obviously, they share a lot of similarities.

Why do you think your pitch was rejected?
Ultimately, they didn’t respond to my take. My pitch for an Asian American lead may have contributed to that, but it’s hard to say. This was not an egregious instance of hiring a white actor for an Asian role, or (even worse) putting a white actor in yellowface. Marvel simply did not want to stray from the source material. I think it was an opportunity to do something bold, but they declined.

There’s a lot of discussion about the lack of quality roles for AAPI actors. As a writer/producer what barriers do you encounter when trying to create those roles?
The biggest barrier involves studios and networks wanting to cast recognizable or “hot” up-and-coming actors. If you don’t give opportunities to Asian American actors, they can’t get heat. Then you hear the complaint that the Asian American actor you want doesn’t have heat. It’s a vicious circle.

How has your experience as a writer been similar or dissimilar to what AAPI actors face?
I have been fortunate in that I have not experienced overt racism on the shows I’ve worked on. I can’t speak for the covert kind.

Chloe Bennet and Ming-Na notwithstanding, do you think we’ll ever see an Asian American centered superhero movie or show?
Absolutely. It’s just a matter of time, and a studio or network willing to take a risk. Until then, we’ll just keep pounding on the door.

3 thoughts on “The Iron Fist That Almost Was: One-on-One with Steven Maeda

  1. would like to know what his pitch was outside of danny being asian. i mean they obviously wanted him to be a whiny manchild psycho so if steven’s depiction was different…..

    1. Curious about this too… because I’m imagining the horror show of “what if they’d cast Lewis Tan as Danny Rand only to give him the exact same narrative and dialogue as Finn Jones’ Danny, with no dialogue/narrative acknowledgment of Lewis’ Danny as Asian-American.” Smells like sabotage I say…

      Speaking of which, in light of what Steven Maeda described of both source material and the vicious cycle I’m really glad to see younger Asian-American superheroes in recent years’ Marvel comics and making for newer, better source material.

      1. yes. now if only they would use those characters outside of the comics…….if they go the young avengers route after the next two avengers films shake it up and instead of using that roster use the new current young heroes: kamala, amadeus (pre-hulk), miss america, etc etc with some wiccan and hulking sprinkled in

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