This past weekend, Netflix finally dropped all 13 episodes of Iron Fist. For the most part, the internet was not pleased. While a smattering of Fist Stans tried their damnedest to pretend what they watched was, you know, good, the consensus among critics (and fans too) was this was Marvel’s first big miss. There was one awesome outcome of the Iron Fist debacle, however: a slew of awesome comics artists began sharing their takes on a redesigned Asian American Danny (or Dani) Rand! And it all started when Jen Bartel shared her riff on Kris Anka’s original:
by Andrea Tang
This weekend, between bouts of story-editing, I meandered my way through the first four episodes of Netflix’s Iron Fist, which I’m actually quite enjoying so far, probably for the same reasons I’ve seen Vampire Academy three times. I’m pretty sure the writers pitched this series as, “What would happen if you put a goldendoodle puppy in the body of a WASPy ten-year-old blue blood, then traumatically dropped him off in the Himalayas for Fifteen Whole Gap Yahs? Probably, he would die, but that is boring and untrue to comics canon, so what if we made kung fu magic happen along the way in a manner most likely to bring the wrath of Edward Said’s ghost down on our heads? LET’S FIND OUT.”
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.
We all know Marvel and Netflix passed on the opportunity to cast an Asian American actor in the role of Danny Rand on their upcoming Iron Fist series. Still, that didn’t prevent artist Alison Roberts from illustrating what Danny might have looked like as an Asian American.
Despite a months (née years)-long campaign to have Marvel and Netflix consider Asian American actors for the role of Danny Rand in their upcoming Iron Fist show, it was announced that Game of Thrones star(?) Finn Jones had been cast in the role.
Honestly, is anyone actually surprised?
Lately, this site has been All Iron Fist Every Thing, so apologies if you don’t give two shits about that particular character. Also, you might want to click elsewhere because we’re going to drill a little deeper into the reasons why we’ve been on the #AAIronFist train — that would be Asian American Iron Fist and not Alcoholics Anonymous, btw — for the last 20 months. Two things came up in the last week or so that have led to this resurgence in interest in an Asian American Iron Fist. First, Marvel and Netflix finally announced a showrunner for the series. Secondly, Comic Book Resources published this essay by Albert Ching on why Danny Rand shouldn’t be Asian American.
It’s been quite a while since I’ve contributed anything, but with the news that Iron Fist has a showrunner and also with Donald Trump wasting our time and being overtly bigoted, I thought it was an opportunity to look at the importance of introducing more POC characters in our fiction, and the importance of identity, on a wide range of levels.
The news just broke that Scott Buck has been tapped to spearhead Iron Fist for Netflix and Marvel. This has led people to speculate that the show will cast a white lead despite the fact that the momentum for an Asian American Iron Fist is growing. Keith Chow begun the discussion over a year ago with his powerful op-ed on why having an Asian American play Danny Rand is so important. It was a piece that had a large impact on me, and many others such as Lexi Alexander and Gail Simone have taken up the call. Nerds of Color and MCU Exchange have teamed up to produce a series of articles providing suggestions not only how to adapt Iron Fist’s complex mythology but also arguing that an Asian American Iron Fist makes more sense not only for reasons of diversity, but for thematic and narrative reasons as well, and a few weeks ago Charles Pulliam-Moore of Fusion wrote forcefully that Iron Fist “better be Asian,” joining the chorus of voices who feel this is important. It’s a proper movement now.
Pop culture writers, whatever their chosen topic, write because they are passionate about the subject. First and foremost we’re fans, and we want to share our passion. But, like any writer, we also hope our words have an impact — that they will cause a reader to reflect, or think differently about something, or change their mind.
Keith Chow’s article on why we need an Asian American Iron Fist had that effect on me. Like many Marvel fans, I was very excited to see Iron Fist come to the screen. And like probably the majority of comics fans, I assumed the character would be a rich white guy. After all, that’s what he is the comics, right?
Ever since I implored Marvel to consider an Asian American actor for the role of Danny Rand in their planned Iron Fist Netflix series last year, the most common reaction has been from non-Asians (usually) whitesplaining why the idea of an Asian American martial artist is racist. The second most common question involves who Marvel/Netflix could cast in the role because there are no Asian American stars who could possibly carry a series. Which is a funny demand because I don’t recall Charlie Cox being a huge movie star pre-Daredevil, but that’s neither here nor there.
Besides, this is Marvel we’re talking about. The same studio that turned the schlubby guy from Parks & Rec into Harrison Ford. Whoever they cast — Asian or not — is guaranteed to be a star anyway. So here are several actors who deserve a shot at Shou-Lao and superhero stardom.