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.
The #AAIronFist train continues! For the latest edition of Hard NOC Life, we welcome journalist Charles Pulliam-Moore and actor/dancer Cole Horibe stop by to talk about why having Iron Fist be an Asian American character makes the most sense. We should also point out that this episode was recorded the day before Scott Buck was announced as the showrunner of the forthcoming Netflix series.
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?
We’re continuing our look at how Marvel can adapt Iron Fist for Netflix, and while an earlier post looked at the supposed difficulties of incorporating the mystical elements of the Iron Fist mythology into the Netflix world, perhaps Marvel’s issue is a more basic one — the challenge of how introduce a character to a new audience given a complicated and convoluted continuity.
This is of course an issue any comic book adaptation must grapple with, but Iron Fist has a particularly convoluted and dense continuity. That’s not to say there’s anything wrong with the basics of the character — a young boy shaped by the trauma of the death of his parents, trained in a mystical city, who returns to Earth to seek vengeance — is a phenomenal origin story for a superhero. Rather, its the labyrinthine and often contradictory history that has been built up around the character over time. Any adaption will necessarily make changes to smooth out continuity, and I have five small but crucial suggestions on how to do just that. Best of all for purists, these changes leave Danny Rand himself almost completely unchanged — instead, they focus on his father, who presents the majority of the backstory issues.
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.
What exactly is the problem with bringing Iron Fist to Netflix? It’s hard to know. Though the latest news is that the show is still on track, it’s clear they haven’t yet figured it out — they don’t have a star; they don’t have a showrunner; and for some reason, no one has bothered to ask Lexi Alexander on how she could make Iron Fist “the most popular show ever.”
One of the issues is apparently no one at Marvel Studios can figure out how to bring the character’s “mystical” elements into the grim and gritty universe established for its Netflix series. Devin Faraci, who first reported on Iron Fist’s troubles back in July, writes that “one of the big hold-ups is the mystical element, with lots of different opinions on just how much weird wuxia to bring in to the show.”
This seems like an odd concern, given that these shows share a cinematic universe with Asgardians, Kree, and Inhumans.
Right now is a good time to be a superhero on television. Supergirl on CBS just premiered to the biggest numbers of the fall season, ABC is moving forward with an Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. spinoff, and Jessica Jones is primed to be Netflix’s next superhero du jour. Speaking of Netflix, the streaming service, its partnership with Marvel promised us individual series starring four heroes — the aforementioned Jessica Jones, Daredevil, Luke Cage, and Iron Fist. Of those four, though, only Iron Fist remains in development hell. Mainly because no one has cracked the story yet.
Fortunately, with the help of MC Nedelsky and MCU Exchange, we think we’ve figured it out. So starting tomorrow, we’re going to present a five-part series that would effectively introduce Iron Fist to new audiences, add greater diversity to the MCU, and do justice to one of Marvel’s most badass characters.
You’re welcome, Marvel.
[UPDATE 2: I talk more about Marvel Studios considering an Asian American Iron Fist with Andrew Wheeler over at ComicsAlliance.]
Yes, I am proposing that a major comic book institution change the race of one of its popular characters as it transitions to a new form of media. In this case, I want Marvel Studios to cast an Asian American actor to play the lead in the upcoming Iron Fist show it is developing for Netflix. It seems logical enough to me, though as always, there are fans who are urging Marvel to resist changing his race.
Now, I know the topic of cross-racial casting has come up time and time again here at The Nerds of Color. And while there are a contingent of fans who don’t think such things matter — or worse, are vehemently opposed to such casting choices — I can’t help thinking that Iron Fist gives Marvel a chance to add even more diversity to its interconnected cinematic universe. Not to mention that this is a case where changing the race of the character has the potential to actually add layers of depth to the story of said character.