Iron Fist is one of the lesser known Marvel superheroes, so you’re forgiven if you haven’t heard of him yet.
As the hero of one of Marvel’s four new Netflix shows, Iron Fist is an old-school martial arts badass whose backstory involves his father discovering the mythical city of K’un-Lun. Apprenticed to K’un-Lun’s martial arts master Lei Kung, the young Iron Fist grows up to be his finest pupil. After that there’s some superpower origin story shenanigans involving a dragon, but you get the gist: Iron Fist is very good at martial arts.
With a premise like that, you’d probably expect Iron Fist to be Asian, right? Well, not so much. His real name is Danny Rand, and he’s the son of white American entrepreneur Wendell Rand (you know, the dude who stumbled upon K’un-Lun). He’s basically superhero comics’ answer to 1970s kung fu movies: a white American version of Bruce Lee, but with superpowers.
In 2014, the potentially racist undertones of this backstory mean that Marvel will have to tread carefully when working the new Netflix adaptation. There’s already some outcry from Iron Fist fans, using the #AAIronFist hashtag to ask Marvel to consider an Asian American actor for the role.
Along with a petition to send to Marvel, supporters of an Asian American Iron Fist are sharing posts from sites like Nerds of Color and Comics Alliance, explaining why casting an Asian American actor would be a good idea for the new Netflix show.
Nerds of Color makes a good case:
“My call for an Asian American Iron Fist is not meant to displace Danny Rand from the story,” wrote Keith Chow, a contributor to the site. “It is, in fact, the opposite. In my mind, casting a young Asian American in the lead role does nothing to change his classic origin: He can still be the son of a wealthy businessman. He can still accompany his family on an expedition to seek out K’un L’un. He can still train under Lei Kung, the Thunderer. He can still seek revenge against the man who killed his father. Danny being Asian American precludes none of these things.
What does change, however, in making Danny non-white is that it removes the white savior syndrome of the original story.”
Chow goes on to add, “if Danny is Asian American, the scenes of him embracing the ways of K’un-L’un can be viewed through the lens of cultural reconnection.”
The first of Marvel’s four Netflix shows will be Daredevil, which may end up starring Dexter’s Michael C. Hall. But if that hasn’t been fully cast yet, then Iron Fist (the third series after Daredevil and Jessica Jones) is still wide open.
Out of those four new shows, two are already firsts for the Marvel Cinematic Universe: Jessica Jones as their first female lead, and Luke Cage as the first African American lead. (In case you hadn’t noticed, Iron Man, Captain America, Thor and Bruce Banner are all white, and Black Widow is still waiting for her own movie. African American superhero Falcon makes his debut in the new Captain America movie, but in a secondary role.)
This begs the question, could Marvel cope with putting a white man in only one of the four leading roles of those new Netflix shows? In 2014, is this still such a risky idea to accept? Well, presumably we’ll find out in a few months, when Iron Fist’s official casting is announced.
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