iron fist

Photo via Netflix

‘Iron Fist’ co-creator doesn’t get what the cultural appropriation fuss is about

'I just think some people have too much time on their hands.'


Michelle Jaworski

Internet Culture

Posted on Mar 21, 2017   Updated on May 24, 2021, 8:01 pm CDT

It’s been a few days since Iron Fist debuted on Netflix with fans having many of the same problems with the show as critics, many of whom are fans themselves. After star Finn Jones spent the days leading up to the show’s release addressing the accusations of cultural appropriation—and often making it worse—one of the creators of Iron Fist has offered a tone-deaf response to the controversy.

Iron Fist fans started asking Marvel to cast an Asian-American actor in the role back in 2014 to avoid the white savior trope that’s a big part of Iron Fist’s backstory. Created back in the 1970s, the Iron Fist comics starred Danny Rand, a wealthy white American who grows into a martial arts master after his parents are killed in a fictional part of Asia. Many fans argued that making Iron Fist Asian-American would give the story an important modern refresh, making it about a man discovering his own roots instead of a white guy rising to the top of another culture. In the end Marvel decided to stick with Rand’s original identity, casting Jones. 

In an interview with Inverse published March 17 that gained new traction on Tuesday, Iron Fist co-creator Roy Thomas—who was not involved in the making of the Netflix series—was asked about the controversy surrounding the show. 

Thomas, whose main concern about Iron Fist was whether he still had his dragon tattoo, said he would’t have had an issue with Iron Fist being played with an Asian-American actor. But he also didn’t understand why people were so upset about the casting in the first place, voicing his confusion in a way many found cringe-worthy. 

“Yeah, someone made me vaguely aware of that. I try not to think about it too much,” he told Inverse. “I have so little patience for some of the feelings that some people have. I mean, I understand where it’s coming from. You know, cultural appropriation, my god. It’s just an adventure story. Don’t these people have something better to do than to worry about the fact that Iron Fist isn’t Oriental, or whatever word? I know Oriental isn’t the right word now, either.”

It was a different time when he wrote Iron Fist, Thomas explained, adding that plenty of other characters wouldn’t be politically correct nowadays while repeating the notion that people have too much time on their hands and should make up their own characters instead of criticizing. In doing so, he unintentionally made a very good argument for the importance of having diverse representation on creative teams. 

“On the other hand, if they had decided to make Iron Fist an Asian, that would have been fine with me, too. I wouldn’t have cared,” Thomas said. “I didn’t consider myself the safeguard of some kind of Caucasian literary standard or anything like that. But I would have found it easier to write about a Caucasian, so that’s one reason I probably did it. If somebody had suggested, ‘You want to make it so he’s Asian?’ Well, we could have done that too.”

Thomas’ interview resurfaced in the wake of a new interview with actor Lewis Tam, who played Zhou Cheng in Iron Fist. He revealed just how close we could have been to getting an Asian-American in the title role. Tam told Vulture that he had auditioned multiple times and had discussed his availability before Marvel went with Jones. And as the Mary Sue points out, Tam almost getting the part isn’t even new: Rumors that Marvel was considering an Asian-American actor for the part surfaced in 2015 and Tam first talked about it last October. In the wake of Iron Fist’s massive misfire and many issues coming to light now, it’s getting even more attention.

He too offered a way that an Asian-American Iron Fist would have been able to tell a tale of an outsider.

“I personally think it would have been a really interesting dynamic to see this Asian-American guy who’s not in touch with his Asian roots go and get in touch with them and discover this power,” Tam explained. “I think that’s super interesting and we’ve never seen that. We’ve seen this narrative already; we’ve seen it many times. So I thought it would be cool and that it would add some more color to The Defenders.”

H/T Kassey Cho

Share this article
*First Published: Mar 21, 2017, 6:04 pm CDT