It’s not that long into Netflix’s Iron Fist that Finn Jones’ Danny Rand happens upon Jessica Henwick’s Colleen Wing, and decides it’s a good idea to speak to her in Mandarin. I’m mixed-raced myself, and I can’t tell you how damn annoying it is to have a white dude come up to you and speak a language he assumes you’ll understand/speak.
The scene made me cringe. It made me uncomfortable. Why couldn’t he just have spoken to her in English? I imagine it was all part of the plan to show how Danny Rand, a Caucasian man, is better than Asians at everything from Mandarin to martial arts.
But appropriating Asian culture is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the problems in Iron Fist—Netflix and Marvel’s final solo superhero outing before the highly anticipated Defenders series. Lackluster fight scenes haunt every episode (bar the occasional promising sequence), while the direction, cinematography and script left much to be desired. There was no clear vision, stylistically and story-wise. Where Jessica Jones and Luke Cage excelled, Iron Fist didn’t even bother to compete.
You can’t swing an Apple TV remote without hitting a superhero with special abilities, dead parents and a decent bank account. Their stories have been told, and unfortunately, Iron Fist does very little to improve upon the tired tale. And this is why Netflix should have listened when fans said “make Danny Rand Asian American.”
“But he was white in the comics!!!”
I’ve heard that from multiple people, friends included, and to that I say: “and your point is?????”
Look, there were a lot of dodgy things in the past that were widely accepted, but that doesn’t mean it flies in 2017. Cultural appropriation and similar bullshit belongs in the past. No excuses. And I’m not saying it’s not believable that a white man can learn to be great at Chinese martial arts, but when the people of the culture from which it originates are left out in the cold to play mysterious monks and Chinese gang members, it’s just crap.
Had Marvel actually listened to outrage, the show could have actually been something great. I won’t go on about this point as other writers have explained it far better than I ever could, but if the outcry over the decision and subsequent dismissal of the series have taught us anything, it’s that Hollywood has to stop nodding its head saying “yeah yeah we hear you” and actually do something about it. An Asian American Danny Rand could have added real depth to the story, and given the show something to say about what it means to be an outsider in America and in Asia.
But it’s not all bad. In truth, I really think Finn Jones is a tremendous talent and did what he could with the bad writing he was given. Had Rand not been written as naive beyond belief with questionable motivations, maybe I would have enjoyed watching him more. The real scene stealers however, were Jessica Henwick, Rosario Dawson (who is a damn superhero in her own right), and Carrie-Ann Moss. These three women embodied their magnificent characters perfectly, breathing life into a show that desperately needed something good.
Iron Fist didn’t get me pumped for The Defenders in the way that I had hoped, and though it’s too late to fix a lot of the problems with Danny Rand, I am still positive that the next run will be better. It HAS to be better.