Finn Jones has been cast as Iron Fist but is this a borderline racist move?
While many were excited to see that another Marvel character had been cast, it wasn’t too far after that others started to question the decision when it came to Game of Thrones Actor Finn Jones’ race. Actual comic book writers and organizations took to Twitter to voice their opinion including Marjorie Liu, writer of “Dark Wolverine” and “X-23” comic book titles.
Iron Fist is an orientalist-white-man-yellow-fever narrative. Asian actor would have helped subvert that offensive trope, and reclaim space.
— Marjorie Liu (@marjoriemliu) February 25, 2016
— Roobs (@PizzaRoobs) February 25, 2016
The situation with Iron Fist is very interesting in regard to race. On one hand we have the argument that Iron Fist’s alter ego, Danny Rand, is actually a blonde haired, blue eyed character. On the other hand, the character itself is heavily influenced by Asian culture despite his long time appearance of being a white male. So how do these arguments play out? Let’s explore the two schools of thought.
Matching the character’s physical features to the comic book.
The slightest deviation from the comics will have fanboys rioting. Whether it’s casting, story, variation of costume, or even something minor, the hardcore fans are always the hardest to please. I even remember when I myself had some qualms with Sam Raimi’s decision to make Spider-Man’s webbing organic rather than incorporating his web shooters like in the comics.
When it comes to the comics, fans want to see what they read come to life on screen. They expect a fluid transfer as if their favorite characters were pulled directly from the comics and have them come to life like they wished they would when they were kids. Iron Fist is no different in that regard. Many fans expect a 1:1 match of the character to appear, so just as they would argue against Spider-Man’s organic web, they’re going to argue against changes to Iron Fist in any regard.
But what’s even more interesting is that there have been multiple opportunities to change this character which have not been taken. For the most part, the Iron Fist fans know of in the comics and even cartoons (“Ultimate Spider-Man”) has fundamentally stayed the same. Marvel’s Ultimate comic book universe took the opportunity to reboot many characters and even made some drastic changes to their appearance. Nick Fury went from white to black, Colossus questioned his sexual orientation, and even Spider-Man’s identity was eventually changed.
But while so many characters changed in the universe, Iron Fist remained very much the same. So while many welcomed Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury to the big screen with open arms, has the solid consistency of Iron Fist’s character made the transition less palatable for some fans?
Iron Fist’s character has been racially insensitive since the beginning.
Some may not know that the martial artist known as Iron Fist is this blonde haired, blue eyed white male. Their lack of knowledge may be what fueled some of the backlash behind the choice of Finn Jones. But for the fans that oppose the casting choice, they are attacking Marvel at the root of the problem.
The Twitter user above (@PizzaRoobs) cited a letter to Marvel that goes back to the inception of Iron Fist. The claims in the letter have many valid points citing that every aspect of Iron Fist relates to Asian culture except for his appearance. It even references the lack of support for Asian characters when it came to Bruce Lee. For those who don’t remember that scenario, Bruce Lee was supposed to be the lead in the TV series “Kung Fu” which eventually went to the white male actor David Carradine.
As said, these points are valid and few would deny the racial injustice regarding Asian-Americans. But there’s also another character that many are forgetting who was an actual attempt from Marvel to make an Asian superhero. Shang-Chi who first appeared in the “Master of Kung Fu” comic books was introduced in December 1973, 5 months before Iron Fist made his debut. The two characters even interacted with each other over the course of their existence but the majority of fans ultimately favored Iron Fist. Was this because of character marketing or was it just the reader audience?
Both characters were similar in nature but fans ultimately made their choice. So while the character in and of itself could be deemed racist, the racist intentions of Marvel are at best questionable. So are the fans really the ones to blame for Iron Fist’s appearance?
The fans of the time were most likely the cause of Iron Fist’s initial appearance. But as times have changed, Marvel also didn’t take the opportunity to reboot the character to fit his influence and origins as they did with other characters in their Ultimate universe. The only character we’ve ever known as fans fits the appearance of Finn Jones so the question of whether racist intent is there or not is debatable.
On the other hand, Marvel does have an opportunity to appease both sides. If they were able to reintroduce Shang-Chi (“Master of Kung Fu”) into the MCU in today’s market, we could get an interesting story and a more diverse group of heroes.