I’m doing a probationary internship with Inquisitr.com, writing articles for them at a reduced rate. After 30 articles, if I like them and they like me, I’ll write more for them, at a higher rate of pay. My most recent article, “White Actor Cast As Iron Fist,” was about British actor Finn Jones being hired to play Danny Rand in the Netflix show Iron Fist. Several Asian-American fans thought that this TV show was the perfect opportunity for Marvel to overcome decades of Orientalism and cultural appropriation by hiring an Asian-American actor to play Danny Rand.
Danny Rand, aka Iron Fist, aka the Living Weapon, was a martial artist. He was blond and blue-eyed. After his parents died, he was raised in the mystical, extradimensional city-state of K’un-Lun, a place which only materializes on Earth once every ten years. From 9 to 19 Danny was trained, becoming the finest martial artist ever. Or as Kevin Chow put it in Nerds of Color, another one where the white guy goes to Asia (K’un-Lun rematerializes in the Himalayas) to be better at being Asian than the Asians.
If Iron Fist is played by a white actor, then it continues a legacy of cultural appropriation. If Iron Fist is played by an Asian-American actor, then he’s a stereotypical Asian martial artist. Either way, a lose/lose situation.
I posted my article on Facebook, and was surprised at how many of my friends and acquaintances seemed offended at the notion of “racebending” or “racelifting” Danny Rand. Iron Fist had been blond and blue-eyed since 1974. In their opinions, he should forever remain blond and blue-eyed. They didn’t know, nor did I until this morning, that there had been complaints about Iron Fist’s ethnicity since he was first created.
Well, had Netflix chosen John Kim or Godfrey Gao to play Daniel Rand, would it have been any worse than Samuel L. Jackson playing Nick Fury? There’s been quite a few characters who were white in canon, but are now African-American. Most of them were redheads originally: orange is the new Black.
Nick Fury, The Avengers, Iron Man, other MCU movies (brown hair or auburn-brown, depending on the artist)
Pete Ross, Smallville (redhead)
Human Torch, Fantastic Four (blond)
Jimmy Olson, Supergirl (redhead)
Aqualad, Young Justice (black hair)
Heimdell, Thor (brown)
Kingpin, Daredevil (bald)
Harvey Dent, Batman (reddish-brown)
Ellis “Red” Redding, The Shawshank Redemption (redhead)
Little Orphan Annie, Annie (redhead)
Oh, yes, that is SF author William F. Wu writing a letter to Marvel Comics back in 1974, long before he was nominated for a Hugo.