Let’s get this out of the way up front. Yes, we know that Danny Rand, the Marvel Comics character that is most well known as the Iron Fist, was always a white male. And yes, people have been using the term whitewashing inaccurately while discussing the casting of Finn Jones as the Living Weapon in the live-action adaptation made by Marvel Television and Netflix. But the whole point of that conversation is that many True Believers were concerned about the new series portraying the Last Defender as a white savior, which is typically what happens when a caucasian protagonist is inserted into a different culture and ends up saving the indigenous people.
While the show created by Scott Buck thankfully avoided that trope (despite a few cringeworthy moments), people are continuing to say that it would have been much more interesting to see an Asian-American actor portray the chi-wielding warrior from K’un Lun. In fact, the House of Ideas looked as if they agreed for a few minutes when they almost cast half-Chinese martial artist Lewis Tan as the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s version of Danny. Although at the end of the day, they decided to stay more faithful to the source material and fans that labeled the notion of an Asian Iron Fist as “special snowflakes” and “social justice warriors” whining refused to hear any more about it. And it turns out that one of those people was Iron Fist’s co-creator Roy Thomas.
In a recent interview with The Inverse, the 76-year-old comic book industry veteran downplayed the controversy surrounding the character both in his latest incarnation and in general. Not only that, but he continues to use outdated and culturally insensitive language from a bygone era. Check out what the former Marvel Comics editor-in-chief had to say below:
“People began making me aware of the fact that some people are complaining — as I think they have over the years — about cultural appropriation and crap like that, which just makes me furious… I try not to think about it too much. 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.
I just think some people have too much time on their hands, I guess. They have an infinite capacity for righteous indignation. By and large, that tends to be misplaced quite often because if you’re becoming all upset over things that are just stories, and if you don’t like it, instead of trying to change somebody else’s story, go out and make up your own character and do a good job of it. That’s just fine, but why waste time trying to run down other people’s characters simply because they weren’t created with your standards in mind?”
You know those moments when a character from ‘The Office’ looks into the camera in such a way that screams, “Are you serious right now?” That’s probably the best way to describe my reaction to Thomas’ rant. And thankfully I’m not the only one because ‘Iron Fist’ star Jessica Henwick tweeted this out shortly after the interview went live:
Oriental is a term used to describe rugs, not people.
— Jessica Henwick (@JHenwick) March 21, 2017
I guess it’s good that Thomas is aware that “oriental” isn’t the right word, but then why even say it? Of course back when Iron Fist made his first appearance in ‘Marvel Premiere’ #15 in May 1974, it was a much different time in the world. Some will say that people back then didn’t understand cultural appropriation, institutional racism, or proper representation in the media and he’s just a product of his time. But in 2017, it’s not that much to ask for from the architects of our entertainment to take those things into consideration. After all, Marvel has modernized other elements of their long-standing characters and stories in their cinematic universe with very positive results. You can see it most prominently in the other shows on Netflix. I mean, even Thomas himself noticed and understood that there’s nothing wrong with updating the source material for more modern audiences because he said this later on in the exact same interview:
“When you get heroes like Superman or Batman or even Spider-Man sometimes, they’re so adapted in so many people’s minds that you need to keep them very faithful. Iron Fist, like Luke Cage, is more of an open book you can do almost anything with because there are not that many people who know the character that well. There are a lot of changes made, but you can still see the roots of the comic book in it.”
Let me just refrain from calling out the legendary Silver Age creator from flip-flopping his stance on this topic in the same conversation and evoking images of Grandpa Simpson yelling at a cloud. Also, I’ll spare the reader a dissertation about both the good and bad cultural implications contained in Iron Fist’s nearly 50 year history. Instead, I’ll refer to that meme of Will Smith with his arms outstretched so as to say, “THIS!”? Yeah, that’s how I’m feeling right now. This is exactly what the creators of ‘Iron Fist’ should have taken into consideration when putting the show together. Because if they weren’t even going to deliver thirteen episodes that are up to par with ‘Daredevil’, ‘Jessica Jones’, or ‘Luke Cage’, then the very least that they could have done was offer some much needed representation in a time where Asians are being erased or overshadowed from their own stories left and right as seen in ‘Ghost in the Shell’, ‘Death Note’, and ‘The Great Wall’.
But in the end, while there was a chance for Marvel to change things up just as they did when they created the Ultimate Universe or their various animated continuities, they blew it. Hopefully, as they try to make up for it with future chapters down the line, more people like Roy Thomas will see how important these fictional stories and characters actually are to our culture and the people that still seek to be represented as part of it. Because just in case I didn’t make myself clear enough in the past 1,000 or so words, representation matters dammit. Even if you don’t have the patience for these feelings, it’s as simple as that.
‘Iron Fist’ starring Finn Jones, Jessica Henwick, David Wenham, Jessica Stroup, Tom Pelphrey, Rosario Dawson, and Carrie-Ann Moss is streaming on Netflix right now.