So I’m in the process of binge watching/reviewing season one of Iron Fist, and I just had to step away at the start of watching episode three to collect my thoughts. There are, well, a ton of problems with the show. Most of these are structural, but there’s one that runs throughout it, and it’s Danny Rand. This is 2017. He just shouldn’t be white.
Hear Me Out
So I really, really wanted to give Finn Jones a chance. I’m a fan of his work on Game of Thrones, and overall I think that race isn’t essential to the telling of the vast majority of stories out there. For instance, it doesn’t really matter if Idris Elba plays Roland Deschain or Heimdall — there’s nothing racially inherent to those characters. It also wouldn’t matter if a white person played those roles either. It’s usually about picking the best person for the gig. The problem with Iron Fist is that it’s the opposite.
It’s Cultural Appropriation
So, lets say I’m wanting to tell a story about Shaka Zulu, but I cast a white guy for the role. But then they put him in black face, and make him really learn and study African culture so that they can accurately portray the character. That’s what watching Iron Fist feels like. They surround him with motifs, story tropes, and characters that are inherent to asian storytelling in western settings as a way to honor the culture they’re imitating, except they won’t bother to case someone who belongs to said culture. It very much feels like I’m watching Kung Fu or Kung Fu: The Legend Continues. The reason it feels that way is because the Iron Fist comics are a total knock off of the original Kung Fu series and Batman.
The original series Kung Fu was based in the old west, but was about a wandering half-Chinese Shaolin Monk named played by David Carradine (a 100% white guy), on the search to find his brother Danny. It ran for several seasons and then inspired a sequel series in the 90s that somewhat sidestepped the racial issue by making him the grandson of the original character from the first show. That being said, even watching the show as a kid I thought it was weird. It not as obvious as putting someone in black face or red face, but it’s still really racist and disrespectful. It’s only made worse by the fact that the show Kung Fu, was created by Bruce Lee who was going to star in the show, but it was stolen by Warner Bros.
So yeah, Iron Fist is basically a spiritual sequel to a show that was created by Bruce Lee (but then stolen from him) about a white guy who can save the world after learning mystical Chinese martial arts. Bruce Lee would be so proud.
It’s Insulting, too
So when I got to a scene in the third episode where Danny spars with Coleen Wing (a trained fighter and Asian woman) and kicks her ass, whilst offering fortune cookie Chinese wisdom I just couldn’t take it anymore. Finn Jones, the actor who portrays Danny Rand, ridiculed critics and those critical or his casting, by saying that this was “for the fans.” The thing is, it’s not. I’ll get into more of the narrative reasons why in our review of the show why it’s not, but it’s certainly not for those who are fans of martial arts films. It doesn’t sidestep the issues of Jones’s casting in any discernible way (and based on the previously described scene is totally tone deaf to it), nor does it at least acknowledge it’s source material’s legacy of whitewashing. So yeah, if you want to watch a show that really honors martial arts movies and actors like Bruce Lee, watch Into the Badlands on AMC, or wait for Justin Lin’s upcoming The Warrior, which is based on the actual series that Kung Fu stole from.
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