On March 17, 2017, Netflix will premiere its latest Marvel show, Iron Fist. Much like its predecessors, Daredevil , Jessica Jones , and Luke Cage , the show will follow closely to its comic book source material, including its protagonist, orphaned billionaire martial artist Danny Rand, who became a martial arts prodigy after a plane crash landed him in the mythical land of K’un L’un. During his training, he obtains the ability to concentrate his chi (spiritual energy) into his fists, rendering them like iron, hence his moniker. The supposed controversy is that the show’s lead is white, rather than casting an Asian lead for this martial arts show. However, anyone who has read any iteration of Iron Fist’s comics in the past 4 decades knows that Danny Rand is white in the comics as well.
The dilemma is that white lead characters have been the leads in movies focusing on Asian cultures, from Tom Cruise in The Last Samurai, to Matt Damon in The Great Wall. Even Scarlet Johansson was cast as the lead in the live-action adaptation of Ghost in the Shell, sparking a debate on whether her lead character was “white-washed” or not even before it debuted in theaters. Where Iron Fist differs is that it’s actually following it’s source material, potentially nullifying any claim of white-washing.
The issue that should be in focus is not the ethnicity of an established character that follows the source material, but why an established character that can fit the criteria for inclusion hasn’t been utilized yet. A prime example is another martial arts hero from Marvel, Shang-Chi. Not only does he have a similar cult following to Iron Fist, but he gives Marvel a chance to put an Asian superhero at the forefront. In fact, Shang-Chi is part of the same Heroes For Hire circle that Iron Fist, Luke Cage, and Misty Knight inhabit, making him an easy chatacter to bring into the fold.
As casting trends have shown, inclusion and representation are beginning to matter more than ever. However, reassigning ethnicity may not always be the best solution. Sometimes, it’s about bringing an overlooked hero into the forefront.