Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Critics of "Iron Fist" Are Dead Wrong

Finn Jones aka Iron Fist
When it reported that British actor Finn Jones landed the lead in Netflix’s upcoming fourth Marvel series, "Iron Fist," the social media world predictably was rattled a little.

It was considered be the very few as "the latest in a long line of casting controversies," as they took to Twitter and Facebook demanding to know why a square-jawed, handsome white guy was cast instead of an Asian.

In the Marvel comics upon which the TV series is based, Iron Fist is a square-jawed, handsome white guy. At least, that’s how he’s been portrayed for the past 42 years.

"Tired of people’s defense of casting a white actor for Iron Fist because 'he’s white in the comics!' So?" one critic whined on Twitter.

So? What is this critic thinking. It's called story.

Iron Fist first appeared in 1974, a product of pop culture’s chopsocky craze. Marvel’s "The Deadly Hands of Kung Fu" and the "Kung Fu" TV series were two other examples. Maybe the critics are not aware of that and just wants to promote their own selfish political agenda without knowing anything about history.

In his origin story, Iron Fist is Danny Rand, the blond, blue-eyed son of a wealthy New Yorker who’d discovered a mystical city in another dimension called K'un L'un. When Rand’s father is murdered while searching for the city (which appears only every 10 years), the young boy is adopted by the city’s ruler and taught martial arts so he can one day avenge his daddy’s murder.

This is classic fish-out-of-water stuff, and much of the story's appeal is watching Rand navigate an alien culture, and struggling with — before ultimately mastering — skills that are exotic to him as a New Yorker.

That's the story, and if critics change the character, then they should change the whole story. That's not to say a compelling tale couldn't be told with an Asian Iron Fist — it just would be a different one.

Also, are critics really going to argue that any hero whose strength is martial-arts training should be Asian? Let’s give him a bad Fu Manchu mustache and an inability to pronounce R's while everyone is at it.

Even still, the chance that a nonwhite actor might have been cast as Iron Fist isn’t all that far-fetched.

Marvel Studios decided to base its cinematic Nick Fury (played by Samuel L. Jackson) on the black Nick Fury from the publisher’s modern-day Ultimate line of comics, not the old white guy from its classic line.

In print, Marvel has for the past few years gone on a gender- and race-swapping bender. Characters who were once white, such as Captain America, became black. Others, like Thor, have gone from male to female. (She earns just 0.7 mugs of mead compared to her male counterpart.)

The changes have been criticized as a desperate bid to appease those loudly calling for more diversity in the superhero world, rather than an attempt to create more exciting storylines. But to randomly swap a character’s race and gender without a corresponding change in story is wrong-headed.

Back in 2003, Marvel released a miniseries about an African-American Captain America who gained his superpowers after being illegally experimented on by the government.

The storyline echoed shameful elements from America's past, including the infamous Tuskegee experiments, and would have worked only with an African-American protagonist. That was sorta the whole point.

Jessica Jones, the eponymous star of a hit Netflix series, is white. Sure, the makers of the show could have made her black in a bid for more diversity, but then everyone would lose one of the more interesting facets of her character: She's in an interracial relationship with Luke Cage, an arrangement that, even in 2016, still comes with its own issues and prejudices.

Race and gender are crucial components of character. The solution to Hollywood's diversity crisis isn't to start making every straight, white male character female or gay or Pacific Islander or black or Latino. It's to create new shows about fully formed characters of every color and stripe.

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