It has been nearly a month since Netflix released its latest Marvel show “Iron Fist,” which was met with mixed reviews. Aside from plot and character-related criticisms, many viewers criticized the show for casting a white actor to play Danny Rand, the leading character, rather than an Asian actor. The show’s plot revolves around a warrior from a fictional Buddhist sanctuary in K’un Lun who learns ancient martial arts and rises to the position of the immortal Iron Fist — a warrior sworn to fight an ancient league of assassins called The Hand. People believe that because the show has a culturally Asian theme, the lead actor should have been of that race. Yet these critics miss the entire point of a comic book-based adaptation show. As any Marvel fan would know, Iron Fist’s origins in the show are near identical to that of the comics, and casting Danny Rand as white doesn’t give much room for criticism of the Netflix adaptation.
When determining what makes a show or film whitewashed, these critics have to consider how important race is to that particular story — and in the case of Danny Rand, it’s not. The story of the Iron Fist, at least this version, does not revolve in anyway around race. So when watching a show or movie, we have to ask ourselves: Are race and culture crucial to the narrative? With “Iron Fist,” the answers are no and yes respectively.
Culture is central to the functionality of the show because the character is literally supposed to be a martial arts warrior, and of course martial arts is an essential to ancient Asian cultures. So the directors and choreographers have to get that part right. However, the race aspect of it is not imperative to the character, since anyone from any race could obtain the skills to understand any culture, which is exactly what Danny Rand did. Could Marvel Cinematic Universe and Netflix have chosen an Asian lead? Yes, they could have done that as easily as they could have cast an African-American lead. Should they have chosen an Asian lead? No, there is no “should,” since their initial decision was not flawed.
The fact that the character is white does not in any way affect the story, and if anything MCU and Netflix are just being faithful to the source material, which is really what any true fan would want. For those who argue that the character’s race should have changed, they should realize that they are stereotyping who they deem appropriate to lead a show with a lot of Asian influences. By not accepting that any person of any race can portray skills from any culture — because unlike race, culture is learned — these critics are failing to be open-minded.
Opinions expressed on the editorial pages are not necessarily those of WSN, and our publication of opinions is not an endorsement of them.A version of this article appeared in the Monday, April 17 print edition.
Email Adryan Barlia at [email protected]