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Asians and Marvel: Why 'Iron Fist' probably won't get any better

Sultana Qureshi
Sultana Qureshi

An eighteen-year-old currently in the middle of her gap year

Jakarta | Wed, March 22, 2017 | 11:00 am
Asians and Marvel: Why 'Iron Fist' probably won't get any better

Netflix releases this new image of its latest superhero series (Netflix/File)

With only a 14 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, Marvel’s Iron Fist is a flop before it even arrives on Netflix. Sure, only the first six episodes were released to critics and reviewers before being publicly released on March 17, but unless the unseen episodes fix the systematic racism that Iron Fist is built upon, it probably won’t get much better.  

The rest of the Defenders series, an Avengers-like team made up of Matt Murdock as Daredevil, Jessica Jones and Luke Cage, in addition to Danny Rand as Iron Fist has also garnered some criticism, but it was quickly buried under all the praise. Daredevil, Jessica Jones, and Luke Cage each have 87 percent, 93 percent and 96 percent on Rotten Tomatoes respectively, a far cry from Iron Fist’s 14 percent.

Described as a “poor man’s Oliver Queen”, in reference to DC character Green Arrow’s alias, the story of Danny Rand, played here by Finn Jones, isn’t really remarkable, especially in the context of Marvel. While Jessica Jones is a sexual assault survivor and Luke Cage is a bulletproof Black man- the symbolism of which is too relevant right now- Danny Rand is a billionaire who knows how to punch hard.

While current criticism of Iron Fist include its weak leading man, bad pacing and lack of interesting storylines, its biggest issue is something it began with. The whole concept of Iron Fist was born in the West’s obsession with the “Orient” and martial arts, back in the 1970s. But it’s now 2017, and we don’t call it the “Orient” anymore.

Sure, Iron Fist includes Asian characters, but if those Asian characters are just props for Danny to white/mansplain martial arts to while they passively nod? That doesn’t really count.

Read also: Chris Evans to retire as Captain America after ‘Infinity War’—report

Iron Fist isn’t even Marvel’s first stumble with Asian characters. In 2016, controversy rose around Doctor Strange and its choice to have Tilda Swinton play The Ancient One. Yes, Marvel needed to change it from a Tibetan man so that Doctor Strange could play in China, but they didn’t bother to keep the character Asian. And Doctor Strange’s star himself, Benedict Cumberbatch, is no stranger to whitewashing. In Star Trek Into Darkness, Cumberbatch portrayed Khan, an Indian character.

So, some suggestions for Marvel?

They could have easily reimagined Danny Rand as an Asian man. There are so few leading Asians in the media, and Marvel could’ve used this unique opportunity to fix its past mistakes and tell a compelling story. Marvel is no stranger to this, as shown in Iron Man 3 when it subverted the Evil Oriental trope from the original comics. Even then it had an actual Asian man, Ben Kingsley, play the fake Mandarin.

It even did this another one of its Defenders, Luke Cage. When he was first introduced as Power Man, he was just as much a part of the 1970s trend of “blacksploitation” as Iron Fist was of the kung fu boom. But in the Netflix series, he’s become more than that, and Danny Rand could have been too.

But as we know, it’s too late to change who plays Iron Fist, and Finn Jones would likely throw another tantrum if that idea was even mentioned to him. So have another suggestion: let there be a Kamala Khan show.

Yes, she’s a very new hero- she was only introduced as the new Ms. Marvel in August 2013- but she’s an essential superhero. Kamala Khan, as a Pakistani-American teenager from Jersey City, could do so much for the representation of Asians and Muslims on screen. She’s a symbol of hope, and isn’t that what superheroes are supposed to be?

It was hard to watch Marvel’s Netflix shows stumble for what feels like the first time, but after realizing that they’ve made these kinds of mistakes before, it stops being so hard. (asw)

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