No, Netflix Is Not Whitewashing the Iron Fist

Let's talk about Iron Fist.

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Complex Original

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Here’s an argument I didn’t expect to see: Marvel’s casting of Finn Jones—and not an Asian actor—for the lead in Iron Fist is another example of Hollywood’s continued whitewashing campaign. "The idea that some white guy got left in the middle of the jungle, was raised by apes, and somehow became the biggest, baddest, smartest guy in all of Africa is equal parts ridiculous and racist," The Root wrote this weekend. "But 'white man who masters the culture, skills and talents of exotic foreigners and then saves the day' is the movie trope that just won’t die."

The apparent controversy surprised me. I suppose I primarily didn't anticipate it because I’m a Marvel Comics nerd, and have only ever known Iron Fist to be some rich white dude who was a boss at martial arts that happened to take the streets back with Power Man. Netflix isn’t whitewashing Iron Fist, the comic, because in Iron Fist, the comic, the character is white. And even when I dig deeper into what people are really trying to say, one has to ask themselves, “Is it Marvel’s job to course correct or stick to the script?”

Basically, what do we care about more here?

First of all, Marvel has been more progressive as the years go on. They’re the company that created Black Panther, the first mainstream black superhero in comics. And while they are only wearing the costumes and aliases made famous by white superheroes, you can’t neglect that our current Captain America, Ms. Marvel, Hulk, and Spider-Man, in the comics, are all persons of color. Hell, they even retconned Nick Fury in the main Marvel storylines to reflect the love Samuel L. Jackson got in the early Marvel Cinematic Universe movies by portraying the Ultimate version of Fury. They created the X-Men to find a different way to speak out on civil rights, and most recently, Jessica Jones did a great job of depicting an interracial relationship between Jessica Jones and Luke Cage, a relationship that, in the comics, also results in a mixed child.

The problem is, the world of comics and comic book movies still have progress to make. That’s why people were so excited about Miles Morales taking over the Spider-Man-tle in the comics, or Idris Elba portraying a Norse god in the Thor film series. If we want children around the world to see that they can be ANYTHING, we have to show them strong characters, who look just like them, being depicted in a variety of ways, right?

So, what responsibility does Marvel have? Should they totally flip the Iron Fist concept to have it be an Asian billionaire in that role? Or do they stick to the script and let the white man have his another day?

To quote Desus, you gotta hear both sides. With the majority of the MCU's protagonists being portrayed by white people (and mostly white men), it’s dope to see the Netflix properties getting more diverse. The blind white lawyer Matt Murdock opened the streaming movement with Daredevil, but since we’ve seen a strong woman (Jessica Jones) and a strong black man (Luke Cage), with Luke Cage’s series also adding in the afro-rocking everywoman Misty Knight. Maybe throwing an Asian man or black man into that position would have made more sense...but why? Because “martial arts?” Because "urban jungle?" Isn’t that typical? Doesn’t that feel kind of stereotypical? And why not an Asian woman? Or, hell, a Latin man or woman? I mean, if we’re going to take it there, we should just take it there.

It’s a sticky situation. When there was talk of Michael B. Jordan possibly portraying Boba Fett, the Internet was ablaze with the demand that Stars War stick to the source material. Sure, some of that was fueled by racism, but the argument some had was “why do we have to switch it up, as long as we have good actors playing the role?” While I don’t know Finn Jones from a can of paint, it’s hard to fault Marvel for wanting to stick to the script. Hell, we can’t be surprised that Marvel would continue to play the characters as close to the comics as they have been, especially when it comes to more of the lead roles. I just don’t know if I can be that upset that white Daniel Rand is white.

Now, if this leads to the possibility of Korean characters like Silk, or Pakistani characters like the aforementioned Ms. Marvel (a.k.a. Kamala Khan), being introduced into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, then I’m all for it. Maybe the idea isn’t to worry about changing characters for change’s sake, but instead demanding that Marvel invest in the the diverse stable of characters they already have on paper.

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