Marvel’s Netflix TV offerings have repeatedly — and deservedly — received great critical acclaim for their gritty realism, coupled with character-driven storylines and fresh takes on the superhero genre. Shows like Jessica Jones and Daredevil have not only successfully translated well-known comic book characters onto the screen, but they’ve also managed to introduce them to a whole new legion of fans.
The translation from page to screen isn’t always an easy one, though. Case in point; Iron Fist, which will debut on Netflix next month. Following the adventures of Danny Rand, and his ability to harness the power of the Iron Fist, the show is focused on martial arts and is based heavily in Asian culture. Danny Rand returns to New York after 15 years missing, presumed dead, but it emerges that he’s spent time in the city of K’un Lun, a mystical kingdom which is undoubtedly based in an Asian culture. Though in the comics, Danny Rand is white, the character first appeared in the much less diverse year of 1974. To that end, many felt that the character would have been Asian were Iron Fist to be released today.
As most will know, that has not been the case, with Finn Jones landing the lead role. It’s debatable whether the character should have changed ethnicity for the TV shows, but he could have. The decision to cast a white actor upset some, who felt Marvel missed out on an opportunity to amend what they see as the cultural appropriation of depicting Danny Rand as white in the comics. Responding to the criticism in an interview with Buzzfeed, Jones says he understands people’s frustrations and respects the need for diversity and equality on screen:
“I get where that frustration comes from. I get the need for diversity and equality in television and film… well, actually in every aspect of life. Right now we live in a culture and a world where we are very unequal in politics, in economics, and in culture. There needs to be more diversity in television and film, especially for Asian actors.”
However, Jones also adds that he feels those criticizing Marvel’s casting aren’t fully understanding the picture that Marvel are trying to create, and that Danny Rand is in no way being painted as a white savior.
“What I struggle with and what frustrates me is that people are commenting on the headline without understanding the full picture, without understanding the full story. What you’ll find with the way that we’re telling this story is we’re addressing the issues that people are very concerned about in a very intelligent and modern way. Danny Rand is not a white savior. Danny Rand can hardly save himself, let alone an entire race of people. He is a very complicated, vulnerable individual. He doesn’t just show up, like, ‘Hey dudes, I’ve just learned martial arts! I’m going to save the world.’ Actually, it’s the complete opposite. He’s gone through and suffered immense trauma and he is struggling to claim his own sanity and identity back.”
To this end, Jones says that Marvel has made K’un Lun a much more diverse place in the show, with inhabitants from varying cultures and ethnic backgrounds. It is also, he says, apparent that Danny Rand, though highly skilled, is unable to grasp the responsibility of what holding the Iron Fist means. Jones says he hopes the show doesn’t deal in stereotypes, and adds that his character is on a journey to better himself: “hopefully in that journey, we address the issues which people are concerned about.”
That remains to be seen, of course, but while the industry does need more diversity and equality on the screen, that doesn’t necessarily mean that Marvel need to alter the origins of their characters to fulfill this. In fact, Marvel Netflix shows have featured pretty diverse casts thus far, and Iron Fist does too. Yes, maybe, originally the character of Danny Rand shouldn’t have been written as a white male coming from what is percived to be an Asian culture, and saving the day, but Iron Fist is of its time. Rightly or wrongly, it is what it is, and what Marvel has to do now, is make sure Danny’s story is told and presented in a way that deals with the issue of race in a sensitive, respectful manner.
Daredevil seasons 1 and 2, Jessica Jones season 1, and Luke Cage season 1 are now available on Netflix. Iron Fist season 1 premieres on March 17. The Defenders arrive sometime in the summer, with The Punisher coming later this year. Premiere dates for the newest seasons of Jessica Jones, Daredevil, and Luke Cage have not yet been revealed.