Iron Fist is highly-anticipated among Marvel Cinematic Universe fans, due to it being the last of the MCU-based Netflix TV shows premiering before The Defenders crossover miniseries. However, Iron Fist has also proven to be the most controversial of the Marvel/Netflix series to date, due to the nature of its comic book source material. Indeed, many fans have noted that the very premise of Iron Fist – the story of a white man who becomes the greatest champion ever of an imaginary Asian martial-arts community – is inherently laden with outdated and troubling ethnic/cultural stereotypes.
Fellow Defenders solo character TV series Luke Cage and Jessica Jones have offered politically-charged narratives with a progressive edge during their respective freshman series, raising the bar of expectation for Iron Fist to follow suit. Showrunner Scott Buck (who is also overseeing Marvel’s Inhumans TV series this year) has addressed related matters before, but now the series’ actual stars have weighed in on the matter.
In an interview with Collider, Finn Jones (who plays Danny Rand/Iron Fist) and Jessica Henwick (who plays Colleen Wing) have spoken out about how they’re approaching their respective Iron Fist TV show characters in the context of these challenging issues. Henwick, speaking on the subject of portraying a character whose original conception was viewed by some as a dated stereotype of Asian women, offered the following:
“For me, when they approached me about Colleen, I was a little bit like, huh, do I want to play an Asian woman who does martial arts who’s a love interest? Do I want to do those three things? Because I’ve always shied away from it. In fact, I’ve shied away from playing Asian characters, if you look back I’m playing characters that have no relevance to my ethnicity. But I reached a stage last year where I said, I want to start telling Asian stories, I want a young Asian girl to go, oh my god, that reminds me of my relationship with my mom. So I had some concerns, and Jeph Loeb rang me and he said, “We’re going to take the stereotype, and we’re going to – we’re not going to avoid it, we’re going to inspect it.” For example, she is, I don’t know how many episodes you’ve seen, she’s a martial artist, she fights in fight cages, we’ve seen that before. What happens when you become addicted to that? What happens when you can only talk with your fists and you struggle to communicate on any other level and you’ve become addicted to fighting? So we’ve taken this stereotype and we’ve said, okay, what is the actual realism in it? You know? Which was interesting to me.”
During the same Collider interview, Jones offered his own thoughts on the subject of the wealthy-born Danny Rand being a character of privilege in a set of Defenders-adjacent series that have, thus far, focused on figures of more marginalized backgrounds. The actor focused specifically on the idea of Danny’s dual qualities – being a man born into a wealthy family that he lost (violently) when he was only ten years old:
“Right, okay, so I see what you’re saying. The polar opposites. So Danny is full of polar opposites, and that for me is what makes Danny so interesting. You know, on one hand, he is trying to be this disciplined, spiritual warrior with this awesome responsibility. On the other hand, he is a kid that is suffering from immense trauma, suffers from a kind of form of PTSD because he lost his parents when he was ten years old, he’s been away from home in a place which is alien to him growing up, and he comes back to New York and he’s meant to be this billionaire head of a company, whilst also trying to have this responsibility, whilst also trying to claim back his identity and try to find out what it means to be a man, you know? So he’s constantly in the middle of these huge, massive conflicts, and it’s in those elements and it’s in that struggle which actually the character is really enjoyable to play and is very nuanced. And I think throughout the series, you find that Danny realizes that the world isn’t just black and white. It’s gray. And it’s being okay with that grayness, it’s being okay with being a billionaire titan of the industry, and also being a Buddhist and a spiritual warrior. You can be both things. The world isn’t black and white, and Danny’s journey is finding out about the grayness of it.”
Although the reception for Iron Fist season 1 (be it positive, negative or decidedly mixed) is unlikely to impact the larger MCU fanbase’s general excitement for The Defenders this summer too much either way, it will be interesting to see how it compares to those for its Marvel/Netflix predecessors – all of which have been earned a largely positive critical response, by comparison. Iron Fist‘s reception may instead have a stronger impact on further Netflix/MCU-related developments down the line, like whether Danny Rand and Luke Cage form their famous Heroes for Hire business in Luke Cage season 2 or a second season of Iron Fist.
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.