Finn Jones doesn’t seem to understand why there’s so much backlash against Netflix’s Iron Fist series. Here’s what’s up with the racial controversy.
Listen, that moment when you realize you’re the beneficiary of white privilege can be tough. Not as tough as dealing with centuries of entrenched, systemic racism, of course, but it’s still not easy.
Now, let’s imagine that you get called out on some problematic behavior, or someone merely points out the fact that you have white privilege. You’d probably feel embarrassed or even ashamed. That’s natural enough, but for the love of all that is holy, don’t get defensive. It’s counterproductive in multiple ways. Also, that kind of reaction doesn’t acknowledge the possibility that the other person may have a very valid point.
Alas, it seems as if Finn Jones hasn’t quite gotten that message.
Jones is the lead in the upcoming Netflix series, Iron Fist. The series follows Danny Rand as he travels to the mystical Asian land of K’un Lun and proceeds to be the best martial artist that ever was. Now with the power of the Iron Fist, Danny returns to his home in New York City and gets to superhero-ing.
Critical reaction has been pretty rough, to say the least. Various critics have called the series bland, derivative, and generally uninspiring. Some have even been calling it Netflix’s first major misstep. However, larger issues have been raised regarding the racial politics of Iron Fist.
Iron Fist (Image via Marvel)
The Awkward Racial History of Iron Fist
What’s the big deal? Danny Rand is a white man who travels to a vague location in Asia in order to learn mystical knowledge and become the best at whatever it is he’s learning about. Sound familiar? It should, because it’s a trope that’s been around for ages, especially in kung-fu films.
It’s not new to the superhero genre, either. The most recent Batman film series, starring Christian Bale, shows Bruce Wayne learning martial arts in a remote Asian location. In Doctor Strange, Benedict Cumberbatch’s title character does practically the same thing.
What’s even more strange is the insistence on making Rand white. Keith Chow, founder of the Nerds of Color website, led a charge to make Iron Fist an Asian-American. Though the push was ultimately unsuccessful, it raised very relevant questions about the nature of race and comic book adaptations in general.
Iron Fist star Finn Jones did not take this criticism well. In an interview with Metro UK, he said, “What I will say is these shows are not made for critics, they are first and foremost made for fans.” Of course, this raises plenty of questions about how Jones and others define “fan” and “critic”. Can’t there be a crossover between the two categories? Or is he implying that fans are so devoted to the 1976 version of Iron Fist that they can’t deal with modern changes to the character? Are comics fans still supposed to be frozen in ice somehow?
Jones has become something of a mouthpiece for his upcoming show. He even briefly deleted his Twitter (though supposedly to focus on filming the upcoming Defenders series). Jones has since returned to the platform.
Red Son cover (Image via DC Comics)
Superheroes Change All The Time
There’s a lot going on in terms of comics history and modern day racial politics. Still, why not make Danny Rand Asian-American? Certainly, comics fans have become used to endless reboots and re-imaginings of beloved characters. After all, how many times has your favorite X-Men player died and then come back to life?
Change is already happening in other avenues, besides. Jason Momoa, who is of Native Hawaiian descent, is going to play the formerly blond Aquaman. There is a recent spate of new superheroes of color taking over previously white titles, including Amadeus Cho (Hulk), Miles Morales (Spider-Man), and Kamala Khan (Ms. Marvel).
Hell, there’s even a popular comic, Red Son, where baby Kal-El lands in Communist Russia. If fans can enjoy the idea of Commie Superman, then what’s the problem with making Iron Fist more racially sensitive?
The truth is, faithful adaptations are inherently unnecessary. There’s little to no point in remaking a story without updating itself or responding to its source material. Adaptations are at their most effective when they are in a kind of dialogue with the original. Given its awkward history, would Iron Fist have been even more forward-thinking and resonant with an Asian-American lead navigating his or her heritage and place in the modern world?
Slavish devotion to some imagined concept of “canon” is misguided at best. It certainly has no place in the constantly shifting world of superheroes.
It can be terribly insulting to fans as well. Comics nerds are more than capable of thoughtful engagement with the source material. They are also, unsurprisingly, a diverse group of people who often want to see themselves reflected in comics pages. No one’s going to die if Iron Fist changes a bit. In fact, it could make the series far better and more interesting. Looks like it could use the help right now.