ccording to Jeph Loeb, the head of Marvel Studios’ television division, Iron Fist is still coming to the Marvel Cinematic Universe and that there’s “never been any change” in the Studio’s plans for the character.
Two years ago, Marvel signed a deal with Netflix to produce four serialized dramas focusing on a group of Marvel’s street-level heroes who all happened to be based in New York City. Three of those heroes—Daredevil, Jessica Jones, and Luke Cage—have made appearances in the Netflix series released so far, leaving only one left: Iron Fist.
When the series were first announced, it made sense that Iron Fist would be the last to be produced.
Compared to a blind lawyer, an alcoholic private detective, and a bar-owning ex-con, a series about a crime-fighting martial arts master who grew up in a mystical pocket dimension would require the most suspension of disbelief in order to work.
Between the magic, monsters, and aliens, there’s a lot of things about Iron Fist that are probably going to be changed in order to adapt it into a gritty, realistic Netflix original. The most important thing that needs to be changed about the character, though, is his race.
Iron Fist can and should become Marvel’s first Asian leading hero.
Iron Fist’s origin story places a young Daniel Rand (Iron Fist) in the extra-dimensional city of K’un-L’un where he spends years mastering local forms of hand-to-hand combat. Usually, the inhabitants of K’un-L’un are depicted as being of Asian-descent. Rand, on the other hand, is a white guy originally from New York City.
Rand was created by Roy Thomas and Gil Kane at the height of America’s obsession with martial arts in the mid-70s and in a lot of ways, the character reflects that.
Though Rand’s respectful of the people that raised him and the ancient arts that they taught him, he is, fundamentally, an outsider. Weirdly, though, he just so happens to become the “Chosen One” of his adopted community. Rather than retreading the problematic ground that Avatar, Dances With Wolves, and The Last Samurai, have already worn out, Netflix and Marvel have a chance to move past the character’s origin as a cultural tourist and reimagine him as someone much more contemporary.
Earlier this year, Marvel exec Jeffrey Reingold said that the company was interested in developing characters and stories featuring Chinese culture and characters. Iron Fist, whose background is steeped in Chinese-influenced imagery and lore, would make a perfect addition to the MCU while also also addressing Hollywood’s depressing lack of Asian leads in roles of any sort.
In the fourth episode of Aziz Ansari’s Master of None, a group of aspiring Indian actors take on the idea that there are certain forms of representation that television just isn’t ready to accept. Multiracial casting? Sure, why not? Multiracial casting with more than one Indian? A step too far. Netflix’s collection of superhero shows face a similar question when you consider their leading actors.
If Iron Fist ends up being another white guy, the Defenders (the group consisting of Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, Daredevil, and Iron Fist) will end up being a team of three white folks and a token black guy. An Asian Iron Fist would make Marvel’s heroes of Hell’s Kitchen more accurately reflect the neighborhood they’re protecting and the people actually watching the show.
Marvel’s no stranger to reinterpreting the way that its characters are depicted in the transition from the page to the screen. Nick Fury’s a black man, Jarvis became the Vision, and the Ancient One, traditionally an Asian man, is being played by Tilda Swinton. Making Iron Fist Asian would take virtually no effort at all.
Netflix has become home to the most diverse corner of Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and there’s no reason that that should end with Iron Fist.