Iron Fist is a story about a rich white guy who wound up learning Kung-Fu from people in Southeast Asia, all the while his family thought he was missing. I’m going to stop there.
The story of Danny Rand is as purely simple as any white male fantasy story arc. The white guy swoops in to learn the culture of the other, champions the cause of the other, and then is seen as the white savior. This narrative is not only the oldest story told since cinema was created, it’s still a pocket liner for studios to this day. If you are absolutely in the feels about Iron Fist appropriating Southeast Asian culture, then you need to check your feels into The Last Samurai, Avatar, Dances With Wolves, La La Land, The Mexican, Elysian, Captain Phillips, etc. The white male fantasy narrative is absolutely every-fng-where, and Iron Fist might be the least deserving of your feels whilst other stories of white-guy-everyman stories surge into pop culture. I’m almost for damn sure there’s a white-male fantasy story in the coffeeshop I’m writing in ,right now. Hell, I might be sitting next to it. All in all, whatever white male narrative that may be in the room with me, sure as hell won’t make as much money as The Wall.
The outrage at Iron Fist is relative to outrage at someone struck by a steam roller. Steam roller’s move slow, you have a chance to get out of the way. If someone were hit by a steam roller, I would think “Damn, that’s fd up, but whoa- didn’t they see that coming from fng miles away???” More specifically, we’ve seen the culturally-perverse-white-man narrative of Danny Rand from 43 years away! So, what was to be expected? That they’d somehow meld Shang Chi (who they should have done a Netflix series on) and Danny Rand and pull off some non-existent story from the comic books? No. They told the damn story as it was in the comics. And for whatever misdoing they may have incurred- Alas, this is why Netflix provides us with the Get Down, The 13th, Marco Polo, etc. Netflix has employed more actors of color and told more stories with a core theme of social justice in the past decade than has been told since moving pictures were invented.
Again, Iron Fist is about a rich white guy that learns Kung-Fu, and returns to New York and beats up a bunch of people with this new found martial art he learned from non-white people. He is the white savior of Chelsea, Manhattan. I’ll take that over the white savior of Detroit, Japan, a neo-apocalyptic earth, Mexico, Africa, or any indigenous tribe. Really, we lucked out. This particular white savior winds up in Chelsea. I’d also settle for Queens, Astoria, Buffalo, or Ithaca. Anything beyond the Brooklyn Bridge or George Washington Bridge is off limits to white saviors.
Moving forward, I empathize with the outrage. And in this instance, I’d also like to know why we compound our rage upon specific projects at certain times. Is our rage conditional? If so, have we abandoned our cause, the moment we see an effect in pop culture? When we grasp at the effect of our disdain and anger in want of social justice, what happens to the rest of the appropriation slipping by us? What happens to the passive-performances of covert racism as we’re typing vitriol into a comment board? Did we use up all our energy during the election? Did we get too satisfied with Luke Cage? Perhaps we did, and then when we saw a white guy performing martial arts alongside East Asian characters, we lost our s***. The point here is that Iron Fist is simple. It is the easiest target, and you can do better.
For example, in the realms of “doing better”, let’s look at Ghost in a Shell: A whitewashed cast for an uber-budgeted film telling the original story of characters of color. Now, can you find yourself as outraged, if not more, with this film? Here, we have Scarlett Johansson and Pilou Asbæk (two white actors) playing Motoko Kusanagi and Batou (two Japanese characters). We can get into semantics over the fact that Motoko is a robot, and it’s a breath of weak logic I’d rather not delve into regarding the intended ethnicity from the creators of Ghost in a Shell. However, if we’re still speaking from a place of want for social justice, then why not start here instead of Iron Fist? Ghost in a Shell has deliberately whitewashed its cast in effort to make it more marketable, whereas Iron Fist is producing a story already guilty on grounds of appropriation.
My suggestion is that you vote with your money. Don’t go to Ghost in a Shell, don’t watch Iron Fist (if you prefer), keep Luke Cage on loop, create art that reflects the exact scenarios you want to see happening in your world right now. If we’re going to show up on issues of social justice, let’s show the f*** up unconditionally.