I am not happy with the casting of Finn Jones as Iron Fist. While the choice of a Caucasian actor for the role adheres to the character’s origin, I think the selection of a biracial actor to play the part of Daniel Rand would have improved upon the story told and enhanced the overall quality of the cinematic Marvel universe (and Hollywood in general) in multiple ways.
First and foremost, depending on the actor’s phenotype, a biracial actor of European and Asian descent would have provided a visual signifier of Daniel Rand’s existence as a warrior trapped between two worlds—that of a modern Western city and an ancient Asian village. To watch billionaire adventurer Wendell Rand and the Chinese businesswoman who captivated him enough to become his bride work to build a life for Daniel that included both of their cultures would excellently foreshadow Daniel’s later struggles as an adult to do the same. The existence of a biracial Iron Fist would also act as a bridge, tempering the woefully appropriative nature of the Caucasian martial artist Daredevil and paving the way for the later introduction of well-known Chinese hero Shang Chi. (One could even argue that Daniel Rand’s presence was not needed in the Marvel cinematic universe at all, for every role he plays could have been neatly divided between Matt Murdock and Shang Chi.)
A biracial Iron Fist, hot on the heels of the black Luke Cage, would have provided instant (though minimal) racial diversity to Marvel’s overwhelmingly white line-up of leading men. Given that we are at a point where Marvel has been repeatedly and publicly admonished for its non-existent efforts at diversifying its slate of films, one would think that the selection of non-white leading men would be a priority. And yet an Arab actor is not playing Doctor Strange and a biracial actor was not chosen for Iron Fist. This is a shame.
The substandard depiction of men of Asian descent in American films is a longstanding problem and has driven many to seek proper representation in foreign films. But why should Asian Americans have to look outside of their country to see Asian men shown as masculine, heroic, and sexually desirable? This is absurd—and must be terribly frustrating to young Asian American men. Not only is there a dearth of material in which one is mirrored, but one must endure a glut of projects showcasing white male action stars playing dress up in costumes cobbled together from the culture of one’s forefathers.
While the selection of Finn Jones as Iron Fist extinguishes yet another opportunity for a male actor of Asian descent to step into the limelight as an action hero and heartthrob, I must admit that my disappointment stems from the fact that black women of darker hues may perhaps be robbed of the rare opportunity to be seen as romantically desirable as Marvel adjusts Iron Fist’s history in order to deflect criticism by increasing the number and importance of supporting female Asian characters.
When in doubt, swap the secondary characters out. While Marvel is clearly disdainful of altering the races of its leading white male characters, the studio seems more than happy to add diversity where supporting characters are concerned. I would not be surprised to see Marvel replace Misty Knight with the biracial Colleen Wing as Daniel’s primary love interest—cribbing from Iron Fist’s histories in the House of M event and the Ultimate universe. However, it would be frustrating to lose Misty Knight as Daniel’s companion given her status as the only woman in the Marvel universe who is not fair-skinned and is also depicted as attractive and desirable. Who would be depicted as a woman deeply loved–first and exclusively. The physical changes made to Storm, Cecelia Reyes, Claire Temple, and Reva Connors would be glaring in Misty’s absence and would lead one to question if colorism were at the root of it.
Oh, so many missed opportunities! Many critics have argued that Iron Fist must be white to provide a cultural counterpart to Misty Knight and Luke Cage, but a biracial Daniel Rand would still be wealthy, would still benefit in certain ways from his father’s white privilege and mother’s “model minority” status, would still find wonder in modern technologies—providing a perfect contrast to Misty and Luke. The inclusion of whiteness is not necessary in every exploration of race relations and inequality.
But the choice has already been made and Iron Fist is white. So how does Marvel move forward from here? By taking cues from the title of this post and the second season of Daredevil as well. Jack Burton is the star of Big Trouble in Little China, but Wang Chi is the hero. Marvel could do the same with Shang Chi, inserting him into the series as a foil to Iron Fist as Punisher and Elektra initially were to Daredevil. How fun would it be to see Shang Chi as Elektra’s inverse, a weapon of the Chaste stolen and raised by the Hand, only to return to his true heroic nature! How fun would it be to see Shang Chi emerge as the star of the show as just as Punisher usurped Daredevil’s throne!
The fight for representation is an ongoing battle, and we must be as creative as possible in exploring every loophole before Hollywood can sew it shut.