Yesterday, our collective wait came to an end. We let out the breath we were all holding as we waited for Netflix to announce who they cast in the Kobayashi Maru of comic book adaptations. The Kobayashi Maru, if you are not a hard core Trek geek unfamiliar, is a fictional test in the Star Trek universe that is required of cadets at Starfleet academy who are on the leadership track. The test is famous because it's unwinable. It's a combat simulation and no matter what choice you make, your ship and crew are going to end up destroyed. Worst game ever, right? The point of the test is to see what kind of leader you are and what you do with a hand full of bad choices. Essentially, can you make a less terrible choice and/or find a way to win just a little. This was the choice before the casting team over at Netflix. Having cast blond haired blued-eyed super white Finn Jones, I'm going to go ahead and call it: The ship is in flames, everyone on board is either dead or heading towards the life pods. Good job, bro. Epic fail.
Why is what Netflix did controversial? Well...here's the dilemma: The character of Iron Fist, also known as Daniel Rand, is (canonically) a white dude who is trained in super mystic martial arts in some made up mystical Asian land (in Netflix's Daredevil, it's implied that this is where Madame Gao is from) of K'un-Lun. He is, predictably as these things go when dealing with Super Tropes, way better at mystical martial arts than anyone else (even the Asian folks who have studied it FOREVER)! Rand's story is...complicated. Entertainment Weekly (heroically) summed it up as:
In the comics, Iron Fist is Daniel Rand, who at age of 9 travels with his family from New York to a lost mystical city called K’un-L’un. After some tragic twists of fate, Rand is adopted by the city’s ruler and taught advanced martial arts and the mystical power of the Iron Fist. As an adult, Rand returns to his native New York and begins a career as a superhero.
The character is definitely a product of his time (first appearing in 1974). So when Netflix announced that they were doing individual series for the so-called street level heroes, which would build up to a Defenders TV show, people were totally excited. Luke Cage, Daredevil, Jessica Jones...together in ONE series?! Yes! All the yes...but then we remembered Iron Fist and went "uh oh."
Same, Danny. Same.
What to do with a non-obscure popular character with a super problematic origin story/history in a 21st century adaptation? Keep him white, even though that's the problem, or racebend him as an Asian man and potentially create all new issues? If you keep him white, it's the same colonial, culturally appropriative, orientalist narrative it always was. If you racebend him and make Danny Asian, is it reinforcing negative and racist stereotypes of Asians? Which is better/worse? Is it lose-lose? See, now the Kobayashi Maru thing makes sense (I hope?).
I really question the name of this move
Some suggested that casting an Asian person could have been an opportunity to tell a story of the complicated place many 2nd and 3rd generation people of color inhabit in America. Ms. Marvel tells just such a story with Kamala Khan (a second generation Pakistani-American girl who is trying to navigate between two very different cultures) and does it very well. But since Netflix did not go that route, we can only hope that they give us a character who is #woke enough to realize that his story is problematic. I really want him to question and think about what his powers, name and personal history mean in the context of him being a white person and an American.
All that said, it's important to remember that there are a lot of opinions about the whole thing and if we are not Asian or of Asian descent, we should step back and listen to what Asian-Americans have to say about it. One interesting opinion I read, for example, was from an Asian-American who did not want an Asian Iron Fist for what I feel are valid reasons. If anything, this has at least opened the floor for serious discussions about what to do with adaptations of characters/stories that are racist, sexist etc. We need to have a similar conversation about Doctor Strange (the upcoming MCU film staring Benedict Cumberbatch as Strange and super white Tilda Swinton as a white-washed Ancient One) whose story is as problematic as this one, and for basically the same reasons.
I'm still going to watch the Netflix series because I'm a huge fan of them, I think Danny is an interesting character (despite his origins), I want to see how Netflix addresses all this (if they do at all), and maybe most important to me personally, I want to watch in hopes of a Danny Rand/Misty Knight ship after falling in love with them because of the awesome Secret Wars: Secret Love one-shot from last year that had them as married parents of an adorable toddler trying to get their spark back (fighting a dinosaur together really helps).
I feel like Netflix owes us this now.
Thoughts about the whole thing? What do you think Netflix should do or should have done? And Danny/Misty should totally be a thing, right??