Recently, the British actor Finn Jones who portrays Danny Rand aka Iron Fist in the self-titled first Netflix installment this year, had to leave the twitter community due to controversy concerning his casting. The casting decision of a Caucasian instead of an Asian male triggered radical criticism: the backlash amongst fans and people like Asyiqin Haron (creative director of Geeks of Color) led to Jones’ retreat and created a discussion about racial issues and social justice. I think the accusation of whitewashing goes too far and here is why:
To whitewash means to cover something up, disguising its true nature and this is frankly not the case with Iron Fist. Danny Rand, created in 1974, is a white American who learns the secrets of martial arts in the mystic city of K’un-Lun. Hence, there is nothing covered up by using Finn Jones’ face – he is white, he is blond, he is Iron Fist. Or at least he looks like him. The fact that he is criticized and judged for portraying this character true to its original form is not justified. It is true that the cliché of the “white savior” can be found in many stories tackling Asian culture in particular. However, this does not guarantee the same for the Iron Fist show. Not even the first teaser and trailer show any indication of a Caucasian male being superior to minorities – or anyone for that matter. Danny Rand returns home after he was believed to be dead for 15 years and he is met with anything but worship. The premise of the show seems to be similar to Jessica Jones and Luke Cage, dealing with mostly street level corruption and criminality while focusing on character development.
I don’t think the answer is to change the source material – to shoehorn in Asian actors – because that only creates more cultural isolation. Suddenly, Caucasians are not allowed to do Kung Fu, only Mexicans can drink Tequila and only New Zealanders can watch The Lord of the Rings? Cultural appropriation in the entertainment industry is a problem but sometimes its criticism is taken too far. When the comic was created – in the 70s – the martial arts craze expanded amongst uncountable numbers of fans. One martial artist close to my heart is Jackie Chan, who reinvented martial arts cinema and won everyone over with his comedy and passion. The movies, books and comics introduced in that time heavily relied on stereotypes. Thus, the accusation of exploiting Asian culture while putting the spotlight once again on a Caucasian male is justifiable. But Netflix’s Iron Fist chose to stick with the original visual presentation. As for the personality and interaction with other characters – don’t shout your judgments too soon. And don’t bully someone off twitter who is following his passion and has no influence on casting demographics. But don’t stop being passionate – about movies, shows, comics, culture – just try to be more than a raging online troll.