Jerome Maida who writes the ‘Geek‘ articles over at Philly.com asked me to send him my thoughts on Marvel’s Iron Fist for an upcoming piece he was working on. I had a word limit which I (of course) totally blew. This was okay because he had more to pull quotes from, or at least that’s what I told myself.
The piece dropped today and my words are in there along with Jerome’s of course. I expected that for obvious reasons. But I’m also sharing the printed page with Roy Thomas and legendary artist ChrisCross. That’s pretty cool.
Obviously, my contributions had to be trimmed quite substantially to make room for the bigger names. Obviously, I’m cool with that. But I figured I’d expand them a bit here. Below the cut is a link to the Philly Geek article. Give it a read and see what everyone has to say. When you’re done, come back and look at the rest of this entry. It’s one of the last runs I made at trimming down the over 1,100 word draft I started out with.
I was supposed to shoot for 500. As I frequently say on The Pro Wrestling Roundtable Podcast– I got long-winded again.
Here’s the link to the Philly.com piece.
Back again? Cool. Here’s an expanded version of the comments I sent him from an original draft.
Netflix’s Iron Fist drew social outrage and was the center of controversy from the start. It was still in the casting stage when social critics started calling the character’s origin racist because a white character finding a fictional hidden city, mastering a partially fictional fighting art, and acquiring a fictional mystical power was (apparently fictional) cultural appropriation. Some called it an example of things like “White Savior” and “Mighty Whitey” as well, which it really isn’t. Some even called it whitewashing. In recent weeks, both the original comic book and the creators behind it have been called racist.
I’m someone who is in favor of seeing the diversity of this country and the Marvel Universe make its way to our screens. As such, I’m going to offer a suggestion to the social critics/crusaders out there.
Choose your battles and the words you use as weapons more carefully and intelligently.
Frankly, Iron Fist is a poor choice to take this stand over. There are legitimate discussions to be had over whitewashing, but this show really offers none of the reasons for those discussions. It’s not a reboot/remake of an existing property with a minority lead. Danny Rand has always been white. It doesn’t help legitimate discussions about whitewashing to knee-jerk label things “whitewashing” and dilute the meaning of the word.
“Racist” has been also thrown around a lot lately. This is, here, an inaccurate label. You can damage your own cause and turn away potential allies wrongly throwing that word around when and where it’s not accurate.
In its time, Iron Fist was an amazingly progressive book. The creators behind it were more courageous than some of their peers when it came to tackling progressive issues and social injustices. Aspects of it may seem quaint by 2017 standards- especially for critics who weren’t around 43 years ago -but it was a series that laid some of the industry groundwork for the next steps forward to be taken.
Claims that this is “White Savior” or “Mighty Whitey” racism are wrong as well. It’s something far less evil. It’s “Someone Like Me” wish fulfillment.
When you’re young and dreaming of great adventures, you put yourself into the adventurer/hero role. You find the lost world of dinosaurs, the magical lost city, or the alien culture where you become the legendary warlord. You don’t totally lose that when you grow up and become an adult/professional writer. Even if you’re not actually still making yourself the lead characters, you still tend to work off of that template. That’s not racism. It’s something that’s almost universal with storytellers around the world. Even some of the people who have been critical of Iron Fist and have been critical of such things as Avatar in the past have written stories where the outsider becomes the hero. They just change the gender and/or race of the lead.
It’s a common trait in almost everyone to cast “someone like me” to lead their story. You can deliberately choose not to do that, but most people fall back onto that far more often than not no matter who they are. Calling people racists for doing this now or for having done it decades ago when more creators and a larger part of their audience looked like Danny Rand is not really accurate. It also dilutes the meaning of the word and turns off some people who might otherwise be allies in making more diverse entertainment now.
Both Jerome and I have used our various social media and writing platforms to promote characters like Night Thrasher, Shang-Chi, Sunfire, Turbo, or others getting the next shots at MCU fame. If the people attacking Iron Fist instead put that same time, energy, focus, and social media noise into promoting characters like those to the powers that be, those characters might actually start getting made. The additional benefit there is getting more voices joining you in support of a cause rather than tuning you and it out.
Lastly, I have a request for those of you on the other side of this argument. Think about this the next time this comes up and your first response is dismissively rolling your eyes. For many of us, most major characters out there fit the “Someone Like Me” template. For generations in the US and the UK, the creators, producers, and audiences for most of our pop culture have been majority white. As a result, the vast majority of fictional heroes have been white.
But the demographics are changing. What a growing segment of our population is asking for is what we have but take for granted. They’re asking for characters that are someone like them. That’s not a bad thing. It can even be a really good thing if it brings new slants and ideas into our pop culture storytelling. If the people asking for this aren’t the rhetoric screeching, insulting label throwers- don’t tune them out. It’s worth the time to have this discussion and to maybe even support something new entering into our pop culture entertainment.