The debut of Marvel’s final defender was received with mixed reviews and considered the weakest of the Marvel Netflix series. Some attribute this to the poor reception of Finn Jones’ performance as the titular character which warranted its own controversy when the casting was first announced.
Even though the comic book character (correct me if I’m completely wrong) was Caucasian, Iron Fist could have been the chance for an Asian superhero. Instead, the casting of Finn Jones caused controversy over white-washing and cultural representation that I want to put to the side in this post as there are so many articles about the topic already.
So what I want to talk about is how casting Danny Rand with an Asian actor would have added to his character and made him a more interesting protagonist that we could actually root for.
Danny’s identity crisis would be more profoundOne of the struggles that Danny experiences throughout the show (and what the writers failed to convey effectively) was whether he was Danny Rand or the Iron Fist. This obviously ends with his decision to be both however, if he was Asian, it would add a bigger and more profound choice to be made.
With Finn Jones as the lead, it portrays Danny as an outsider to K’un L’un and then his readjustment back into society on his return. If it were different and Danny was Asian, it would be a completely different story.
As an Asian-Australian, I find myself confused about who I am ethnically. I can identify myself with my heritage but growing up in Australia, I consider myself distant from my cultural heritage and from the culture that I currrently live in. If we add that confusion to Danny in the series, it would be a struggle between his multiple ethnic identities: where he grew up vs. his cultural heritage.
K’un L’un may not be where Danny came from but it can reflect a similar culture that Danny had never been in touch with before. It would have added so much more to the character and made the decision to leave K’un L’un an even harder choice to make. It would seem like he’s abandoning his cultural heritage which would add another layer to Danny’s dilemma between his two identities.
This would resonate not only with Asians grappling with their identities but also other ethnicities who have the same struggles. It would speak to so many immigrants and tell a unique story – even more significant when it’s an Asian lead.
Life as an OutsiderThis point is like an extension of the previous section but focuses more on the bigger picture outside of Danny himself: how Danny fits into society and the world around him. In the show, he initially comes off as a crazy man who claims to be the heir to a billionaire company and eventually, a fish-out-of-water when he regains his identity. But what if it were more complex than that?
As a child, Danny was already a privileged rich boy who never experienced what it felt like to be an outsider in society. Only does he realise what it’s like to be on the outside when he’s at K’un L’un. When Danny returns to New York, he wants it to be as if he never left: accepted back with welcome arms like nothing’s changed.
If Danny were Asian, he would already know what it’s like to be on the outside – to be a minority in more ways than one. It would be more compelling to see how Danny deals with being the underdog in every aspect of his life. He would be more wary of the world around him yet unsure of what the world expects of him.
His identity crisis would come about in a different and more “natural” way: if he doesn’t fit into the place that reflects his culture, and where he grew up, where does Danny fit in the world? Add his duty as the Iron Fist into the mix and he becomes even more of an outsider who’s more confused than ever.
In this case, Danny becomes a more interesting character who would respond differently to the scenarios presented in Iron Fist. He wouldn’t be as naive since he already understands how society works which would remove his gullible nature – a criticism in itself.
Everyone loves a good underdog who rises from the ashes and proves themselves worthy. If he already understands what it’s like to be on the outside so much, it would seem like he’s more comfortable in his own skin and easier to root for as a protagonist (I’m imagining a bad-ass Danny who’s like a ticking time bomb waiting to explode). It would make his triumphs that more satisfying to watch.
Show-stealing Colleen WingIf you don’t think Danny could’ve been Asian, just look at Colleen Wing as portrayed by Jessica Henwick. A lot of reviews highlighted her great performance and how she overshadows the dull hero. While her heritage isn’t explored in depth, it’s mentioned in passing. But is it as central as Danny’s journey to find himself? No.
Instead we are given someone who defies all the expectations of an Asian woman (emphasised because it’s really important) on screen. Colleen already understands the harshness of the world around her and grows close to Danny because of their tragic pasts. But if Danny was Asian, there would be more that Colleen could empathise with and help him navigate his way around the world.
The fact that she was Asian didn’t detract from her character and the show portrayed her as a normal person rooted in the values she grew up with and struggles that most people go through. And that’s where the Marvel Netflix series differ from the films: they’re centred around the human struggle. Though that’s for another post for another day.
And there you have it. Why Danny Rand/Iron Fist should’ve been Asian. It took me a while to piece this altogether because Asian representation in the creative field is so important to me. I also came across other articles that talk about this in a more cohesive (and concise) way which I linked below.
- Iron Fist: One simple change that could have saved Netflix’s new Marvel series
- Why an Asian-American Iron Fist Would Have Genuinely Made for a Better Show
So feel free to leave a comment about your thoughts or knock some sense into me if I make no sense at all – I tend to be that way. And if you’ve gotten this far, congratulations. Please reward yourself by watching a nice YouTube clip. Or go outside. Or have a cookie. It’s on me.