Social media users were in an uproar Thursday after it was reported that white Game of Thrones actor Finn Jones had been cast as the titular superhero in Marvel’s upcoming Netflix series Iron Fist — despite the fact that the character is white in the comic books.
According to the New York Daily News, the announcement of Jones’s casting caused a social media storm among Twitter users, who criticized Marvel for casting a white actor, instead of an Asian actor, to play the martial arts expert superhero.
— Juliet Shen (@Juliet_Shen) February 26, 2016
— Devon Wong (@VignetteProject) February 25, 2016
Marvel writer Marjorie Liu also criticized the casting choice:
Iron Fist is an orientalist-white-man-yellow-fever narrative. Asian actor would have helped subvert that offensive trope, and reclaim space.
— Marjorie Liu (@marjoriemliu) February 25, 2016
Of course, fans of Iron Fist, who first debuted in a Marvel comic book in May 1974, know that the hero’s alter-ego, Danny Rand, is indeed white. As the Daily News describes him, Rand is a “blond, blue-eyed orphan who is trained in the martial arts in the mystical city in the Himalayan mountains called K’un-L’un.”
In a piece about the casting decision for Vox, Alex Abad-Santos sympathetically seeks to explain why people are outraged over Jones’s casting. Abad-Santos concedes that Rand’s white identity is central to the comic book’s theme of feeling like an outsider.
Still, he writes: “I don’t buy that Danny Rand’s whiteness is as integral to his character as Storm or Luke Cage’s black skin, or [X-Men’s] Magneto surviving the Holocaust.”
“But I can understand why white people, and white dudes especially, can relate to the story of a white man feeling like an outsider. Still, I don’t believe that white people, and white dudes especially, need Rand to be a white man to be able to relate to his story of being an outsider,” Abad-Santos writes.
The New York Post‘s Reed Tucker dismisses that view, writing that “if you change the character, you change the story.”
“Race and gender are crucial components of character,” Tucker writes. “The solution to Hollywood’s diversity crisis isn’t to start making every straight, white male character female or gay or Pacific Islander or black or Latino. It’s to create new shows about fully formed characters of every color and stripe.”
Of course, the issue of superhero ethnicity has become a hot topic over the past few years. At various points, Thor was turned into a female, Captain America and Johnny Storm became black, and Spiderman became part-Puerto Rican.
Netflix’s Iron Fist will reportedly team up with three other heroes from the streaming service’s new stand-alone series — Jessica Jones, Daredevil, and the upcoming Luke Cage — in a separate “Defenders” series, similar to what the studio has done in bringing heroes from the Captain America, Thor, and Iron Man films into the larger ensemble Avengers films.
Iron Fist is expected to debut on Netflix in November.