Iron Fist is White and That's Great.
Everyone's heard by now that Marvel/Netflix's newest hero is white. It could well be all they've heard, but they've heard that. In fact, all of the people I've felt the need to apologize to for binging the final Defender without them, have responded with "it's cool, heard it was bad."
But that's actually not what they'd heard it turns out. Either they'd heard it was "the worst of the Netflix Marvel shows” (Alan Sepinwall - Uproxx) Which seems to me a pretty funny critique, as most of us agreed the others are pretty damn great.
Or they'd heard that "'Iron Fist’ is a big bag of Orientalist clichés...far from the worst of its kind, but coming on the heels of ‘Jessica Jones’ and ‘Luke Cage,’... the show feels like a regression.” (Matt Zoller Seitz-Vulture/RogerEbert.com) And all this, lead by a white guy. What could be more terrible in the otherwise overwhelmingly inclusive and pluralist series they say.
Now, I'm not going to tell you this is a great show, not even quite sure it's a good one. The fight choreo is better than the internet would have you believe, and Rosario Dawson is ON POINT, other than that, yeah, it's a bit mediocre.
But if you changed nothing about it except to remove it from the roster of 'Defenders' shows, I doubt anyone would care all that much. It would be a lacking but enjoyable action show. But in the context of the "Oh he's blind! Yo she's a woman. Luke Cage is a bullet-proof. Black. Man," narrative, our liberal sensibilities flare up, and they should. I'm glad we're keeping an eye out.
But in reality, Danny Rand's story is really our best bet for the coming of the wonderfully mixed post-racial melting pot so many of us feel America (and the world) would be much better off evolving into. Ok, so yeah, he's rich, he's white, he takes Shao-Lao the Undying's gift of the Iron Fist away from the people of K'un-Lun and that rings some negative bells.
But what better messenger to bring the plight of a marginalized people to light than someone who's voice will be heard. White saviors are bad metaphor when they're saving minorities, but in reality who has a better chance of saving rich white people from themselves, than rich white people.
When his plane crashes and the ten year old Rand is taken in by those bomb ass warrior monks, he's forced out of his world of comfort, wealth, and familiarly colored faces. Forced out of his "white privilege," becoming in his new world "other" himself.
Forced to earn his way through the ranks of this new culture with no leg up and more than a few points against him, Danny lives a pretty interesting version of the immigrant experience in what could be argued is an even more conservative, traditionalist, and isolationist culture than our own. (Their borders mystically shut for fifteen years at a time after all.)
He is billionaire child orphaned and forced alone into new culture (multiple new cultures) so that by the time he returns to Daddy's shining tower in New York City, he has seen the world, lived in perhaps every social strata and is the leader we deserve. Whether your problem's that he's rich, or that he's white, or straight, or cis, or male, or all of that, that is of course generally where power resides.
One Danny Rand in reality is worth innumerable Luke Cage's and Jessica's Jones. He has the power, he doesn't need to prove anything to anyone. He's a billionaire white guy so the system trusts him and will let him get away with all of the liberal do gooding he can, far more easily than the other Netflix heroes.
If they'd cast an Asian actor we might all feel a little bit better but that's not the story, that's never been the story. A white Iron Fist is a call to arms, it says you don't have to be marginalized to be a hero of modern liberalism. I can't tell you how often I hear bright, young, worldly white people feeling as if they perhaps don't have a place in the modern progressive movement.
And I can see where they'd get that sense. An asian Iron Fist would be totally cool. A wonderful super hero to support our leftist fantasies. But the story of Danny Rand is how the establishment can be changed from within, how those with power can do more than shut up and let the disenfranchised take the floor from now on. A truly progressive America will only come about when America's true progressive's stop in-fighting.
From the dark sides of intersectional feminism, to the vagina hat controversy at the Women's March, to the color-ism increasingly rampant among black progressives, it's no wonder that America's left has had the year it has.
Some will say we tried to change the world too fast. That progressive America had solidified its hold on oh so many corners of the popular internet by the time that much of conservative America was able to join the discussion that of course people suffered a sort of cultural whiplash. Every statistic will tell you that the last fifteen years have seen a greater shift towards embracing beliefs that were taboo or marginalized only a few years prior.
And I suppose that's probably true in many cases, but to my mind the far more dangerous tendency of the American Left is the sort of blind liberalism. The kind that tells us that every Breitbart contributor's a Nazi, that we should be punching "Nazi's." That tells the young man in the photo above that his opinion has no place. And yeah, it's probably good for those in power to take a step back now and then and just hear what's up, fairly often. But it shouldn't be the default.
If Danny Rand had just shut up and listened to his surprisingly diverse board he wouldn't be the Iron Fist, he wouldn't be our hero. And for a photo like this to receive, what, 66,000 positive emogees at the time of this screen grab, well, I can see why straight middle class white guys everywhere would have a little trouble finding their place in our movement. (side note, I happen to know the guy in the photo, he's cool and bright and I'm sure was just trying to listen. All the same.)
I totally get why we might want an Asian Iron first. One, not nearly enough Asian characters on TV. Two, it does feel a bit like he took the magic of the east and uses it to beat up Asian villains. In fact, there is not one Asian character that is not at least being hoodwinked by, if not willingly participating in, the evil. But this show, unlike its fellow Defenders is not about the marginalized rising up to defend their own, as well as their cultural oppressors.
This show's about America's leaders actually leading. It tells us that if White America wants to help, it just needs to leave its comfort zone, not stay quiet in its own corner reading op-eds and re-watching 'Moonlight' in an attempt to get woke.
But to get in there, and, I don't know go to the other side of town. Because once we break down the perceived barriers between us we've got no choice but to be and work together. And the angrier we get at Iron Fist for not casting an Asian lead simply because one could so easily have fit into that world, the more damage we do to our own cause.
Iron Fist is white, he's always been white, and that's great, we should all wish for more white people like Danny Rand.
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