Iron Fist has been out for a while and now that people are beginning to sit down and deciding how they feel about the series, it is probably a good time to begin to discuss the elephant in the room that is having a white man fighting evil East-Asian people using Kung-Fu.
(Update: Yes, this is an article that discusses the possibility of changing a character that has always been white into another ethnicity. Move on)
Now, Despite what i just said, I am not going to go into a detailed discussion of the implication of Yellow Peril this show (alongside Daredevil) have going on. What I want to discuss, rather, is the missed opportunity that was not race-lifting Danny Rand.
Something to note before we being. I am not saying that having Danny Rand be non-white would have automatically made the show “good” or solved it’s writing problems. What i am speaking of, instead, is how making Danny Rand asian would have provided another layer of depth to the show that is lost by having him be white.
Take for example the problem Danny faces during the early part of the series: To prove he is Danny Rand when everyone tells him “no, you are not. You are insane for thinking so” or him being sent into a mental hospital were he is told “You are not Danny Rand. It is not possible for you to be the child of this rich, succesful family” (there is something to be said with how they go with the classic “sane person trapped in a mental hospital” trope, but that is not the issue at hand). He is told over and over again that he can’t be Danny Rand and that him being Danny Rand would be terrible for the company.
Imagine now: what if Danny was asian? that he was, say, Chinese-American or Japanese-American?
Imagine an asian Danny who is being treated as delusional when he tells people who he is and that he survived the crash. How he simply wants to talk and be given the chance to prove who he is, but how most people he tries to tell do not want to believe him or even think him being Danny Rand is too much of a trouble.
Imagine the scene of Joy, once she believes him, offering him money he never asked for in exchange of changing his name and stopping being Danny Rand because she and Ward believe he would only bring problems for the company: A white woman telling an Asian person that he is not allowed to have this name, that it is troublesome for them if he keeps that name and refuses to hide who he is. And if he refuses, they are going to force him.
To be Danny Rand is his right. Yet he is told that’s wrong.
Now, to be fair, it would be shitty to be forced to change your name regardles of who you are. However one of the ways in which racism and oppression have always operated has been taking rights and stuff away from minorities, even to the point of white people erasing the ethnicity of succesful people like of Alexandre Dumas or how plenty of immigrants were told to change their names when arriving to america
An asian-american Danny Rand being told him being the son of a rich, succesful family is a problem is a perfect encapsulation of one of the ways oppresion has presented itself over the years: Denying them a legacy they can be proud of. Hell, Joy failing to see what the big deal is works perfectly to exemplify the ways in which white people disregard People of Color when they speak of problems specific to them.
On that same note, it would have made the scene of Ward fully accepting Danny all the more meaningful. Him admiting how poorly he had treated Danny throughout the show and his line of them being equals “the way their fathers should have” would have had an even deeper meaning by making Danny non-white: It would also be Ward recognizing his own internalized racism and trying to fix it.
That, in my opinion, would have been a much stronger subtext than Danny Rand’s “Riches to Rags to Riches” story. Because there is nothing deep about a rich white person becoming rich because his father was rich. Had they allowed Danny to be asian, the show could have had a lot more depth than it originally had.
Now, some people have tried to argue that had Danny Rand been asian then we would have had the stereotype of asian characters knowing kung-fu so there was no way around it.
That is simply not true. It is not necessarily a stereotype to have an asian character who knows martial arts if the story IS about martial arts. the problem is when the story is not about martial arts specifically but the ONE asian character also just happens to know kung-fu. If we really want to go this route, I don’t think Danny Rand would have qualified for this had they made him asian. Why? because him knowing Kung-Fu is actually taken as something out of the norm.
He did not know Kung-Fu before reaching K’un-Lun. When they rescued him, he was to be trained like everyone else and he didn’t succeed because he was some sort of genius, but rather out of sheer determination. When he shows his skills in New York, everyone reacts surprised and Colleen Wing is actually skeptical when he tells her he is a master of Kung-Fu.
Had Danny been asian, nothing there would suggest he was a stereotype. If anything, he would have been a positive example of an asian male character who is not emasculated, but rather brave and kind. (Not to say that the show doesn’t fall for stereotypes, I just find the idea of Danny Rand being problematic laughable)
On a final note, an asian American actor tried to land the role of Danny Rand but instead was told to be a villain for one episode. To me, his role in said episode is proof that he was the best for the role of Danny Rand, but they rejected him.
They told him he could not be Danny Rand.
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