So why aren’t Asian American creators given the same opportunity to reclaim Iron Fist? The print side of the comic book industry has opened its doors to Asian American creators, but film and television continue to remain tone-deaf.
Marvel’s appropriation of Asian martial arts is a particular sore point, not only because of Iron Fist, but also because of another Netflix/Marvel show, Daredevil. The good ninjas on Daredevil, like Matt Murdock and Stick, are white. The bad ninjas, like Elektra and nearly everyone in the Hand, are Asian. Again, Asian culture is up for consumption, and Asian people only exist to push along the white hero’s journey.
Yuen says this tendency to appropriate Asian culture while simultaneously casting Asian as villains is rooted in age-old concepts of xenophobia.
“Certainly for Hollywood, this kind of stuff has been around since Fu Manchu with the Yellow Peril,” Yuen says. “What’s ironic is even back then, whites were Asian. Yellowface is very much a part of Hollywood history, and Hollywood likes to reproduce what has worked in the past.”
Defenders of Iron Fist’s casting have claimed that Danny’s whiteness is essential to the narrative to set him apart as an outsider, but in truth, Danny’s identity crisis is actually the Asian American experience dumped awkwardly upon a white character.
To be Asian American is to be a child of two worlds and orphans of both, a perpetual foreigner. This poisonous belief that Asians cannot be true Americans has resulted in 120,000 citizens being incarcerated in concentration camps and mass lynchings.