Ever since #Marvel started their Cinematic Universe in 2008, they've enjoyed a string of successes. While some movies didn't quite hit the mark as well as others, all have been successful with a majority of fans and at the box office. #AgentsOfSHIELD has matured over its 4 seasons into a valuable vehicle for Marvel's B and C characters while the #Netflix has launched several Marvel series that each expanded the franchise even further.
However, weeks before Iron Fist season 1 landed on Netflix, the series began taking a serious beating.
It started with complaints about casting a white actor to play a role that was written as white. Cultural Appropriation arguments abounded with lead actor Finn Jones becoming personally targeted to the point he rebutted on Twitter.
There were accusations of Marvel disrespecting Asian culture with the character as far back as the 1970s, that the character was a "white savior," and that there was no excuse for not righting that alleged wrong for those making the show.
Of course these arguments missed the point that people the world over from all races and creeds learn martial arts every day. White movie stars have practiced martial arts for years, as far back as James Coburn and Steve McQueen studying with Bruce Lee and of course Elvis. Were "The King's" theatrical kicks onstage appropriation? Today they might just be called that.
When initial reviews hit, there was a big negative reaction to the first six episodes from certain critics. However there was a sense that the appropriation arguments meant they couldn't like it for fear of being labelled part of the problem. This was finally the chance to not drink the Marvel Kool-aid, to give them a black eye with what amounted to a free swing. This led to an inevitable schism between the critic scores, and fan scores.
After 13 hours I can tell you not only is Iron Fist nowhere near the turkey it's been made out to be, but it is the most diverse show that's been put out yet by Marvel so far.
There are pacing issues and the series does focus on corporate machinations too often, that much is true. Some characters flip-flop in their mindsets/motivations a little too often as well, but ultimately these don't damage the show.
From the 7th episode on things do swing upwards. There is much more interesting material the reviewers never got to when those episodes were released to them for review. While it doesn't make it an out and out creative success, this makes a big difference to the arguments made against the show before its release and the poor reviews based on half a season.
The biggest questions remaining now that the show is out are around the diversity & cultural appropriation issues. Who was actually right? Those criticizing the casting of a show they hadn't seen? The lead actor who took his social media ball home after asking people to judge the whole show? Marvel for having faith in an idea? The fans for actually ignoring it all and seemingly giving the show its fair due in spite of it all?
The Awkward Truth
Iron Fist does offer diversity at a level unseen so far in the #MCU. While at times the execution isn't quite perfect, Jones was right and the people behind this show have done something quite special.
If diversity was a true concern, then Iron Fist punches it out of its shoes.
The series includes Caucasian, Asian-American, Hispanic-American, and Anglo-Asian characters all working together, each using their own unique culture and skills, against an enemy that has evolved from a culturally-stereotyped history.
The Hand start off similar to how they have been portrayed in Daredevil, an Asian-led ninja clan. Iron Fist turns that on its head and makes them a diverse, international organisation. Their soldiers are male and female and from all walks of life. However, they just wear the traditional garb, respecting ancient traditions having had this instilled in them. Whether the culture is good or evil, no one can say that The Hand soldiers aren't respecting it. Indeed it is Danny who steps out of line by entering another Sensei's dojo and running his mouth before immediately realizing his faux pas. The show covers respecting others traditions very well indeed, even corporate ones.
This is far from the stereotyped show that was predicted, and the "white savior" argument is smashed equally well.
At various points due to the way the story plays out, Danny Rand is the weakest link. He's a long way from saving the day and he needs the help of others at all stages of the show.
Colleen Wing becomes a major heroine, as does Clare Temple. Later characters are introduced as well who are not the expected white or Japanese actors and this helps fuel the idea that the MCU is a diverse place and Danny Rand, far from being a savior is more a lightning rod that will bring people together, paving the for to The Defenders.
Fighting The Right Battle
One of the key themes of Iron Fist is the difficulty of knowing which battle to fight and when, and this is a lesson that applies to the controversy surrounding this show in the real world.
By attacking a show pre-release, one that actually turned out to be much more diverse than hatters accused it of being, it makes it all the more difficult to argue the cultural appropriation/diversity issue when something is done badly in future.
By focusing on Danny Rand not being made an Asian-American those making the argument set the cause back further. Similar controversy sprang up over the casting of Tilda Swinton in Doctor Strange before it was largely ended by the quality of her performance. Marvel didn't cast a white woman in an Asian role, they cast a quality actor.
Cultural Appropriation and diversity in casting is an issue in Hollywood, but not one Iron Fist or Marvel actually has and there's a risk that with each erroneous accusation made, especially against Marvel, that fewer people will listen when real issues occur in the future.
Iron Fist is very much a diverse ensemble show and that's something Marvel can be proud of, and Finn Jones in particular can hold his head high because he was the perfect choice to play Danny Rand.