Meet Lewis Tan.
Lewis Tan is a half-Asian, half-British actor who's set to hit the big time with the role of Zhou Cheng in Marvel's next hit show, Iron Fist. Sounds promising, right? Well, originally, Tan auditioned for the role of Iron Fist himself, the hero of the story. Ultimately, Marvel chose to cast a white actor in the role, offering Tan a villainous part instead.
The character of Iron Fist is white in the comics too, so Finn Jones's casting does make sense to a certain extent. However, many felt that the story's Asian roots would have made this an opportune time for Marvel to finally address their general lack of Asian representation onscreen — something which has been mired the company in controversy ever since the Mandarin's ethnicity was altered in Iron Man 3, and continues with Tilda Swinton's casting as Dr Strange's Ancient One.
Check out the new teaser trailer for Iron Fist below:
Why Wasn't Lewis Tan Cast As Iron Fist?
Before we go any further, it's important to point out that it's impossible to truly judge who should have been cast as Iron Fist short of being in the audition room itself. However, it's also worth bearing in mind that Tan clearly possesses the physical prowess required for such a role.
Wow. While we don't know how Tan performed in the audition acting-wise, the fact that Marvel still offered him a role on the show suggests that he certainly possesses the talents required to star in one of Marvel's most anticipated shows, which leaves us wondering why Tan wasn't given a shot in the lead role.
If the trailer's anything to go by, it looks like Finn Jones will be remarkable in the role of Iron Fist. But we can't help but share Tan's disappointment in missing out on the part.
Of course, there are those who would question whether Marvel should have even considered race-swapping the character of Iron Fist in the first place. Arbitrarily changing the ethnicity of any beloved character for the sake of it raises a whole new set of issues — but in the case of Iron Fist, the hero's back story is so drenched in Asian culture and practice, that we have to wonder if anything at all would've been lost if an Asian actor was cast.
If Marvel were going to make the same strides for Asian representation that they just made for black culture in Luke Cage, now would have been the perfect time. They didn't even have to cast Tan if he wasn't right for the part, as there's a whole host of other Asian performers out there who deserve a shot at bigger roles like this.
Check out Tan in an Asian Nivea commercial below:
Unfortunately, the controversy surrounding Iron Fist's transition to the small screen is symptomatic of a wider issue within comic book movies. Just this year alone, X-Men: Apocalypse cut out a number of scenes featuring the Chinese American mutant Jubilee, whose part was reduced to almost nothing. Similarly, Katana's role in Suicide Squad was painfully caricatured; she was presented as a lone Japanese warrior who can't speak English.
Chloe Bennet's biracial character on Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. does little to address the balance, and that's before you take a step back and look at wider issues of representation in Hollywood. Just in the past few months alone, The Great Wall's publicity was heavily criticized for focusing almost entirely on Matt Damon's character in the American-Chinese epic, and Scarlett Johansson's starring role in the Hollywood remake of Ghost In The Shell has come under heavy fire too.
Earlier in 2016, general outrage at this lack of representative Asian roles in mainstream media coalesced into the hashtag #whitewashedOUT, as thousands of people vented their frustrations online.
In an interview with His Style Diary, Iron Fists's Lewis Tan discussed this troubling trend in more detail:
"I think you see in social media, you see people raising the question of whitewashing. It’s #whitewashedout. There’s a conversation about casting Caucasians in Asian role ... The question is being raised, and the Asian community is starting to speak out, but it needs to be heard more. We need to talk about it more, we need to do interviews about it more, we need to be more adamant about pushing our people out there. We need to support each other."
Which Asian Superheroes Could Address The Balance?
Tan and the entire #whitewashedOUT conversation raise an important point within the usually flippant world of superheroes. Superhero shows and movies are designed primarily to entertain, but they can have a surprisingly powerful impact on young lives. The day that studios like Marvel realize that's applicable to all ethnicities is the day that real progress will be made.
Tan remains optimistic on this front though, despite recounting in the interview all of the times that he's been type-cast because of his ethnic background. Considering the growing volume of Asian superheroes that have begun to appear in comic books, we're also optimistic — but little will change until these characters make the transition to live-action story telling. Here's just a few who could make a difference.
The Korean-American teenager Cindy Moon was bitten by the same spider that gave Peter Parker his powers, but she didn't emerge in the comics until years later, adopting the moniker Silk. There are rumors that Cindy is set to cameo in Spider-Man: Homecoming — watch this space.
To save Bruce Banner's life, the Korean-American Amadeus Cho used his genius to absorb the Hulk's gamma radiation, unwittingly turning himself into an intelligent version of the Green Goliath.
After making her debut just a few short years later, the Pakistani-American teenager Ms Marvel unlocked her dormant Inhuman abilities and quickly rose to become a fan favorite among Marvel's readership.
Although there's been some contention surrounding the true identity of his Asian mother, Green Arrow's son Connor Hawke is undoubtedly his father's boy, displaying the same aptitude for archery in his own crime-fighting.
While Green Lantern has been primarily depicted as a straight, white, American male over the years, anyone worthy can technically wield one of the precious rings. Thus, the introduction of Simon Baz, a man of Lebanese-American descent was undoubtedly a welcome one in the world of comics.
The Vietnamese hero Karma could play a pivotal role in the upcoming New Mutants movie, using her possession abilities to fight for mutant rights on the frontline. Let's just hope that a cinematic appearance also takes her homosexuality into account, to stay true to the original essence of the character.
A number of characters have adopted The Atom's mantle, but few have risen to prominence quite like Ryan Choi, who proved to be a hit with readers when DC discounted traditional Asian stereotypes in a rounded portrayal of the miniature hero.
The biracial vigilante Cassandra Cain quickly became a fan-favorite due to the way she dealt with past traumas and grew into an uncompromising hero in her own right. As far as Bat-Family characters go, this iteration of Batgirl is undoubtedly one of the most underrated.
- Superhero Scoop: Just Who The Hell IS Marvel's Iron Fist?
- Marvel's Netflix Trailer Reveals That The Defenders Are So Dysfunctional That They Can't Even Save Themselves
- Will Marvel's Luke Cage Join Heroes For Hire — Or Even The Avengers — In Season 2?
Whitewashing isn't an issue that's going to disappear anytime soon, precisely because people are so divided on how to tackle the problem. Of course, increased Asian representation is key, but until people stop arguing on whether characters should be race-swapped or whether tokenism plays a role still, trends like #whitewashedOUT are unfortunately here to stay. Hopefully though, the increased prominence of actors like Lewis Tan in the mainstream will one day put an end to accounts like this.
Do you think an Asian actor should have been cast in the role of Iron Fist?
Source - His Style Diary