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Debate Over Netflix 'Iron Fist' Casting Asks: Should Danny Rand Be Asian American?

Supporters of casting an Asian American as Iron Fist say it would be a win for representation, but opponents say it would only reinforce stereotypes.
Marvel's Iron Fist.
Marvel's Iron Fist.Netflix

Should Marvel's next hero be cast as an Asian-American protagonist?

That's the question up for debate as Netflix moves forward with casting its next show based around a Marvel hero: the martial arts-powered Iron Fist. In a post last March on the website Nerds of Color, Keith Chow called for Netflix to cast an Asian-American lead for series protagonist Danny Rand, who is white in the comics.

After Marvel announced in December that producer and writer Scott Buck — best known for series such as "Dexter" and "Six Feet Under" — would be the showrunner for the new Iron Fist series, Chow started tweeting counter-arguments to why there shouldn't be an Asian-American Iron Fist, using the hashtag #AAIronFist to resurrect the debate:

Casting Netflix’s Danny Rand as Asian American, advocates say, will bury the age-old trope of “a white guy becoming a better Asian than the Asians,” Chow, who is the founder and editor of Nerds of Color, told NBC News. In the comics, Danny Rand is a white male who travels to Asia and finds a hidden city, learns secret martial arts, and returns to the West and uses his powers to fight crime and right wrongs.

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Chow says that an Asian-American Iron Fist will reclaim the martial arts hero role so long as the character isn’t solely defined as a martial artist, like most Asian-American leads in action films have been traditionally casted.

“I want to disrupt the idea that being an Asian martial artists is a bad thing," Chow, who points out that Danny Rand's ethnicity isn't integral to the character, said. "I want [Danny Rand] to be sexy and funny and crack jokes and gets his comeuppance, and I want THAT guy to be Asian American. If he is, he shatters every stereotype of what an Asian-American martial artist can be, if he gets to be a lover and a friend and a businessman. Because nobody thinks he’s just a martial artist if he’s white."

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Chow isn't alone in his push. Creators from the comics industry have voiced their support for casting an Asian-American Iron Fist, including director and writer Lexi Alexander and Marvel comics writer Marjorie Liu.

But those who oppose the campaign to cast an Asian-American actor as Iron Fist say that selecting an Asian American as the martial arts hero of a series would be ultimately regressive.

Albert Ching, managing editor of Comic Book Resources, told NBC News that not everyone will watch the show and understand the context of the character. On the surface, Ching said, it would look like just another Asian American cast as a martial artist.

“As big as these comic book movies and TV shows have become, a lot of people still look at them at one level, and some people don’t actually watch or digest the material,” Ching said. “Since it would be the first real major lead superhero in this current wave of very popular and prominent superhero TV shows, it would be a character so closely defined by his martial arts skills. It would be reinforcing the stereotype of what Asian Americans can be in this type of entertainment.”

Ching adds that if there'd been an Asian American cast as another non-martial arts hero before Iron Fist, he would not be as opposed to the idea of an Asian-American Iron Fist as he is.

Netflix's Iron Fist series will be the fourth show developed in partnership with Marvel after "Daredevil," "Jessica Jones," and the soon-to-be-released "Luke Cage."

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Marvel has yet to hint which way it’s leaning in casting Iron Fist, though both Chow and Ching believe an announcement is coming soon. Sources told The Hollywood Reporter that Marvel met with Asian-American actors in consideration for the lead, but is now leaning toward keeping Iron Fist white, though Marvel declined to officially comment.

“For me, the only thing I’m really asking for is the consideration," Chow said. "If Marvel and Scott Buck sees 20 Asian guys and one white guy, and the white guy is best — fine, it’s a merit-based society. But if they’re not even auditioning Asian-American actors, that’s a problem. I’ve quoted Viola Davis before on [Nerds of Color]: that it’s all about getting the opportunity."

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