Hollywood continues to cling to its legacy of whitewashing with a vulture-like death grip. You would think in this current day of heightened racial awareness, that Hollywood would have evolved in some ways. It’s disappointing and even worse—downright boring—to learn that it hasn’t. One of the most recent missteps is Marvel’s Iron Fist on Netflix.
Two years before its premiere, Marvel and Netflix were aware of the grumblings from fans and interested-parties alike, voicing concern over the potential casting of Danny Rand, the fictional martial arts superhero. The source material, a 70’s comic book, is based on racist tropes, with Mighty Whitey being the most prevalent. The fact of its racist origins is driven home when you read comments the creator, Roy Thomas, made in regards to the controversy, “Don’t these people have something better to do than to worry about the fact that Iron Fist isn’t Oriental, or whatever word? I know Oriental isn’t the right word now, either.” Oriental? Yeah, asshole, it’s not the right word. Sorry, you can’t slither into a time machine and return to the days when blatant racism was more widely accepted and everyone not white just silently took it with gritted teeth . I mean, I realize the questionable election of 45 gives you reason to think that that time has returned once again, but the widespread critical panning of Iron Fist says it hasn’t. Also, fuck you, Roy Thomas.
“Don’t these people have something better to do than to worry about the fact that Iron Fist isn’t Oriental, or whatever word? I know Oriental isn’t the right word now, either.” – Roy Thomas, Iron Fist creator
Despite the cultural appropriation, what truly makes Iron Fist a disappointment is the combination of lazy dialogue, a missing character arc that leaves the audience with no reason to care about the hero and last, but not least, all of the shamefully horrible fight scenes – which is basically every fight scene with Iron Fist. For a show whose hero is supposed to be the world’s greatest martial artist—what a complete failure to supply the audience with some of the most boring fight scenes ever filmed. Apparently, Finn Jones stated in an interview that he was only given fifteen minutes to learn the fight choreography before filming scenes. This is painfully obvious as he appears to be a child play-fighting during recess. There was a sliver of hope before casting was complete when word spread that martial arts stuntman Lewis Tan was being considered for the role of Danny Rand. Tan, a half-Chinese, half-white actor, would have brought a depth to the storyline and fight scenes currently missing from the show.
— Lewis Tan (@TheLewisTan) January 25, 2017
Unfortunately, the anemic Finn Jones was cast instead. You can still catch Tan in episode eight of Iron Fist as he plays villain Zhou Cheng. It’s the only interesting fight scene in the entire show and Lewis Tan steals it entirely from Finn Jones. Oh, what could have been!
To flip this around and focus on a show that is actually doing it right, Iron Fist can take several lessons from AMC’s Into the Badlands. The second season premiered the same weekend as the Iron Fist launch on Netflix. The series is set several years into a post-apocalyptic future where feudal societies are ruled by land barons. These barons employ a warrior army of “clippers” as protection and enforcement. Since guns are outlawed, the fighting is hand-to-hand martial arts combat with the occasional sword slicing its way in. The wuxia inspired fight sequences are brilliant with several moments that brought me to the edge-of-my seat marveling at the choreography and masterful direction. The cast was also put through a grueling workout and training schedule that lasted six months—learning sword fighting, martial arts and acrobatics. Ya’ll, they were prepared for those fight scenes and it shows! In direct contrast to the casting of Iron Fist, Into the Badlands cast Asian-American martial artist and seasoned actor, Daniel Wu, in the lead role of Sunny. Wu has not only trained in Chinese martial arts since he was a child, he’s also starred in over 60 films and understands how fight sequences need to be shot in order to translate the greatest visual impact to the audience. His fights scenes are fluid, mesmerizing and more importantly—so much fun to watch. I’ll admit that Into the Badlands is not without it’s issues, sometimes characters dip into over-the-top absurdity, but I can forgive those few-and-far between moments as the show is serving up something different than the traditional Hollywood whitewashed mediocrity.
If you’re as disappointed as the rest of us in Iron Fist, switch over to Into the Badlands. You can catch the entire first season on Netflix, with season two currently airing on AMC.