Critics Are Fans, Too and Everyone Knows Danny Rand Was White in the Comics
Netflix and Marvel’s Iron Fist has been getting bad reviews and thanks to its star Finn Jones, we’re having that critics vs. fans debate again. Oh, did I mention Danny Rand is white?
Ok. What the heck is going on? In case you’re not, you know, online all the time like I am, you might not have seen the flood of Iron Fist reviews come in late last week. They’ve been mostly bad. Like, even large entertainment outlets can’t fake it for the sake of keeping good PR relationships bad. And guess what? Even critics who don’t normally comment on race issues surrounding a show have mentioned Iron Fist makes things extremely uncomfortable in that area. Why? Because it’s a tired trope that should have been thrown out way before 2017.
Iron Fist was created by Roy Thomas and Gil Kane in the early 70s and they’ve discussed how they got their idea for the character from Asian cinema.
— Lewis Tan (@TheLewisTan) March 11, 2017
The white savior narrative has been used over and over. In the case of Iron Fist, it may not be “whitewashing” as we generally use the term (replacing a specific character of color for someone white) but it is whitewashing in the sense that other cultures’ stories are being erased to give a white character the spotlight. And I’ve often talked about the need for better representation in Hollywood. In this discussion it’s important to remember a few things, namely that no one discussing this project denies the fact that Danny Rand, as he was created, is white. That doesn’t mean he needs to remain white in order for his story to work. It was a problematic character from the get-go. That’s the issue.
But would Marvel try and make some changes? Especially after the controversy that surrounded Doctor Strange? Fans brought up the issue of race in casting this show really early on and all those involved decided to stick to canon (and as we’re starting to see, that might have been a big mistake). The hashtag #AAIronFist and surrounding fan campaign was created by The Nerds Of Color’s Keith Chow. He explained to MTV News back in 2015 that you can be Asian-American and still very much be an outsider in an Asian setting:
“I think a lot of people tend to fall back on the idea that Danny is an outsider and the people of K’un L’un don’t accept him readily,” Chow continued, “and as an Asian American person I’m like, that doesn’t mean you have to be white for that to happen. Plenty of Asian American people who grew up in America, if they were to stumble into this mystical Asian city, I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t be accepted right away either.”
You may recall Iron Fist’s Jones already got himself in hot water speaking about the issues surrounding his casting. He left Twitter for a short while after having interacted with an Asian woman expressing her concerns. He returned not long after and seemed to have taken very little of the talk to heart. But after the bad reviews started rolling in, he made another bad decision – he pitted critics against fans.
Speaking to Metro he said (emphasis mine):
‘Well I think there’s multiple factors. What I will say is these shows are not made for critics, they are first and foremost made for the fans.
‘I also think some of the reviews we saw were seeing the show through a very specific lens, and I think when the fans of the Marvel Netflix world and fans of the comic books view the show through the lens of just wanting to enjoy a superhero show, then they will really enjoy what they see.
Variations of the line “we didn’t make this for the critics” have been uttered so often the last few years and almost exclusively in relation to superhero adaptations when they get poor reviews. It’s laughable.
Saying something was made for "fans, not critics" implies that fans can't be critical, or that professional reviewers can't be fans.
— Carly Lane (@carlylane) March 12, 2017
Yes, claiming a project is “for the fans” ignores the fact that 1.) these projects are made for money first and foremost, 2.) that somehow critics aren’t fans of anything, and 3.) that fans will automatically love anything you do. Now it should be noted that of course some fans are blindly devoted at times (with DC movie stans in particular think the DCEU can do no wrong) and all critics commenting on adaptations may not be longtime comic book readers but one thing I think I can safely say they all have in common is they don’t want an project to be bad. Speaking personally, I dread when I have to write a negative review. You know no one involved wanted to make something bad but sometimes the end product just isn’t successful.
I’m in the career I am because I’m a fan, not just of geeky properties but in the creation and execution of media itself, and you’ll find most professional critics would say the same thing. Criticism is tough to take, I totally understand that, but choosing to respond to it (which is unnecessary) and responding to it so poorly is a bad look. In Jones specific situation I think he could have said he was disappointed many of the critics weren’t responding to the show as they thought but that he hoped the general audience had a better experience once they got a chance to watch.
No one is saying you have to watch everything with a critical eye, most people just ingest media and don’t think about it on more than a superficial level. That’s fine and anyone’s prerogative. But you shouldn’t judge those who choose to examine something critically, whether they’re paid to or not.