UPDATE: BEfore this posts even hit its publish time, Jones was back on twitter, as predicted. Iron Fist premieres March 17th.
Finn Jones stars as Danny Rand in the upcoming Netflix Iron Fist series. Since Jones’ casting, the show has come under heavy criticism for not casting an actor of Asian descent for the series’ lead role. Although some feel that a person of Asian heritage starring as a martial arts expert is another kind of typecasting, given Hollywood’s consisting whitewashing of Asian characters– even in Asian-created media (ScarJo in Ghost in the Shell for instance)– it’s a touchy subject. Moreover, the entire origin of Danny Rand – a white kid who goes to a mystic Asian city and learns their ways – is steeped in the tropes of the white savior and cultural appropriation. Throw in Marvel’s casting of Tilda Swinton in Doctor Strange playing a role that could easily have been played by Michele Yeoh, and you have a shaky background.
Jones, who is English, has embarked on interviews for Iron Fist, which arrives on March 17th. Some of these interviews include discussion about the racial politics of the show. But when Jones tried to explain himself to a critic on Twitter…it didn’t go well.
"I wonder why Finn Jones deleted his acco- oh."
Pro-tip: Explaining Asian appropriation and rep to Asians is generally not appreciated. https://t.co/joRrHZiiKm
— Sy Almans (@syalmans) March 6, 2017
Don’t get me wrong, Jones has a right to talk about his show, but when he explained to an Asian person, Geeks of Color’s Creative Director, Asyiqin Haron, how to feel about race…he got busted whitesplaining. Then, when the heat got too much for him, Jones just deleted his twitter account.
Pretty much the same thing happened when Tilda Swinton and Margaret Cho had a tense email exchange over the Ancient One.
Haron is the author of a piece called Why Iron Fist/Danny Rand should be Asian American, btw, which lays out the case reasonably.
Keep in mind that martial arts originated from Africa and was brought to Asia. If an Asian character is reduced to only being good at martial arts and has no quirks or any other winning aspects to them, then yes, that is a racist stereotype. Stereotypes are one-dimensional. Stereotypes happen with bad writing. If you have amazing writers, you will have complex, three-dimensional characters. Danny Rand is intellectual, spiritual, compassionate, and empathetic even when he has been through so much turmoil and hardship. Even then he’s still such a fun and down to earth character. Reducing the character to just “a guy who knows Kung Fu” is an injustice. Danny is so much more than that.
I feel a little bad for Jones, who is an actor and not an activist. He probably had no idea what would happen when he stepped out of the publicist’s cocoon. However, in his Twitter conversations, he just dug himself a deeper and deeper hole trying to explain what’s progressive to a person of color. Trying to cover up the problematic nature of the character by saying the show is feminist didn’t help matters.
Hopefully, he’ll be back to promote the show before the 17th, but after learning how to listen and not become defensive when talking about cultural issues.
Marvel addressing criticisms of Orientalism, whitewashing, and Asian erasure in Iron Fist: "BUT WE HAVE EMPOWERED (ish) WOMEN!" Typical. https://t.co/3HMID8Brt6
— Nxjeehah Hamid (@thatmuhajababe) March 5, 2017
@AsyiqinHaron The nicest, politest POC will always be considered louder, meaner, and ruder than any white man.
— Herostratus (@Herostratus356) March 6, 2017
Producer Lauren Warren delivered the finally eulogy to Jones’ former twitter account with the thread starting here.
1. The only person that ran Finn off Twitter was Finn. Any other version than that is a fanboy fantasy circle jerk fever dream.
— Lauren Warren (@iamlaurenp) March 6, 2017
2. Many of you aren't smart enough to understand the depths required to have a convo on why people have an issue with the show.
— Lauren Warren (@iamlaurenp) March 6, 2017
Hollywood’s hesitance to have Asian actors play Asian characters is well documented – Ghost in the Shell, Avatar, Dragonball, 21, Doctor Strange, and the on again off again remake of Akira with non-Japanese actors. While Danny Rand the comics character was originally white, he comes from a time period when cultural appropriation was the norm, and reflects the Orientalist and colonialist attitudes of the time. Danny Rand was white for many of the reasons Hollywood thinks white audiences won’t relate to an Asian protagonist. In many ways we haven’t progressed much further than that.
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.