Today Netflix continued its love affair with the world of Marvel Comics by releasing the first season of Iron Fist. The series premiered under a cloud of controversy about the racist undertones of the original comic — a white dude travels to Asia to learn martial arts and ancient wisdoms, and then use them against the people who taught him. It’s problematic imagery that doesn’t need to be recreated. Netflix could have avoided this by simply casting an Asian actor for the role — it wouldn’t be the first time the race of a character has been changed [sips tea] — but alas we got a very white Finn Jones as Danny Rand, and it’s already awkward.
I don’t claim to be a comic-book fan and will admit that I had never heard of Iron Fist before I knew it was coming to Netflix as a series. After only one episode, I have very minimal knowledge of the specific circumstances that lend Rand the ability to take out large groups of trained security, disarm people in seconds, calm down vicious dogs, or jump over cars. But I do know that those are not the only things that have kept him alive and out of jail thus far.
When he shows up, unannounced and clearly homeless, to the building that he apparently owns, security escorts him out. As Rand peers back inside, I thought he was devising a clever alternative that would rely on his superhuman power. Nope. He just walks right back into the building, through the same door he was kicked out of. He feels confident that he’ll get a second chance to make his case. And when he starts beating up the guards, no one shoots him and no one calls the police. Rand makes it in and out of the building without injury or arrest. Looks like white privilege to me.
And then there is his clear overstepping with dojo teacher Colleen. Rand sees her putting up flyers and asks for a job. She says no and walks away. He shows up to her class. That is already grounds for getting maced in my world. She literally has to threaten to beat him with a fake-but-painful sword to get him to leave. And I’m pretty sure he flirts with her. That Rand is of sound mind and body but still thinks that he can woo Colleen without any evidence of having showered, ever, is male privilege at its finest.
Sure, there is a conversation that can and should be had about the invisibility of homeless people in big cities like New York. No one believes Rand is who he says he is because they can’t imagine him having any value to society. But even those circumstances would be exacerbated if he were a person of color. I don’t need to understand comic books to recognize gender and racial privilege when I see it. That's Rand's real superpower.