Marvel’s 13-episode superhero drama Iron Fist is getting a critical drubbing ahead of its March 17 Netflix release, with critics calling it “a step backward on every level,” saying that it “falls flat on its face,” and comparing it unfavorably with its more daring, genre-bending counterparts Daredevil, Luke Cage, and Jessica Jones. For some time now, Iron Fist’s star, Finn Jones, has had the unenviable task of trying to defend not only the show itself but his own casting as the show’s hero, Danny Rand. And in an interview with Radio Times, Jones found an unlikely new scapegoat to blame: Donald Trump.
The actor told Radiotimes.com that he thinks the world has changed since the series was filmed pre–Trump’s election, to its disadvantage. “I’m playing a white American billionaire superhero, at a time when the white American billionaire archetype is public enemy number one, especially in the US,” he said. “I think it’s very interesting to see how that perception, now that Trump’s in power, how it makes it very difficult to root for someone coming from white privilege, when that archetype is public enemy number one.”
The character of Iron Fist was created in the 1970s by Roy Thomas and Gil Kane as a rich, white American who develops magic powers after visiting K’un Lun, an actual Asian mountain range that has mythical significance in Chinese culture. The idea of casting an actor of Asian descent in the role picked up steam after a well-argued plea in a 2014 Nerds of Color piece called for Marvel to shake off the orientalism and “white savior” tendencies of the original comic, which sees Danny harness Asian mysticism and master kung fu, by making Danny Asian in its version. The piece’s author, Keith Chow, has also argued that an Asian Danny Rand would not fundamentally change the story and would be even more ideally poised to be caught between two vastly different cultures.
Netflix cast blue-eyed Jones in the role instead, and he’s been trying several different tactics to defend himself and the show ever since, including suggesting that it actually champions diversity and that the source material, not the Netflix adaptation, is at fault. In the same Radio Times interview in which he blamed the rise of Trump for the backlash against it, Jones also noted that “the shows are made for the fans, not for critics,” a common enough refrain for poorly reviewed superhero media, and he has noted that most reviewers have only seen the first six episodes, urging people to reserve judgement until they’ve seen the whole thing.
The initial impulse may be to mock Jones for blaming the president on his show's poor reception, and that is justified. It's true that Iron Fist has a whole host of problems that have nothing to do with its casting, and audiences have been and continue to be perfectly happy to root for white American billionaire superheroes.
But in this one particular case, he does have something resembling a point. When you put Iron Fist in the context of the other Defenders shows on Netflix, representation is bound to influence, at least a little bit, how the show is received. Daredevil, Luke Cage, and Jessica Jones have been celebrated on their artistic merits, but they’ve each also brought some much-needed diversity to Marvel’s on-screen lineup with their respective disabled, black, and female heroes. And as Marvel continues to expand its horizons on representation, Iron Fist’s casting can feel like a throwback to the 1970s—and yet at the same time, given who's sitting in the White House, uncomfortablely relevant.