Marvel’s Iron Fist: cultural appropriation that belongs in the past | Television & radio

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Marvel’s Netflix superhero shows have always stood out for their eccentricities. Daredevil lays its chips on a crimefighter who kicks ass despite being blind. Jessica Jones is a depressed private eye who uses her powers to defend herself against male aggression. And Luke Cage is about a black man whose hard-times heroism embodies the African-American experience, and who still – occasionally – utters his Blaxploitation-era catchphrase “Sweet Christmas!”. So you might think Iron Fist, about a hero who can charge his yellow glowing fist with chi drawn from the molten heart of a dead dragon, would offer up similarly outlandish thrills. Unfortunately, the comic book’s sense of fun hasn’t quite translated to the small screen, while those familiar with Hollywood’s history of cultural appropriation might find themselves watching through their fingers.

Iron Fist first appeared in the comics just as David Carradine was fighting his way across the wild west as Kwai Chang Caine in Kung Fu, a role for which Bruce Lee was famously turned down. The origin story for Marvel’s high-kicking hero, reproduced faithfully here, features all the classic elements of the mighty whitey trope: Danny Rand (Finn Jones) is the blond, blue-eyed fellow who is taught all the mystical intrigues of kung fu and predictably becomes more skilled than any of the locals.

It’s the sort of story that Marvel might once have got away with. But Hollywood is under the microscope when it comes to diversity: Tilda Swinton landed herself in a funk after asking comic Margaret Cho why Asian people were upset with her casting as The Ancient One in Marvel’s recent Doctor Strange movie, while Scarlett Johansson has been forced to fend off suggestions an east Asian actor ought to have been offered her role in the upcoming Hollywood remake of classic anime Ghost in the Shell. Critics including US website The Nerds of Colour believe Marvel should have made the new Danny Rand a man of Chinese or Korean origin.

This blunder is a pity, because Iron Fist has its moments, not least some cracking fight scenes. Opening episodes set our missing-presumed-dead hero on a collision course with the owners of his dead billionaire father’s business; brother-and-sister big-hitters Joy and Ward Meachum (Jessica Stroup and Tom Pelphrey). These two grew up with Danny but are now determined to deny his identity and birthright. Initially, penniless and sleeping in Central Park, Rand’s status as a virtual hobo makes him an unlikely symbol of the powerlessness of poverty in the face of corporate might.

However, Marvel’s Netflix entries are beginning to exhibit signs of fatigue as we gear up for The Defenders later this year. Those who dug into Luke Cage will be familiar with the problems surrounding Rosario Dawson’s increasingly weary Claire Temple/Night Nurse, who has now inexplicably helped out all four members of the future team. Where Marvel’s big-screen efforts use spiky smarts to cover up their gaping logic chasms, Iron Fist’s writers can’t quite be bothered. “My mother says I can’t escape meeting people like you – it’s my destiny,” says Temple at one point, to nobody’s great interest. Marvel’s TV shows may not have the huge budgets of their big-screen cousins, but there really is no excuse for such cut-price screenwriting.

Iron Fist is streaming in full now on Netflix

Click to view the original article on The Guardian.

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