While many have been criticizing Netflix for casting Finn Jones, a Caucasian actor, in the lead role for Marvel’s “Iron Fist”, there are those who are defending the choice since the character has always been portrayed as white even in the original comics anyway.
The reasoning was that nobody thought there was any issue about it back when the Iron Fist comic first came out in the 1970s. Created by Roy Thomas and Gil Kane in 1974, Iron Fist/Danny Rand was just one among a number of comic characters inspired by the early 70s passion for martial arts movies. But if this was fine then, why should we be complaining now?
In turns out people did call out Marvel on the Iron Fist’s cultural appropriation soon after it was launched, according to BleedingCool.
One letter featured in the “letter to the editor page” of Marvel Premiere #17 from 1974 has emerged. The mail, which referred to the first appearance of Iron Fist back in Marvel Premiere issue #15, was from a certain William F. Wu of Kansas who pretty much summed up what was wrong to begin with.
“Iron Fist might have been a pioneer, a publishing coup. Instead, it’s just another new superhero. Marvel now has two regular comic-book titles featuring martial arts experts [the other being Shang Chi, Master Of Kung Fu]. The total of Asian ancestry is one-eighth and belongs, of course, to the symbol of the “Yellow Peril,” Fu Manchu. Marvel continues to turn away from Asian protagonists, even when the heart of the storyline is Asian in basis.
“Marvel’s omission of an apparently human Asian hero is reminiscent of the omission of black characters in the early ‘sixties. For many years, racial consciousness has been growing, and with the success of the kung fu films, the problem of identifying with a pen-and-ink Bruce Lee is gone.”
While the letter got published, it did not get a reply from the comic’s editor and Iron Fist co-creator, Roy Thomas.
Forty-two years later, the issue remains the same and Thomas still couldn’t care less about it.
William F. Wu, who is a Chinese-American, would later become a creator himself after becoming a published science fiction author a few years later. One of his books titled “Hong on the Range” was later adapted into a comic book series by Image Comics.
He also authored a scholarly paper called “The Yellow Peril”, a dissertation on American fiction’s evolving depiction of Chinese and Chinese-Americans.