It’s no secret that IRON FIST wasn’t the most popular Marvel show in the line-up — it’s very easy to find people voicing their discontent at every turn. I’m not here to defend season one of IRON FIST. The storyline of IRON FIST is built off appropriation and white saviorism. A lot of people asked for Danny Rand to be race-bent to Asian-American to fix the appropriation in the story. However, I don’t think there’s a simple fix for this issue. I also think there’s a fair amount of uses for Danny’s whiteness when it comes to addressing the problems of the IRON FIST story.

Problematic Origins

Our current society creates the perfect breeding ground for problematic stories. Privilege can blind people to what might be wrong or hurtful in the narratives they’re telling. I don’t think that the solution is always to overwrite these stories with newer versions. People can use problematic origins as an opportunity, especially in something with an ongoing narrative like comic books.

Marvel comics often use Danny Rand’s whiteness as a narrative tool. Creators can use Danny’s whiteness to speak on white allyship, privilege, and appropriation. The origin story of Iron Fist is something that modern comics don’t accept at face value. Marvel has often worked to examine and use Danny’s whiteness. Netflix has the chance to do this too. In fact, they already touched on it a bit in DEFENDERS.

Danny Rand
Luke calls out Danny in DEFENDERS, telling Danny his privilege blinds him to the harm he’s doing.

The issue with the original IRON FIST show that people seemed to dislike so much is that it presented Danny’s origin without any thought to its impact in the modern day. Stories need to be conscious of how the world has changed around them. Netflix needs to tweak their usage of the character if they’re going to justify having him. The comics are a pretty good starting point when it comes to making changes.

Cultural Appropriation and Kung-Fu

One of the things people criticize IRON FIST for most is its rampant problems with cultural appropriation. Cultural appropriation is when an outsider of a culture claims aspects of the culture as their own for their benefit. White people have had a habit of appropriating Asian culture for a very long time. In fact, Marvel invented Iron Fist as a hero because of the popularity of Kung-Fu films in 1970s America.

If we’re looking at character motivations, Danny Rand himself isn’t appropriating. K’un-Lun took in Danny Rand as a child after his parents died. However, the problem here is the decisions of the creators. The character’s backstory only exists so that creators could supplant Kung-Fu and Asian mysticism into a white character.

How IRON FIST Can Avoid Being Marvel’s ARROW

The issue that arises here is that the narrative can excuse the creators’ cultural appropriation through the character’s story. While Danny’s story, character-wise, isn’t one of purposeful appropriation, the way Marvel conceived IRON FIST certainly is. How does one work to tackle the intrinsic narrative of the writing instead of the character?

Discomfort and Displacement

Danny Rand grew up in a secret village in the mountains and then was dropped back into his life in America as the heir of an enormous company. Danny Rand is also a character that lets creators take Asian tropes and slap them onto a white male lead. It needs to be examined that, while he didn’t choose what happened to him, he’s still white. It also makes a lot more sense to see more friction between the life Danny Rand grew up with and the life he has outside of K’un-Lun.

Danny had little choice when it comes to his life in K’un-Lun in the actual story. Still, there’s no reason the show can’t discuss his status as a white man practicing martial arts and Buddhism. IRON FIST overlooks a lot of conflicts, it seems, that could be used to talk about these issues. The creators of IRON FIST chose to make Colleen Wing an Asian woman, while she’s white in the comics. However, they don’t seem to use this to have her call out Danny Rand on his whiteness.

Danny Rand
Colleen has every reason — possibly even more reason — to call out Danny Rand on his whiteness the same as Luke did in DEFENDERS.

There’s also the issue of Danny Rand taking to his life as a rich white dude… rather well. Currently, the culture of K’un-Lun (and Asian culture) seems like something tacked onto the character for fashion reasons. To change this, Danny Rand needs to appear deeply rooted and invested in this culture. A man who grew up being taught Buddhist ideals and living a very simple life doesn’t seem like he’d simply accept owning a penthouse apartment.

Netflix and the Comics

I’ll be honest — I don’t think Marvel comics handle this part of Danny’s story fantastically either. I think Danny Rand doesn’t seem rooted in the culture he grew up in. This makes the underlying issue of cultural appropriation all the more obvious. While Danny Rand uses his wealth for good in the show and the comics, we never see him express outright discomfort with his position.

Danny Rand
Despite many scenes in the comics where Danny willingly parts with his money for friends, we see little about charity or Danny’s actual discomfort with his fortune.

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We don’t get to see Danny practice what he preaches. It’s been made clear that, as annoying as it is to watch a white dude espouse Buddhist ideas like he owns the religion, it’s even more annoying to see him do so and not follow through on his own policies.

The comics do something right when it comes to cultural appropriation — consistent awareness of Danny’s status as a white man. The comics also make Danny aware of his status as a white man. It’s strange to have the Netflix show introduce Colleen as an Asian woman, as well as have other women of color present, and yet have Danny’s whiteness go largely unchecked.

In fact, the Netflix show incorporates more cultural appropriation than the original comics had. Danny is often seen listening to hip-hop music such as OutKast. It’s implied that Danny feels a connection to these songs because it was the music he listened to before he lost his parents—but it’s never stated. When there are already so many issues surrounding appropriation, a dramatic scene set to a song that uses the n-word doesn’t come across as particularly likable.

White Allyship

One of the largest reasons I think Danny is important as a white character is because of his status as a white ally in the comics. I think it’s important for white people to see what good allyship looks like. The reason is simple — white people simply cannot emulate people of color in every facet of activism. The things PoC do as activists will have to differ from white people, and vice-versa, because of how society deals with race.

However, not only do white people have to acknowledge that their methods for activism and allyship will have to differ from PoC — white people have to stop demanding all the answers for what “good white allies” look like from PoC. PoC are typically faced with all of the efforts of answering questions and policing white people when white people should truly be policing themselves.

Danny Rand
Danny specifically spends time thinking about solutions on his own after Luke calls him out.

People of Color can’t be at the beck and call of white people to explain good allyship every waking second. In fact, part of being a good ally is acknowledging that PoC isn’t responsible for babysitting white people. However, racism in our current society tries to actively discourage white people from allyship — meaning sometimes resources can be hard to come by. This is a big part of why I want there to be more good examples of white allies in media — to serve as a resource for real white people.

Danny Rand as a White Ally

Danny was paired with Luke Cage in the comics when Marvel felt that the two heroes—one based in the popularity of kung-fu movies and the other based in the popularity of Blaxploitation films—could no longer carry their own solo series. The tropes of both solos merged together in Power Man & Iron Fist, making it into a bizarre blend of kung-fu film and Blaxploitation tropes. That sounds bad, but surprisingly…it isn’t.

Danny Rand
Since the original comics, Danny has been ready to fight racists (sometimes physically) alongside Luke.

Danny’s voice as a white man is often utilized in Power Man & Iron Fist to speak against the typical racism of the white world. It’s common for white people to be instructed to speak to other white people about racism. This is because white people are more likely to listen to other white people.

Danny is used for this when it comes to other white characters in the comics and white readers. This has continued through the recent comics. The Power Man & Iron Fist series released in 2016 examines Danny’s privilege in situations involving activism and the prison system.

Treatment of PoC

Danny Rand also stands out as a white ally because of his willingness to surround himself with people of color. It could be said character motivation-wise, it’s because Danny grew up around predominate people of color. Writing-wise, though, it’s a conscious effort to surround Danny with non-white people.

A lot of the time, white people don’t expose themselves to people of color. This reflects in media and white people’s responses to media—white people are less likely to notice a lack of diversity because white people are trained to avoid diversity in their personal lives. For the same reasons, white people will tend to create casts of mostly white people in media that they make.

Because of this, Marvel comics presenting a white man who purposefully surrounds himself with PoC—especially PoC who are willing to call him out on his privilege or racism—is something refreshing. Danny Rand in the comics is best friends with Luke Cage, a black man, the godfather of Luke’s mixed daughter, and close friends (and the ex-boyfriend) of Misty Knight.

Danny Rand
The most notable example is Danny and Luke — Danny is practically a part of the Cage-Jones family.

This is something I think white people need to see. When I went to college, it was the whitest space I’d ever been exposed to as a person of color—and yet, most white people I spoke to seemed not to notice. In fact, most white people I interacted with rarely clocked the lack of people of color around them.

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I think white people need to see white people forming strong bonds with people of color and loving people of color as full people. It sounds like a baseline request, but it’s still an issue in our society.

Privilege Check

Something that the comics do correctly is forcing Danny to face his privilege. A lot of the time, Danny uses his privilege for the benefit of people of color or poorer people in the comics as well. In the comics, Danny uses his company to give to people. This is somewhat reflected in the Netflix show as well, where Danny buys Colleen’s building so that she doesn’t have to worry about paying her rent for the dojo.

However, while IRON FIST does touch somewhat on Danny’s privilege as a company owner—and try to utilize him to speak on classism—IRON FIST seems incredibly shy about bringing up Danny’s white privilege. Even calling out Danny’s class privilege in IRON FIST fell a bit flat, feeling at times like a defense of “good” CEOs. DEFENDERS was less shy about these things, due to Luke meeting Danny for the first time. Luke calls out Danny’s privilege and mentions that Danny’s method of fighting the Hand is a direct result of it.

Danny Rand
Power Man & Iron Fist (2016) makes it clear that Danny’s ideas about the prison system are heavily influenced by his white privilege and his class privilege.

Danny, in DEFENDERS, listens to Luke. He sits in Colleen’s dojo silently for a large chunk of time in the episode and decides to change his method. In fact, he changes to a method that uses his position as a company owner at Rand. This is much closer to the Danny that we typically see in comics.

I think, based on this, Netflix is trying to readjust their usage of Danny and his whiteness. They still have a way to go before they can craft Danny into a good example of allyship or a tool to speak of appropriation and privilege, but it feels like they’ve started.

Netflix, Problematic Media, and the Future

Whether people want Danny to be white or not, the ship has sailed. We’re unable to change this as of now—so I can only hope that Netflix makes proper use of him as a character. I think that IRON FIST was largely unpopular not solely because Danny was white, but because the show didn’t examine his whiteness.

Netflix seems to be taking steps forward with Danny in DEFENDERS. I hope that this decision can continue on — for Netflix to discuss Danny’s appropriation, whether or not it was on purpose. In fact, if Netflix uses Danny to open the discussion, they can extend it to other shows and characters. DAREDEVIL and JESSICA JONES don’t have the best treatment of people of color at times, either.

DEFENDERS and Identity: Why IRON FIST’s Danny Rand Failed Where Other Defenders Succeeded

Netflix should be able to use Colleen as a counterpoint to Danny’s whiteness, as well, considering they decided to make her an Asian woman. It doesn’t seem like a character like Colleen would hesitate to call Danny out on his white man bullshit, especially now that they’ve gotten closer. Netflix seems to have a good grasp of how to use Danny as a white guy when he’s a foil to Luke. Hopefully, that trend continues.

Danny Rand
Luke and Danny have a fantastic dynamic. Hopefully, Netflix continues to work with it.

Sometimes you simply can’t fix how a story—or character—started without tearing the whole thing down. Even if Danny were race-bent, IRON FIST relies on a lot of old tropes from kung-fu movies. Most of these tropes don’t translate well today. Considering this, I think it’s better to try and take stories like this and evolve them—be mindful of their origins, and use them to better our future stories and future selves.

Continuing On with IRON FIST

There are still problems other than Danny’s whiteness. Netflix needs to create well-written, fleshed-out characters of color. If they don’t, there’s no way to use Danny’s status as a white character properly. IRON FIST seemed wishy-washy on this, sadly. While there’s a lot of characters of color in IRON FIST, few of them get a lot of screentime or story.

Netflix introduces plenty of characters of color for Danny to fight. However, the fights are short and the introductions even shorter. It feels like IRON FIST doesn’t truly delve into Colleen’s backstory as much as it could. Madame Gao, while being an interesting villain, is still based on a lot of stereotypes.

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I sincerely believe that creators can use Danny Rand’s whiteness as an important tool. However, he can’t exist in a void. The interaction between him and Luke in DEFENDERS proves this. Luke is a well-written character, and Danny plays off him well. If Netflix introduces Heroes for Hire, I think there’ll be even more chances to have these discussions.

However, there are chances now. Netflix, essentially, needs to hit the bricks. They’ve proven they can speak of Danny’s privilege. They’ve proven that they are capable of writing fleshed-out characters of color with Luke Cage, Claire Temple, and Misty Knight. If Netflix is going to build upon what we got to see in DEFENDERS, they have to combine these things.

From a Comic Fan

I’m not going to lie — Danny Rand in the comics is a character I adore. I love Danny in the comics. I wish white men around me in my everyday life could be more like him. And, I sincerely doubt a statement like that would come from the mouth of someone who’s seen the Netflix series.

Comics haven’t stayed stagnant the entire time they’ve existed. They’ve adapted. Power Man & Iron Fist in 2016 was largely about the mass incarceration of people of color, and it pulled no punches about the reality of the prison industrial complex. It also pulled no punches about Danny. As much as he’s an ally, he has to face his position as a rich white dude.

Danny Rand
Danny, in the comics, uses his powers to save a black man from police brutality. It’s not exactly subtle.

People who haven’t read the comics are missing out on this Danny, and they shouldn’t have to. Netflix has the ability to give viewers a white character that speaks to how whiteness functions in our society. Netflix has the ability to provide viewers the version of Danny that Luke Cage thinks is worthy of being Dani’s godfather.

We, As Viewers, Deserve A Better IRON FIST

Viewers deserve this version of Danny for more than just entertainment reasons. Viewers deserve this version of Danny because it deals with issues of racism in the world today. It’d also just be nice to be able to point my white friends to a character like this and say “this is how to be a good ally.”

Netflix is capable of creating a Danny Rand whose whiteness has a purpose. Fans shouldn’t have to read the comics to get the preferable version of a character. Hopefully, with the new seasons of IRON FIST and LUKE CAGE, we’ll get more of the Danny we got in DEFENDERS.

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