It’s difficult to know what the appropriate response to being accused of racism is.
In fairness, there is no real way to come out of such a situation on top – if enough people are concerned that your Netflix show is culturally problematic, you’ve already lost the fight, and anything you do or say is probably going to make things worse.
One thing you absolutely shouldn’t do, though, is reject the claim on a technicality. That just feels petty and wrong, as if you’re trivializing the delicate challenge of ethnic representation in the media.
Say, for example, that your name is Finn Jones, and that you’re an incredibly pasty Englishman who’s playing Danny Rand in an upcoming Netflix show.
The show has been accused of falling into the “White Savior” trope, where a Caucasian hero travels to Asia to learn mystical arts, masters them completely, and then goes on to save his adopted people using his magnificent powers.
It’s not a trope that Asian Americans are fond of, not least because it perpetuates the idea that they’re weak and in need of protection. It’s kind of weird that Western literature so often portrays the Chinese nation as being simultaneously the bastion of all this amazing, mysterious knowledge, and completely useless at actually using it.
But Finn Jones says that we all should stop worrying about the White Savior trope. It totally doesn’t apply to Iron Fist, a story about a white guy who goes to China, learns martial arts, and becomes the super strongest warrior who then defends New York’s Chinatown from enemies.
So why does this plot not fall into the White Savior pit? Because apparently, Danny Rand is really bad at his job.
“Danny Rand is not a White Savior. Danny Rand can hardly save himself, let alone an entire race of people. He is a very complicated, vulnerable individual. He doesn’t just show up, like, ‘Hey dudes, I’ve just learned martial arts! I’m going to save the world.’ Actually, it’s the complete opposite. He’s gone through and suffered immense trauma and he is struggling to claim his own sanity and identity back.”
Being bad at saving people doesn’t make your character any less ideologically challenging.
Perhaps you question how much of a “savior” your character is, and maybe that’s fair enough.
But Iron Fist is still a story that’s about Chinese martial arts and mysticism, which is told from the perspective of a white man.
It’s not Danny Rand’s heroics that are the problem here – it’s the fact that (outside of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.) Marvel Studios has a pretty poor track record with Asian American superheroes.
What the MCU really doesn’t need is another blond white man with incredible super powers and a sidekick of color.
It doesn’t matter how good he is at saving people – what matters is that Chinatown’s residents aren’t being given the chance to save themselves.