When this Asian-American filmmaker heard Marvel was casting a white actor in Netflix’s ‘Iron Fist,’ he responded by creating his own superhero film with a diverse cast.
When Asian-American filmmaker John Brougher heard Marvel was casting a white character as the lead in Netflix’s Iron Fist, he felt compelled to respond by scripting a superhero film with a diverse cast.
While growing up, Brougher told USA TODAY he was an avid fan of superheroes and comic books, but found none that “looked like” him.
He wasn’t the only one disturbed about the decision to cast Game of Thrones’ Finn Jones in the new series, which hit the streaming service this weekend. The announcement last March ignited controversy online over Marvel’s choice not to change the “white savior” narrative from the comics of the 1970s — the role of Danny Rand, otherwise known as Iron Fist, is a blonde-haired, blue-eyed man, though the character has deep roots in Asian culture and storytelling.
Seeing how much criticism the comic-book series drew, Brougher said he wishes Marvel changed or updated the Iron Fist story, considering the recent backlash to movies that cast white actors in Asian-American roles.
Noting some examples such as Matt Damon in The Great Wall, Scarlett Johansson in anime-based film Ghost in the Shell and Emma Stone in Aloha, Brougher said it’s an “unsettling” feeling when Hollywood “erases Asian-American voices and Asian-American stories.”
“There’s so much to explore about these themes that we can still do if we can make some changes to the character, to the story,” said Brougher. “Just like they’ve done with really every character in the Marvel Universe and the Marvel Cinematic Universe.”
That spurred Brougher to produce his short film Iron and Rage, a re-imagination of Netflix’s Iron Fist with an Asian-American lead and diverse supporting cast. The film, released March 13, is available to watch on YouTube.
24-year-old Asian-American actress Jessica Henwick, who plays Colleen in the Netflix version, also told USA TODAY she gave a lot of thought to the issue.
Henwick said she knows what it’s like to feel “misrepresented” and “underrepresented.” She added: “It was a discussion I had to have with myself where I know the community I come from was thinking one thing and it was like, ‘Do I want to be a part of show that’s already getting criticism?’
What sold the show for Henwick, she said, was her character’s “fascinating representation” of an Asian-American character and being so “unusual.”
Brougher said his issues with Iron Fist aren’t with Henwick’s character. He added: “We just don’t have enough Asian heroines out there, and I’m really jazzed to see her.”
“We’re seen as a model minority or a fetish, or a stereotype. And we’re not seen as human. And because of that, we’re just not even on screen at all,” said Brougher. “I can’t even complain about negative representation because there’s no representation.”
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