Marvel’s fourth Netflix series Iron Fist premiered last Friday to some pretty difficult reviews. Interestingly, most of those reviews had to do with the content of the series, and not with the persistent complaint of the series until this point, the implantation of the “white saviour” trope. Here was Danny Rand, a rich white kid, learning from an Asian culture on how to save the world on their behalf. Kind of rough, right? Well, as it turned out, an Asian actor was almost cast in the part, and he’s talking about why the move on the part of Marvel would have been complex and ultimately more reflective of his own experience as an Asian-American.
“I personally think it would have been a really interesting dynamic to see this Asian-American guy who’s not in touch with his Asian roots go and get in touch with them and discover this power,” said Lewis Tan in an interview with Vulture.
“I think it would be really interesting to have that feeling of an outsider,” Tan added. “There’s no more of an outsider than an Asian-American: We feel like outsiders in Asia and we feel like outsiders at home. That’s been really difficult — especially for me.”
Even more difficult for the actor was that it seemed like he was actually going to get the part of Iron Fist. “I thought at least I had a shot — I’m half white and I do martial arts and I could easily play that role. So I was excited,” Tan said. “And then I read for Danny and they liked me a lot. I read again and again and again, and it was a long process, and it got to the point where they were talking about my availability and my dates. That’s always a good sign, you know? And then they went with Finn [Jones] and they had me read for a villain part maybe two weeks later.”
Tan did end up having a role in the series playing Zhou Cheng, and while it’s not the progress he wanted, the actor says it is progress just the same. “It’s going to take people of color behind the camera, it’s going to take even Caucasian people with a broader scope or a deeper understanding of how the world looks now,” he explained. “The world doesn’t look black and white. The world is grey. Everything is grey. Everybody’s mixed up. Like, it’s 2017. People want to see themselves represented and we want to see what our real life looks like on film and on TV.”
Iron Fist is streaming now on Netflix.