If creating a show that features an Asian-American actor as a prominent character in 2017, it would be a smart move to not use offensive terms to describe his or her race.
Unfortunately, that is exactly what Roy Thomas, co-creator of comic turned Netflix series Iron Fist, did in a recent interview with Inverse. The Iron Fist franchise has garnered new attention thanks to its recent premier as the latest of Marvel Comics series on Netflix, although not all of it good. Claims of whitewashing, culture appropriation and misguided tweets have followed the series since its announcement back in 2015. Now the series must deal with another misstep from not the cast this time, but from the series creator.
In his interview with Inverse Entertainment, Roy Thomas was asked about some of the controversy surrounding the series, in particular the lead characters race. For those not in the know, Iron Fist, is about a man whom, after surviving a plane crash that claimed both his parents, returns to New York City after training in the martial arts under the tutelage of monks of the Order of the Crane Mother in K’un L’un. Many fans of the Marvel series have wondered and openly complained as to why the lead cannot be Asian (an Asian-American actor was actually considered for the main character), even though the original comic book character was white. However, Thomas did not respond well to the criticisms.
“Don’t these people have something better to do than to worry about the fact that Iron Fist isn’t Oriental, or whatever word? I know Oriental isn’t the right word now, either.
To be clear, the term “oriental” is an offensive term to refer to people of Asian heritage. For those who do not know why such a term could be seen as offensive, Howard University Law Professor Frank H. Wu described it in a 2009 New York Times piece as a term similar to “Negro” in regards to African-Americans, and it is “associated with a time period when Asians had a subordinate status”. He goes on to explain how the term is often linked to outdated stereotypes of Asian people, as well as a time when the US government passed exclusionary acts to prevent Asian people from entering the country, namely during World War II.
Many who caught wind of the interview took offense to his insensitive tone on the subject, but were especially upset with his use of the term “Oriental”. His words quickly drew fire from fans and social media, including Iron Fist star Jessica Henwick who plays Colleen Wing in the series. Henwick took to Twitter to voice her displeasure of his comments, tweeting, “Oriental is term used to describe rugs, not people.”
Iron Fist has not had the best reviews, ranging from mixed to negative, even with the current controversy. The show currently holds a 19% percent on Rotten Tomatoes, a 37% on Metacritic, while still managing to garner a 8/10 on IMDb.
The first season of Iron Fist is up for streaming on Netflix right now.