‘Iron Fist’ Star Finn Jones Explains Quitting Twitter Amid Casting Debate
Iron Fist is the latest Marvel comics property to reach new audiences with a live-action Netflix series, following the success of Daredevil, Jessica Jones and Luke Cage. But as the show's attracted some controversy ahead of its premiere, the actor playing the central superhero has placed himself in the middle of it — and drew jeers when he briefly quit Twitter as the dialogue over his casting heated up.
Billionaire Danny Rand, the fictional hero who accesses the power of the Iron Fist to achieve (as the production notes for the Netflix show puts it) "kung fu mastery," isn't canonically Asian. The character is most often a blond white man in the comics, and the idea of a white savior heavily drawing from Chinese culture doesn't smell as fresh as it did when the character debuted in 1974 — in fact, it looks a lot like appropriation that hasn't aged well (Luke Cage did a wonderful job of subverting its '70s source material's more cringe-inducing quirks on the show, including making fun of his original costume).
Iron Fist series creator Scott Buck chose to stick with tradition in casting white British actor Finn Jones (best known as Loras Tyrell from Game of Thrones) for the role, despite many calls to reconsider. Given that Hollywood is extremely comfortable with recasting Asian roles with white actors — see Tilda Swinton's role as a no-longer-Tibetan person in Dr. Strange, and Scarlett Johansson's upcoming role as the no-longer-Japanese Major Motoko in the adaptation of Masamune Shirow's Ghost in the Shell — it's interesting to note the pushback when the idea of doing the reverse is raised. Twitter certainly noticed, and Finn Jones saw fit to jump into the fray. Then he jumped right out of it, momentarily deactivating his Twitter account.
On March 5, Jones shared a speech from British-Pakistani Rogue One actor Riz Ahmed on the importance of diversity in TV. The unintentionally self-owning subtext of the tweet didn't escape critics of the show's casting.
When the creative director for comics fan site Geeks of Color asked Jones if he was "for real," Jones launched into a defense of the Netflix show, eventually getting borderline self-congratulatory about the show's "diverse" casting.
"Yes, I am for real," Jones tweeted. "Please don't make assumptions on our show before you have seen it. the characterization of Danny Rand may have remained true to its source material but our show incorporates and celebrates actors from all different backgrounds."
"I will go as far to say that it may be one of the most diverse shows out of the three," Jones continued, ostensibly referring to other Netflix Marvel series (Luke Cage had a largely black main cast). After a few more of Jones' tweeted remarks were met with a mixed response, the actor decided to leave the Twitter-building altogether.
A day and what can one can only speculate was several phone calls from both Finn and the show's teams later, Jones reinstated his Twitter account, and explained to Deadline that he needed to "stay focused" on filming the show.
"My original intention was to amplify a speech made by Riz Ahmed at the House of Commons," Jones stated. "It was a very articulate and important speech on representation that I wholly agreed with. After posting I was inundated by people accusing me of not being allowed to share his voice based on an assumption that our show is going to play into the problems of racial inequality on screen. I engaged politely, diplomatically and attempted to bridge the divide. I’m currently in the middle of filming and I need to stay focused on bringing to life this character without judgment, so I decided to remove myself from twitter for the time being."
Jones again praised the "diverse cast with an intelligent, socially progressive storyline" and has since stuck to retweeting as of March 7. Whether the show will live up to the actor's promises remains to be seen; what's certain is Jones could never stomach any given female pop stars' mentions if he thought being challenged was bad.
You can watch Iron Fist starting March 17 if you want, and those who aren't excited by the project can send Netflix a message by skipping it altogether.
Edited to add: Writer and martial artist Genevra Littlejohn's "White Men Playing With Sticks: Iron Fist, Martial Arts and Respect" for blog The Learned Fangirl also points out several ways in which martial arts swords and practices are visibly mishandled in early images from the show, writing, "I can’t help but wonder what other elements of the show will display the same lack of care, the same double story of congratulation when seen through white eyes and disrespect through Asian ones."
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