Three years ago, when I initially wrote about casting an Asian American in the lead role on Iron Fist, I had no idea the NOC would become ground zero for the #AAIronFist movement. I just never thought an Asian American Danny Rand was that radical a notion! Now that we're on the eve of the show's debut on Netflix -- in addition to its star's recent Twitter tantrum -- years-old arguments are starting to resurface on twitter and elsewhere. Coupled with early reviews savaging the series, I figured now was as good a time as any to resurrect one more Iron Fist thinkpiece before (hopefully) never having to talk about this goddamn show ever again.
Back in December 2015, we partnered with the fine folks at MCU Exchange to write a series of posts arguing why making Iron Fist Asian American was more than just casting; it would have made for a better story too. If you recall, at that point in time, there were news reports that the series was flailing: it had no showrunner and no one could figure out how to crack the series open. So in addition to giving Jeph Loeb and company plenty of ideas (for free, even!) on how to tell a compelling story -- something critics have said is extremely lacking so far -- we were also going to help them solve their showrunner problem.
Unfortunately, before I had a chance to put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard, more accurately) and offer up some names who could have steered the Iron Fist ship in the right direction, Marvel and Netflix had announced they found their man! Who better to run Iron Fist -- their, admittedly, toughest Netflix series to date -- than the guy who 1.) never heard of the character, and 2.) ruined Dexter?! Yay?
I'm not saying there were probably better choices… actually, that's exactly what I'm saying. So here's the list of five showrunners who Marvel Television could have hired to run Iron Fist. Whether or not any of these producers would have cast an Asian American lead is beside the point. But if early reviews are to be believed, I'd have to think any one of these writers would have had a better understanding of what it means to live in two worlds without really belonging in either (paraphrasing actual dialogue Danny says in the show!).
Leo Chu & Eric S. Garcia
Need writers who can balance humor and sick martial arts action? Look no further than Leo Chu and Eric Garcia! Earlier this decade, the producing partners were the showrunners of Nickelodeon's award-winning martial arts comedy Supah Ninjas -- starring Ryan Potter, who still needs to be Robin, btw. Prior to their stint on Supah Ninjas, the two also ran the animated hit Afro Samurai and its sequel Afro Samurai: Resurrection. In other words, these guys know how to do a multiracial martial arts show that doesn't require cultural appropriation to make it work.
Also, an Iron Fist run by these two would likely lean in to Danny's more humorous side -- remember, he's a bit of a wise ass in the comics -- since they have a history in the comedy genre. Not that their Iron Fist would be shot like a sitcom.
If that two-minute reel is any indication, they clearly have a better understanding of how to incorporate kick ass fight scenes than whatever the hell they're doing on Iron Fist.
Steven Maeda is a genre television writing veteran, having been part of writers rooms for X-Files, Harsh Realm, and Lost. He's also had experience as a showrunner leading the dramas Pan Am for NBC and Helix for Syfy. Basically, if you need a guy able to handle some of the more fantastical elements of Iron Fist, something that has dogged the show's production from jump street, Maeda would have been a better bet. Also, he got Japanese cinema icon Hiroyuki Sanada to commit to a basic cable sci-fi series!
Just imagine the kind of talent he could have cast for Iron Fist! (By the way, if you haven't already, treat yourself and go watch Sanada in Twilight Samurai. You'll be glad you did.)
Albert Kim is currently the showrunner of Fox's Sleepy Hollow and a former co-executive producer on The CW's Nikita. Before writing for television, Kim was a reporter at Entertainment Weekly so he probably understands the ramifications of bad press affecting a show (ahem, like how Sleepy Hollow did Abbie Mills dirty!)
One thing Kim can be lauded for on both shows he's led? Powerful Asian American women leads. Maggie Q was the driving force behind all four seasons of Nikita and Janina Gavankar is the current co-lead on Sleepy Hollow. In fact, a recent episode of the supernatural series was a milestone for genre television in that it featured both an Asian American writer and an Asian American director on top of the fact that the show stars and is showrun by Asian Americans.
It seems Jessica Henwick as Colleen Wing is the sole saving grace on Iron Fist. Maybe if Kim was running the show, she'd be an even bigger standout! Even better, we could have had a gender bent hero as well!
Imagine: Iron Fist starring Maggie Q as Dani Rand. You're welcome.
So you're doing a show about a rich, blonde, white guy who goes to the Orient, only to return as a superhero? Why not hire a writer/producer who has some experience telling that exact story? Keto Shimizu began writing for Arrow in 2013, including the show's companion comic Arrow Season 2.5, and has been a major player throughout the Berlanti-verse on The CW. She was also a head writer on the animated Vixen series and is currently part of the Legends of Tomorrow writers room.
While it's pretty common knowledge that Shimizu is a true blue DC fangirl, her love of superheroes knows no bounds! I'm sure her version of Iron Fist would be way more compelling than what we will be getting on Netflix. And given that Iron Fist and Arrow share many similar qualities, perhaps hiring Shimizu would have led to #AAIronFist after all? You know just to differentiate the two?
I'm sure Lewis Tan could demonstrate a never before seen trick or two on the ol' salmon ladder?
Lastly, Marvel didn't have far to look if they really wanted to find a showrunner to steer Iron Fist in a better direction. For the last four seasons, she has turned Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. into one of the most diverse series on television. Not only is she already part of the Marvel Television family, but bringing Tancharoen into the Netflix fold could have been an enticing bridge between Marvel's Netflix and ABC islands. And let's be real, if Scott Buck can simultaneously showrun Iron Fist and Inhumans (which will likely replace Agents on the ABC schedule), Maurissa could have totally done both as well.
Let's not forget, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is still the only place in the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe where you'll see any Asian American superheroes, so there's that. Also, if Tancharoen had no problem giving us an Asian American Quake, perhaps she would have been open to an Asian American Danny as well?
Ever since Scott Buck was announced as the head writer of Iron Fist, any hopes that we'd get an Asian American Iron Fist were immediately dashed as well. And that was part of the problem. This was always about more than casting. People who have been pushing back against #AAIronFist never went beyond superficial arguments -- i.e., "fish out of water" or "negative Asian stereotype" -- and never considered story implications for making Danny Asian American. #AAIronFist was as much about finding a showrunner with a specific point of view -- think Melissa Rosenberg on Jessica Jones or Cheo Hodari Coker on Luke Cage -- which early reports indicate the current incarnation of the show lacks.
All of the above showrunners are not only Asian American, but have very specific perspectives that could have made Iron Fist special. Instead, we're stuck with the exact thing we've been cautioning against for three years.
Good thing Into the Badlands is debuting the same weekend!