Having had some time to mull it over after a few quick, snarky Twitter posts, I thought it might be worth the time to unpack my frustrations with number seven on Newsarama’s recent The 10 Biggest Questions the MARVEL/NETFLIX Deal Raises:
[W]e can’t help but wonder will Marvel stay faithful to the comic book and make Iron Fist a blond-haired, blue-eyed martial arts expert?
Let’s be clear here, we know NOT all Asians know martial arts and there is absolutely no reason a Caucasian can’t be a martial arts expert. We’re not going there. In truth, the reason we bring it up isn’t a “diversity” issue … it’s a following the money issue.
I don’t believe the item is meant to sound racist. I’ll admit I can see the intent there, but great oogly-mooglies is it buried under a whole mess of awkward.
First of all, that whole “stay faithful” phrasing sort of can’t help but land badly. Faith is a loaded word, and pretty instantly pitches the question with an implied correct answer. Richard Dawkins notwithstanding, most people see faithlessness or a loss of faith in a negative light. It qualifies the question in a way that leans heavily in the direction of said blond-haired, blue-eyed territory. So in the end, what probably wanted to be value neutral comes across as some kind of “respect Iron Fist’s important Caucasian heritage.”
Speaking of value-neutral-that isn’t, the followup doesn’t help matters overmuch. The author kind of bends over backwards trying not to piss off the don’t diversify my comics crowd. Again, I realize there’s a lot of folks who are likely to storm off into NerdRage at the idea of diversity, but as I’ve said before, scare quotes imply an allegiance, whether you want them to or not.
Diversity is real. Its existence is not in question, but treating it with quotation mark insulation so you don’t have to touch it means, well, maybe you aren’t really ready to talk about it?
The write up probably doesn’t do itself any favors by choosing as its possible extra-diversity character the martial arts guy, and suggesting he could maybe be Asian. At least they admit the cliché, but with everything else already kind of piling up in the wrong column, it’s hard not to have that feel like a lot of flopping about and stumbling. If you aren’t saying you only think of Asians as martial artists, why is the martial artist the only one you’re suggesting be Asian? I mean, we do realize there’s nothing inherently Caucasian about women or blind, Roman Catholic men, yes?
So, there’s that in a bigger-than-nutshell. I think there was a fair amount of good intent there, but in the end, the execution makes some really painful missteps. The result is an incredibly tone-deaf attempt to discuss the topic of diversity in media that I think muddies rather than contributes to any real discussion of same.