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Lewis Tan Auditioning to Play Danny Rand Isn’t New Information, and Neither Is Hollywood’s Ignorance of Asian Representation

lewis tan zhou iron fist

The reviews for Iron Fist have been, well … none too kind. Many of the criticisms focus on the weak story, while others center on the … shall we say uninspired acting. Finn Jones, who plays protagonist Danny Rand a.k.a Iron Fist, has been catching some heat from critics for his rendition of the character. While the jury’s still out whether that’s the fault of the plodding storyline or if it’s a problem with Jones’ acting, many people have taken an opportunity to imagine what might have been.

Enter: Lewis Tan, who plays the villain Zhou, a servant of Ch’i-Lin who is tasked with killing every single iteration of the Iron Fist. If you spend any time on the Twitters, then you know that Tan was initially auditioning to play Danny Rand in Iron Fist, but ended up getting cast as Zhou instead. The “news” caught some thrust this morning as it was made into a Twitter Moment, which would have been great except for the fact that this “news” has been known for quite a while now.

Nerds of Color initially reported on rumors way back in 2015 that said Marvel was considering casting Asian-American actors to play Danny Rand. Tan tweeted about his desire to play the role back in October 2016. ScreenCrush, io9, ScreenRant, and ComicBook.com all wrote about Tan’s initial audition. Even more, late last month, he was on the Black Girl Nerds podcast discussing his audition for the lead role.

The most disappointing thing out of all of this is that so many people have tweeted about and reacted to the Twitter Moment saying that they would have maybe preferred Tan to Jones as Iron Fist. Where was this vocal support back when Marvel was still casting the darn thing? Why does support for PoC casting only show up when it’s far, far too late to do anything about it?

Don’t answer that. I know exactly why: it’s because it’s easy to support something after the fact. It’s safer to stay quiet about it, let it play itself out, then jump onto whatever side happened to “win.” It’s frustrating to see, especially when one belongs to the “side” that consistently loses out to another (i.e., being Asian when Asian representation consistently gets ditched in favor of sales or “star power”).

So you might be wondering: how do we fix that? How can we possibly predict when things will work out okay?

For starters, try listening to people of color when they say they want to, I don’t know, be a part of telling their own stories. Yes, I know, in the comics, Danny Rand was a blond-haired American dude, and longer discussion about appropriation aside, it’s not like Marvel has avoided changing a character’s race before. I discuss this more in-depth in my essay on Doctor Strange and Asian representation, but it honestly still feels so heartbreaking to know that it takes white people to convince other white people that they should listen to the voices of people of color.

That’s what this all is—the Twitter moment, the slew of reactionary articles coming out about it now (I’m looking at you, CBR, I didn’t forget your “why Danny Rand should be white” essay), it’s all people not realizing how long this discussion has been going on. It’s people who avoided saying anything when it actually mattered, and now that it’s too late to do anything about it, oh well, may as well get some attention or clicks out of it anyway. That’s everything that’s wrong with representation today. Nobody listens until it’s too late, and then nobody learns a thing from it.

I don’t want this to come off as “I told you so”—even though let’s face it, when it comes to representation, people of color have been “telling you so” for decades now. I’d rather this turn into a moment where you—yes, you, the one who’s always for the “wait and see” approach when it comes to diversity and representation in pop culture—realize that your silence and inaction with regards to representation and diversity will only net you more disappointing shows and movies. Not giving diversity a chance and “playing it safe” is really only “safe” if you’re on the side that has nothing to lose.

Now can we actually get some good Asian representation in a Marvel movie, or am I going to have to use this Eye of Agamotto to tell you Dormammu-looking gatekeepers about the importance of representation again?

Sigh.

(via Shaun Lau on Twitter, image via Marvel/Netflix)

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