Tag Archives: intersectionality

Let’s focus on the positives of “Iron Fist,” Rosario Dawson, Jessica Henwick and Lewis Tan

Marvel Entertainment, Lewis Tan IMDB

We could talk all day about Finn Jones and the albatross around his neck that is Iron Fist.

Starting out the gate, Marvel’s Iron Fist, which will premiere on Netflix March 17,  has a 14 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes. The Marvel fanboys might be in a tizzy about this, but this is really a blessing in disguise. Everything remained at a semi-standstill as everyone waited for the first reviews of Iron Fist to roll out. Now that they have, the show is officially Marvel’s first Netflix blemish and, hopefully, the show finally teaches the lesson Marvel failed to learn with Doctor Strange, which also exploited Asian themes while whitewashing the Ancient One.

Iron Fist has been a problem from the get-go, with fans urging Marvel to make Danny Rand, originally a white comic book character existing in an intensely problematic and stereotype-filled Asian world, an Asian man. That way, at least some of the story could seem a little more pleasing to the 21st century palette (of course, it would have also helped if the story was updated as well).

But, Marvel, wanting to please who they think are their core audience—white males—decided to forego any attempt to update the series and cast Finn Jones as Danny Rand. The show only sunk from there.

Here’s what the critics thought of Iron Fist.

“For viewers who’ve grown accustomed to the genre-defying tales of Jessica Jones and Luke Cage, Iron Fist feels like a paint-by- numbers project, trying to check the right boxes in time for The Defenders. And that’s just not good enough, not anymore.”—Trent Moore, Paste Magazine

Marvel’s Iron Fist isn’t just the wimpiest punch ever thrown by the world’s mightiest superhero factory. The new Netflix binge swings and misses so bad that it spins itself around and slaps itself silly with a weirdly flaccid hand.—Jeff Hensen, Entertainment Weekly

It may have seemed fine to crank out another Marvel Netflix show that feels like the brand’s past outings, but the critical drubbing that Iron Fist has received is in no small part due to the fact that it’s so stale and unoriginal.—Abraham Riesman, Vulture

What’s also great is that many of the articles have stated how the show’s whitewashing hurt the show as much as the staleness of the story.

“[L]et me be clear: Iron Fist’s problems with its portrayal of Asian cultures and Asian-Americans are embedded throughout every episode. It’s just that its problems with delivering exposition, crafting consistent characters, and even basic dialogue writing run right alongside.

Sure, this is a show where a white male character explains how to punch to an Asian-American, female head of her own dojo, in her own dojo — wait, let me be painfully specific. A white male character explains his martial art — which was made up by white men in the 1970s as a nonspecifically Asian but definitionally more powerful technique than those invented by actual Asian cultures — to an Asian-American, female expert in actual martial arts developed by actual Asian cultures.” —Susana Polo, Polygon

Jones also isn’t doing himself any favors with some of what he’s saying to the press after the blow-up of Iron Fist.

Here’s just a smattering of some of Jones’ various comments:

“I think the world has changed a lot since we were filming that television show,’ he said. ‘I’m playing a white American billionaire superhero, at a time when the white American billionaire archetype is public enemy number one, especially in the U.S. …We filmed the show way before Trump’s election, and I think it’s very interesting to see how that perception, now that Trump’s in power, how it makes it very difficult to root for someone coming from white privilege, when that archetype is public enemy number one.” —Jones at RadioTimes

“Well, I think there’s multiple factors. What I will say is these shows are not made for critics, they are first and foremost made for the fans. I also think some of the reviews we saw were seeing the show through a very specific lens, and I think when the fans of the Marvel Netflix world and fans of the comic books view the show through the lens of just wanting to enjoy a superhero show, then they will really enjoy what they see. I think it’s a fantastic show which is really fun and I think it stands up there with the other Defenders’ shows without a doubt.”—Jones at Metro UK

You can read tons more stuff at Pajiba, where they’ve packaged everything in an article aptly titled “How to Handle Criticism of Your Acting Role Without Being a Sh*t Weasel.”

Let’s also not forget how Jones ran away from Twitter after Geeks of Color’s Asyiqin Haron tweeted him about his ironic retweet of Riz Ahmed’s talk about diversity and representation in media.

Haron told MCU Exchange:

“I just thought it was ironic. Finn never directly talked about #AAIronFist and when he tweeted that, it didn’t sit well with me. I never expected a reply from him. Maybe a reply from some of his fans but not from him. It was unexpected. He’s a famous actor. He could’ve easily ignored my comment. Most famous people do that with criticism. I was doing my own thing until someone told me he replied to my comment. …I was trying to get him to understand why an Asian Iron Fist is so important to us. He talks about being progressive but throughout the conversation it felt like he was deflecting the points I was trying to make. I have no hostility towards him. I was being respectful and calm about it. I just feel upset that he just deactivated his account after saying this:
[The tweet: “…I appreciate you reaching out, to bridge these gaps in our society, communication is and understanding is the key.”]

…which he deleted from his Twitter.”

Again, like I said, we could talk all day about poor Finn Jones. (I mean “poor” relatively; I know he’s not hurting for money and I also know he’s bringing a lot of this on himself; I just feel bad when people put themselves out there when they don’t need to.)

But let’s focus on the positive aspects of the show, Marvel newcomers Jessica Henwick, who plays Colleen Wing, and Lewis Tan, who plays Zhou Cheng, Iron Fist’s ultimate nemesis.

Marvel Entertainment

So far, Henwick and Dawson have been one of the critics’ favorites, despite the horrors of the rest of the show.

“…[I]f it were a series without these two women [Henwick and Rosario Dawson as Claire Temple], to riff off this International Women’s Day, Iron Fist wouldn’t pack much of a punch. It is all Henwick and Dawson’s dynamic –individually and together–as ‘Daughter of the Dragon’ dojo-running Colleen Wing and ex-nurse Claire Temple, respectively, that pumps the irregular heart of the 13-episode first season from showrunner Scott Buck.”—Dominic Patten, Deadline

In fact, most people are only watching Iron Fist to support these two women.

Marvel Entertainment

The other person many folks are watching it for: Lewis Tan. He’s told the Black Girl Nerds podcast about how he actually auditioned for the Danny Rand role and got close to the end until they did a switcheroo on him and gave the role to Jones, who can’t fight (unlike Tan, who has been fighting all his life thanks to his dad, who also did stuntwork and acting roles in Hollywood films).

Lewis Tan training with a katana (IMDB)

He’s also been an outspoken voice for AAPI equality in entertainment, as well as a staunch supporter of intersectionality. Because of his work on and off-screen he’s got legions of fans.

Lewis Tan and Rosario Dawson on the set of “Iron Fist.” IMDB

So while the temptation to miss Iron Fist might be great, perhaps you’ll support the man and women who need your support the most? Who knows–perhaps if we show Marvel just how much we love these characters, they’ll give us the spin-offs of our dreams. (Folks already want a “Daughters of the Dragon” spin-off featuring Wing and Misty Knight.)

What do you think about Iron Fist? Give your opinions in the comments section below!

Melissa Villaseñor and the Importance of Latinx Intersectionality

FIRST IMPRESSIONS -- Season:1 -- Pictured: Melissa Villasenor -- (Photo by: Joseph Viles/USA Network)
FIRST IMPRESSIONS — Season:1 — Pictured: Melissa Villasenor — (Photo by: Joseph Viles/USA Network)

We just got finished praising Melissa Villaseñor for breaking the glass ceiling for Latinas on Saturday Night Live, and not nearly a week later, we’re already going onto the next with Villaseñor in our rear-view mirrors because of some tweets she made on her now-private Twitter page.

I had just written about Villaseñor exactly eight days ago as of the time of this post. And before my post could even become old news, Buzzfeed along with other outlets, had broken the news that Villaseñor has had a long history of tweeting insensitive, racist statements. Not even real jokes per se; there was literally no way to find what she wrote amusing in any form.

What am I talking about, you might ask? Here you go:

Villaseñor’s tweets make me reflect on something we should stay cognizant of at all times; that there’s more than just one type of Latinx identity and that Afro-Latinx face a multi-layered form of discrimination and racism, some of which us Americans, black white or otherwise, don’t even know about.

America typically denies the multi-layered experiences of Afro-Latinx people, opting for the idea America usually adopts when thinking of Latinx and/or Hispanic people; a person who is either European-looking or tan-skinned. This denial is clearly an undercurrent in Villaseñor’s tweets, but it’s also an undercurrent in other Latin-American and South American countries as well. In many ways, the discrimination black diasporic people face in these countries are linked to America’s own issues with race-based colonialism.

Take for instance Mexico. Americans typically don’t think of “black people” when they think of Mexico, but they are there. Black Mexicans have never fully been integrated; you don’t see many (or any) black Mexican actors and actresses in the telenovelas that make it to American shores. We also don’t hear of black Mexican singers or painters or leaders. Mexico itself hasn’t come to terms with its own history, in many cases refusing to believe black Mexican citizens about their own heritage. Clemente Jesus Lopez, head of the Oaxaca state office for black Mexicans, told the BBC that he can remember two instances in which the Mexican government didn’t believe black people were a part of Mexico, both instances involving women.

“One was deported to Honduras and the other to Haiti because the police insisted that in Mexico there are no black people. Despite having Mexican ID, they were deported.” Lopez said that Mexican consulates were able to bring the women back, but the Mexican government itself offered no apology or compensation. However, for the first time in 2015, citizens were able to check “black” on the Mexican interim census, so Mexico is showing some subtle movement of the needle, but that’s only the starting point.

Related: #DifferenceMakers: Janel Martinez’s “Ain’t I Latina” Reps for Afro-Latinas Left Out of the Conversation

It’s also worth pointing out that there are also Asian Latinx and Asian South Americans as well. Asian Mexicans make up a small percentage of Mexico’s population, for example. And Brazil has the largest percentage of Japanese citizens outside of Japan itself; many of whom we saw during this past Olympics winning for Brazil. There are also quite a few Asian-Hispanic/Asian Latinx American actors in Hollywood, including Kirk Acevedo, Harry Shum, Jr., Tatyana Ali, Tyson Beckford (both of whom are also Afro-Latinx as well), Enrique Iglesias, Bruno Mars (who is also Ashkenazi Jewish), Kelis (who also has African American heritage), and many more. 

While Latin America and South America have their own work to do, America has some things it needs to suss out for itself, and Villaseñor’s mistakes can be used a learning point for most of us.

The fact that we, as a melting pot nation, don’t generally recognize part of the black diaspora as part of the Latinx identity, is something that speaks directly to our ideas about race, ideas that are reflected squarely in Villaseñor’s now-deleted tweets. We, and I guess Mexico and other countries as well, expect for blackness to be a self-contained, monolithic identity. Blackness doesn’t just equal one thing; blackness can be multilayered. You can be Afro-Latinx, just as much as you can be a black Native American, blasian, and of white and black heritage. So when we (and Villaseñor) label “black” as just being one thing, we’re erasing entire groups of people. The erasure is doubly so when blackness is equated with being ugly and subhuman.

Thankfully, there are people out there doing the hard work of providing a space for Afro-Latinx to feel included, such as Janel Martinez’ Ain’t I Latina?, which focuses on news and entertainment centered around the African diaspora throughout Latin and South America. But each of us can do our part to end this discrimination. First, we can start with addressing our own ideas about what constitutes blackness. Second, we can demand those who are figures in society to think outside of themselves and think of those they’ll impact the most with their words. For some like Villaseñor, if you’re going to become a role model for other Latinx coming up after you, shouldn’t you make sure you’re inclusive and represent all Latinx?

Third, With those of us who are championing diversity or getting more diversity on the screen, we need to ask ourselves if we are inviting all voices to the table, and not just the voices we think represent the whole of a people. When we fight for diversity, we need to make sure all racial and cultural experiences are accounted for. When those of us in power to cast actors in an inclusive way, we need to make sure that our idea of “Latinx character” includes all races and ethnicities, since Latin America is multicultural as well. Those of us who are media creators need to make sure that we think outside of what we’ve been told a Latinx character should look like.

Ultimately, though, while we can all learn lessons from Villaseñor’s transgressions, the biggest lesson should be for Villaseñor herself; now that she’s in the public eye, she’d better what she says as well as what she tweets.

What do you think about Villaseñor? Give your opinions in the comments section below.