On Sunday, Iron Fist actor Finn Jones deleted his Twitter account following an exchange with Asyiqin Haron, the Creative Lead of, and frequent contributor to, Geeks Of Color. The conversation began when Haron, who has been vocal in her criticism of the decision not to cast an Asian-American actor to play Danny Rand, responded critically to a tweet from Jones promoting fair representation in movies and TV. When Jones responded, it sparked an extended series of tweets between the two. While Haron and Jones both remained polite and civil, there were others on both sides of the debate who responded with anger and personal attacks. Following their back-and-forth, Jones deleted his twitter account (though he’s since returned to tweeting) and Haron made her tweets private. I reached out to Asyiqin after the events on Sunday, who agreed to an interview about what happened:
In your own words, could you describe the controversy over the decision to cast Finn Jones as Danny Rand?
The controversy is that Danny Rand is a white character surrounded by Asian culture. He was the outsider in K’un-Lun and became the champion for the city. The main comment I get from people is that Danny is an outsider because he’s white. However, Danny doesn’t have to be white to be seen as an outsider. An Asian-American person who have assimilated to American/Western culture can be seen as an outsider too. This is even true with real life. There are people of colour who visit their “home country” and get shunned because they’re not ___ enough.
Your first tweet to Jones was in response to his retweet of Riz Ahmed’s speech about representation. What about that tweet made you decide to respond?
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.
What were your overall impressions of his responses?
Even those comments didn’t sit well with me. 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:
… which he deleted from his twitter.
In your exchange, and in previous comments on this issue, Jones has urged those who are upset to keep an open mind, and to not jump to conclusions before watching the series. Do you think that’s a valid request?
Of course! I’m hoping that he portrays my favourite superhero right and does the character justice. Right now, I feel a little iffy about it because of what happened. I know people who have watched the series already and they’ve left hints about how the show is like. I don’t want to jump the gun so I’ll watch the show and come up with my own opinion on it.
Jones also has said that the Iron Fist series will tackle some of the problematic elements of Danny Rand. If that turns out to be true, do you think there’s a chance that the show will help move the conversation about race and privilege forward?
I really really hope so. As much as people want politics to be left out of comic books and comic book tv shows/movies, it’s a huge aspect of life and there is no way to completely avoid it. Comic books have been political since day 1. The topic of race and privilege is incredibly important in present times and to stay completely quiet about it is to be willfully ignorant. If the series does touch on these topics, it’s still going to get backlash but I cannot stress enough how important it is.
If you had to give your best guess, why do you think Jones deleted his twitter?
I honestly have no clue. It was sudden and unexpected. I’m still trying to figure out why. I’ve seen tweets of people saying different things on why he left but just the fact that he left didn’t make any sense to me. He’s got more followers than me. He’s got the blue tick. He’s famous. How could my opinion have affected him that bad? I don’t know. It baffles me.
(Editor’s Note: Finn Jones has since issued a statement explaining he left Twitter after the exchange to “stay focused on bringing to life this character without judgement”)
What has your experience been like since this whole thing blew up? What percentage of responses have been positive, what percentage has been negative?
I’ve had a lot of positive messages come my way but of course there will be negative ones too. The positive ones have been insanely supportive and encouraging me to keep fighting the fight. The negative ones have been saying that I’m playing the victim card and that Finn is the true victim in this debacle. One of them told me to “go die,” but I guess it comes with speaking out on something as important as race and representation. It’s gotten to a point where I have to close my DM and private my account. I’m also staying away from Twitter until this whole thing settles down.
In your first article on the topic, “Why Iron Fist Danny Rand Should be Asian American,” you pitched Danny as a third-generation Chinese-American who becomes the Iron Fist while also reconnecting with his heritage. Personally, I thought this was a great idea, and a version of Danny that I would love to see. That being said, it is a fundamental change to the character from the comics. What do you think of the argument that Marvel shouldn’t be criticized for staying faithful to the comics they adapt?
Times are changing. It’s only right that comic books adapt along with time. Even people’s beliefs nowadays aren’t the same as people’s beliefs just a few years ago. In order to be progressive, we have to listen to the less privileged. Constructive criticism is the way forward. The world is a lot less black and white these days. It’s fluid and complex. I think a lot of people these days see constructive criticism as a personal attack. They need to understand the difference between the two because they are not the same.
Despite what you and many others wanted, Finn Jones is now the MCU’s Iron Fist. Other than changing that, what do you think Marvel should do to make Iron Fist the kind of show you can be proud of?
There are many other characters in the Iron Fist world that could easily be introduced into the series. Since they’re keeping Danny white, they could race-bend Orson Randall. Have him be Asian instead. There is also Lei-Kung the Thunderer and a more obscure character, Sparrow, who is an Asian woman and a citizen of K’un-Lun. More Asian representation where they are not the villain will always be good.
There’s a lot of anger surrounding this issue from people who feel they’re being ignored. When that anger is directed at someone like Finn Jones, who ultimately doesn’t have any control over who Marvel casts, what do you think the best response would be?
The casting choices are all Marvel. I don’t entirely blame Finn for that. However, this petition for an Asian American Iron Fist has been going on for a few years. It’s not a new thing. Finn should’ve been told about it and he should listen to what Asians have to say about this.
How do you feel about the job Marvel Television has done casting their other shows? The Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. cast is one of the more diverse casts on television, and Inhumans and Runaways seem to be continuing that. Obviously, representation on one show doesn’t excuse the lack of it on another, but does the fact that Marvel seems to be trying to move in the right direction make you any more likely to give them the benefit of the doubt?
There should be representation across all their content. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Luke Cage are by far the most diverse Marvel series right now. Why stop there? Why not have more diversity in the movies and the other series as well? It’s a one step forward, two steps back kinda thing that’s going on right now. Like how we had the diversity in Luke Cage, only to get a whitewashed version of The Ancient One in Doctor Strange.
Last question, if you had Kevin Feige’s job for a day, are there any characters that you would green light for movies or series right away?
I’d love to see a live action Iron Fist legacy series where each episode tells the story of a [different] Iron Fist. I want to see Iron Fist Wu Ao-Shi as well as Iron Fist Fongji Wu. They are both unapologetically strong Asian women. Ao-Shi was the fastest Iron Fist to defeat Shou-Lao while Fongji was also host to the Phoenix Force. Seeing them both in action would be amazing.
We reached out to Finn Jones for a response to this interview, but he could not be immediately reached for comment.
Asyiqin Haron is a Malay-Singaporean Communication Designer currently based in Melbourne, Australia. She is the Creative Lead for Geeks of Color, where she is also a frequent contributor. You can find her on her website.