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Open Access Publications from the University of California

“Fists of Iron, Fists of Yellow”: Examining Asian Performances, Resistance Work, and Yellow Peril in Marvel’s Iron Fist Netflix Series

  • Author(s): Agena, Jonathan David
  • Advisor(s): Wu, Judy Tzu-Chun
  • et al.
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Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International Public License

The Netflix superhero show Iron Fist (2017-2018) is widely known and critiqued in U.S. mainstream media for its whitewashing controversy and cultural appropriations of Asian culture. Much of the focus has been on the protagonist Danny Rand (played by white actor Finn Jones) and how the show could have been both progressively and critically better if the character had been Asian American. However, little attention has been directed to the Asian actors and actresses of Iron Fist in terms of how they contend with and resist the Orientalist legacy of the show through their performances, and how the show helps to enable their resistance work.

This paper argues that Iron Fist as a platform enables Asian Americans to use their performances as a means of negotiating their representation in Hollywood and enacting resistance against Orientalism and stereotyping. Conversely, this paper also argues that these performances and resistances are also being filtered through the Yellow Peril/Orientalist framework of the show, which troubles and complicates the representation work of Asian/Americans. To support these points, I will examine the performances of three Asian actors/actresses who play prominent roles on Iron Fist, how they conduct their resistance work, and how the show influences their resistance. Ultimately, this paper seeks to substantiate resistance work as not necessarily victories nor hopeless cases, but acts that create sites of significant and complex strategy-making, deliberation, compromise, conflict, invention, and rumination.

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This item is under embargo until June 3, 2025.