When I saw the trailer to Pathfinder, the first ten seconds of it completely captivated my attention. Native Americans (Amerindians) vs. Vikings! My first thought, "Oh, it's on like the break of dawn!" Then I watched the rest of the trailer; the actual plot consisted of a Viking boy left behind, raised by the Amerindians and destined to become their champion against the Norsemen. My following thought, "Crap, it's another one of THOSE films!"
"THOSE films," are in the same category as The Last Samurai, Dances With Wolves, and Malibu's Most Wanted. A European American protagonist becomes the essence and savior of the "foreign" culture. As a non-white American, I always found such stories offensive and frustrating. Paul Mooney with razor sharp wit said, "Maybe they'll produce my movie, The Last [expletive] On Earth, starring Tom Hanks."
In comics, superheroes are also guilty of these appropriations (well at least by the writers). Max Mercury received his powers from an Amerindian shaman; Dr. Strange gained mystical powers in the Himalayas; Iron Fist learned kung-fu in a magical Chinese city, and the list goes on.
However, Brubaker and Fraction tested my stance as I began reading The Immortal Iron Fist. Unequivocally, my favorite comic; Iron Fist features Danny Rand, a white American superhero who learns kung-fu in the mountains of K'un Lun. Created by Roy Thomas during the 70s' kung-fu craze, Iron Fist disregarded its Chinese roots. Even the leader of K'un Lun, Yu-ti, revealed himself to be a white guy. Imagine Black Panther pulling off his mask and T'Challa turning out to be white (the reverse of Clayton Bixby). However, the Bru and Fraction completely have embraced Iron Fist's roots, developing the character in-depth, adding layers of intricacies, and ultimately do not marginalize the Chinese aspect of the character. Danny knows kung-fu and speaks Chinese! This book, in my humble opinion, is flawless!
My point is that while Iron Fist helped me to understand that great writing is great writing regardless of race, we still need to critically examine the material. We must ask ourselves: If Superman looked Mexican, would we still see him as the greatest superhero or an illegal immigrant from Krypton? Could a Chinaman like Shang Chi represent the spirit of the U.S. as Captain America? Would the War on Terror target Moon Knight if he was Arabic and not Jewish? Do you think Mary Jane would still have kissed an upside-down Spider-Man if she pulled down his mask and saw a black man's lips?
If the answers to these questions steer us towards ignorance then we need to find another path... a path that helps us view ourselves through the lens of others.
- Andrew Jung
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