'Iron Fist' Examines Privilege, But Not In The Way You'd Expect
Danny Rand is the first of Netflix and Marvel's "street-level heroes" who doesn't really need his day job. Matt Murdock has a struggling law practice. Luke Cage tends bar and sweeps hair. Jessica Jones is a private detective. Danny, however, comes from a very privileged background, which does more than set him apart. In an interview with Bustle, Jessica Henwick, who plays Colleen Wing, says that she believes Iron Fist's depiction of privilege actually Danny's relationship with Colleen unique.
"I think that the show has an interesting inspection of social attitudes towards wealth," Henwick says. "When [Danny] is homeless, people immediately assume that he has a mental illness — because he says strange things and he does strange things. Of course." When Colleen first meets Danny in a park, she gives him money, assuming that he is homeless and in need. Similarly, a big part of why the Meachums don't initially trust him is his more disheveled appearance.
However, as Henwick observes, "As soon as he is back in the suit, everyone kind of takes these obscure statements and they're OK with it. He says he punched a dragon... but he's wearing a suit, so I guess he's joking? Or maybe there's some substance to that, or maybe he is using a term that I don't know." People are more willing to justify his behavior when, on the outside, he fits a particular mold. "Danny is privileged," says Henwick, "he is incredibly privileged."
Since Danny was also raised outside of modern society, his views on how to use his money are stunted, which highlights the problems. Henwick uses the fact that Danny buys her building in Episode 6 as an example.
"He thinks that that is an OK thing to do," she says. "He thinks 'Oh, I have money, and she is struggling to pay her rent, which is why she's going to fight clubs. I'll just buy her building, and then she doesn't need to pay rent anymore.' He doesn't understand that for Colleen and for other characters, that's not how we operate and that's now how we live our lives." Of course, Ward Meachum also uses money in an attempt to manipulate Colleen. She turns both of them down.
What Danny can't understand is that Colleen isn't interested in money. Her participation in the fight clubs has more to do with being a thrill-seeker and daredevil herself. "Going on these wild missions with Danny gives her that buzz that she's been craving," Henwick says. "[It's] a really interesting female/male relationship, I think. She's kind of using him for the adrenaline."
In a way, Colleen is more of the standard superhero in Iron Fist. She initially refuses the call to action. While Danny is full of childlike awe, she shuts people out and operates via defense mechanisms. Of the two, she's more likely to brood — at least, at first. "Their positions could have been swapped so easily," Henwick says, noting that it's something that sets Iron Fist apart. "I think Colleen is more normal."
But when most fans and critics talk about privilege with regards to Iron Fist, the focus is likely to be more on Danny's white male privilege than his wealth. The decision to stick with the comics and cast a white actor as Danny Rand has been widely criticized and is an unfortunate missed opportunity, especially on the heels of Marvel's Doctor Strange, another example of a white character who masters the martial arts and is a "chosen one."
In response to the criticisms, star Finn Jones told The Daily Beast that Iron Fist "addresses those issues intentionally. We actually talk about those issues and we try to address them, rather than just being the white savior and coming in and going, ‘Oh, Danny’s gonna take care of everything!’" Still, the series doesn't contain many acknowledgments about race. A few antagonists are surprised to find out that Danny is the Iron Fist and Davos refers to him as an "outsider," but that's as close as it gets to addressing his race. Colleen and Danny compare fighting styles, which adds a nice layer of nuance, but that's about it.
Danny Rand's background is more like that of DC heroes Bruce Wayne and Oliver Queen than his Marvel cohorts. So while Iron Fist does make some important points about privilege in the financial sense, there are others it missed.