“Iron Fist” has taken a beating.
The recent Netflix show has been bombarded with criticisms that it adapts a white savior martial arts comic book from the 1970s without updating the source material to reflect modern diversity.
Unfortunately, the comic’s creator doesn’t understand why this is a problem.
Annnnd here's the creator of Marvel's Iron Fist on the whitewashing controversy pic.twitter.com/boyybNgd9X— Kassy Cho (@kassyapple) March 21, 2017
He continued, taking a jab at critics:
“If you’re becoming all upset over things that are just stories, and if you don’t like it, instead of trying to change somebody else’s story, go out and make up your own character and do a good job of it?" Thomas asked.
This way of thinking misses an important point about representation in media.
Outside and inside of entertainment, representation is a hugely important issue and has marked effects on people.
For example, a 2011 study found that when young female students interacted with successful female science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) professionals, their confidence and positivity regarding STEM subjects increased and enabled the pursuit of the subjects.
A 2015 study of women in politics found that states that elected women to become the governor, Attorney General, or Senator saw increases in female legislators in the respective state.
In short, the more likely you are to see someone like yourself in a role, the greater the odds you'll try to fill that role yourself one day.
In media, this has a particularly sharp impact.
A study of films and shows released in 2014 through 2015 found that only a third of speaking characters were female while no platform accurately represents race in a way that is proportional to representation in the population.
The study also found a particularly glaring lack of representation of Asian actors, as more than half of film, TV, or streaming media failed to “portray one speaking or named Asian or Asian American on screen.”
The effects are huge, as they reinforce stereotypes and limit what people see themselves as capable of. For example, in a 2011 study on the representation of black men in the media, portrayals of black men enabled exaggerated views of, enabled antagonism toward, and created a lack of sympathy for the demographic.
Whitewashing doesn't just limit representation, it limits economic opportunity for actors.
When it comes to representing Asian characters, this is a huge problem considering only 5.1 percent of speaking or named roles belong to Asian actors. Moreover, in 2015, there was not a single Asian character was cast as a lead or co-lead in any of the year's top 100 movies. Further, "49 films included no speaking or named Asian or Asian-American characters," the study reports.
Pair this with Asian characters in superhero movies fulfilling stereotypes or being rendered invisible and it's clear why Thomas' suggestion that people "go out and make up your own character" weren't very well recieved.