Thursday night, Daigo Umehara and Justin Wong, two of the world's most most high-profile professional fighting gamers, will go head-to-head live on the streaming site Twitch for multiple rounds of Street Fighter V and Marvel vs. Capcom 3 as part of a launch event for Netflix's new Iron Fist series.
On one level, there's a certain logic to the Netflix-sponsored event: there's a fair amount of overlap between the gaming communities that Umehara and Wong appeal to and the audience of comic book fans that Netflix hopes will tune in to its show. On another level, though, the optics of tapping Umehara, who is Japanese, and Wong, who is Chinese-American, to promote a show facing widespread claims of anti-Asian racism is just bad.
Iron Fist is the latest in a series of films and TV shows to face significant backlash from the public for telling a story deeply mired in Asian iconography and culture while centering on a white lead. While Iron Fist's lead Finn Jones isn't playing a whitewashed version of a character—a la Scarlett Johansson in Ghost In The Shell—he does portray a stereotypical white savior figure whose primary superpower is being better at kung fu than all of the Asian people who taught him. (I've seen six of the show's 13-episode first season.)
As tends to be the case with stories about magical ninjas, Iron Fist spends a lot of time fighting faceless, nameless villains who—as luck would have it—are overwhelmingly played by Asian actors, making for a story that, for many people, reads as insensitive at best and outright racist at worst. With all that in mind, it's worth wondering if Netflix and Twitch thought through this particular partnership before deciding to go ahead with it. I've reached out to both companies for comment and will update if I hear back.