Colleen Wing, Daughter Of The Dragon and an ally of Danny Rand, aka Iron Fist, in the next Netflix Marvel superhero series, is a character who was created in a less enlightened time at Marvel. Back in the ’70s the comics giant was striving to move forward with what today we would call “diversity”, with more central roles for women and non-white ethnicities. The company made some important steps forward with characters like Luke Cage getting their own ongoing titles. But at the same time, this was the era of blaxploitation and kung fu movies, so some of the blueprints from which they were working were a little… limited. Okay, let’s be honest– stereotypical.
Colleen Wing came from this era. So while it was great to have a kick-ass female character, there was no getting around the fact that – as a Japanese martial arts expert descended from samurai – she wasn’t exactly a nuanced character, at first. Of course, over the decades, she has gained more depth as new generations of writers fleshed her out. But now there’s a new live action version of Wing about to debut in Marvel’s Iron Fist, and so for the actress who plays her – British born Jessica Henwick, who’s of Asian descent (no whitewashing here) – there were some issues to consider about portraying a character whose origins were so clearly “white man’s view of oriental chick”.
But they’re an issue the show has turned to its advantage, she reckons. Talking to Collider Henwick reveals that she was at first reluctant about the taking the part until she realised where the writers were taking the character – and surprisingly, that’s embracing the clichés rather than fighting against them.
“For me, when they approached me about Colleen, I was a little bit like, huh, do I want to play an Asian woman who does martial arts who’s a love interest?,” says Henwick. “Do I want to do those three things? Because I’ve always shied away from it. In fact, I’ve shied away from playing Asian characters. If you look back, I’m playing characters that have no relevance to my ethnicity.
“But I reached a stage last year where I said, ‘I want to start telling Asian stories. I want a young Asian girl to go, “Oh my god, that reminds me of my relationship with my mom.”’ So I had some concerns, and Jeph Loeb rang me and he said, ‘We’re going to take the stereotype, and we’re not going to avoid it – we’re going to inspect it.’
“For example, she’s a martial artist, she fights in fight cages, we’ve seen that before. What happens when you become addicted to that? What happens when you can only talk with your fists and you struggle to communicate on any other level and you’ve become addicted to fighting? So we’ve taken this stereotype and we’ve said, ‘OK, what is the actual realism in it?’ You know? Which was interesting to me.”
Jesscia Henwick is also known for playing Nymeria Sand in Game Of Thrones and X-Wing pilot Jess Pava in Star Wars: The Force Awakens.