In fandom, there’s this saying that “you can still enjoy something while finding parts of it problematic”. But sometimes the reverse is true as well, and something is so problematic for me that I just can’t enjoy the rest of the story anymore. Daredevil is a prime example of how stupid, backwards, preventable racism can ruin a whole story. Because for some unfathomable reason, Daredevil Season 2 starts out with a good villain and a relevant moral conflict. But halfway through, the show goes completely off-track by throwing in stereotypical ninjas and a mystical plot that never gets explained properly and even muddles the moral conflict from before!
(At the start of the season, Matt is categorically against the Punisher gunning down criminals! At the end of the season, he’s still totally against killing, you know, but when the Punisher guns down some ninjas, Matt just accepts it as Frank’s way of helping?)
I don’t usually like femme fatales, but I really enjoyed Elektra, and I wish she wasn’t stuck in such a mess of a plot. But it’s like the writers didn’t care as much, or put in less effort than they usually do. Basically, if it’s about a white villain, Daredevil makes sure you know his motivations and his psychology, humanizing him through tragic backstories, friendships and romance. Both Wilson Fisk in Season 1 and Frank Castle in Season 2 got a lot of screentime and were carefully portrayed as complex, well-rounded characters instead of one-dimensional comic book villains.
Compare this to Nobu. By the end of the second season, he is the main villain! He’s the final boss! And all we know about Nobu is that he’s a ninja, somehow immortal, and leader of an ancient organization called the Hand, who search for something or someone called the Black Sky (which is apparently so mystical and ancient they use the English expression even when speaking in Japanese). That’s it. Even though Nobu has been around since the start of the first season. Even though he turns out to be the main antagonist of Season 2, a major player in an ancient conflict that seems far from over. Of course, Nobu won’t be a part of that anymore, he was swiftly killed off once he’d served his purpose.
It’s strange and it’s infuriating. Daredevil, whose strength originally lay in a realistic take on superheroes, just doesn’t seem to think of Asians as human beings. They’re monsters. They’re nameless killing machines without individuality.
Elektra is an exception of sorts, but then again she’s not. She has a backstory, and a memorable personality, but in the end, she’s literally not human, but practically an evil monster. Or something. Daredevil never bothers to explain what this Black Sky really is. Only that it’s bad and that it must be destroyed, so Elektra’s death, while kinda sad for Matt, is also a relief of sorts? Except she’ll be resurrected and be even less human, so who the fuck knows.
Daredevil is so consistent with its portrayal of Asians as either yakuza, as sinister white-children-kidnapping cultists, or literal monsters, it’s almost a little hard to believe that this is all an unfortunate coincidence. Is it on purpose? Is Daredevil racist against Asians, on purpose?
Granted, there were some non-evil Asians … I remember two exotic Asian prostitutes, and some cooks briefly glimpsed at an Asian restaurant. And granted, the portrayal of the Irish mobsters was extremely cartoonish as well. But … that does not make it better.
Why can Daredevil paint its white all-American bad guys as complex and relateable, but when it comes to Asians – a huge part of Daredevil’s lore!! – all we get is the most predictable stereotypes?
The Black Sky story on Daredevil isn’t over yet, and the upcoming Iron Fist series will also deal with Asians. Holy shit, Netflix MCU producers, you have to step up your game and join the rest of us in the 21st century, because you can’t keep relying on Yellow Peril and 1980’s ninja stereotypes. The rest of Dardevil is so modern, why why WHY the anachronistic Asian stereotypes? Do I really want to see more of this? Should I quit the Netflix MCU now? I don’t enjoy racism and don’t want to support racism.
Other articles on the topic:
- Takeo Rivera: “Black Mask, Yellow Peril: Anti-Asianism In Netflix’s Otherwise Brilliant Daredevil” (The Nerds of Color).
- Arthur Chu: “Not Your Asian Ninja: How The Marvel Cinematic Universe Keeps Failing Asian-Americans” (The Daily Beast).