No, Marvel's Not in a "No-Win" Situation When It Comes to Iron Fist and Whitewashing
Raw anger/hurt from Asian-Americans over Hollywood whitewashing, stereotyping & erasure of Asians in cInema.— Scott Derrickson (@scottderrickson) May 4, 2016
I am listening and learning.
I obviously don't agree with the decision to whitewash The Ancient One, but there are a lot of factors at play here. First, the character is Tibetan, so some have argued that Marvel would have alienated Chinese viewers if they had "gotten political" and acknowledged Tibet as a country (I would argue that declining to "get political" is an equally political decision, but that's an argument for another time). Second, the original portrayal of the Ancient One in the comics is an offensive collection of Western stereotypes about "magical Asians," so one could argue that it would have been equally offensive—or at least, also offensive—to cast an Asian person in the role.
And that, to me, is the most salient argument against the inherent offensiveness of casting Finn Jones as Danny Rand. Yes, it's offensive to portray a white man blatantly appropriating Asian culture, but it's not exactly a huge win for the only Asian-American superhero in the MCU to be a martial arts master, either. While more diversity is definitely needed, I think it would have made more sense to cast Iron Fist with an actor of an entirely different race, and another character in the MCU with an actor of Asian descent, such as Captain Marvel. So yes, it's pretty damn convenient that Marvel is claiming to make the "sensitive" decision that somehow allows them to keep casting white people, but the solution isn't necessarily to reinforce the stereotype that all Asians are magical and/or ninjas.
To me, the primary problem isn't that Finn Jones was cast as Danny Rand, but that Marvel felt the need to adapt this character in the first place. In the case of Doctor Strange, one could at least argue that the Ancient One is a vital part of his origin story, so as long as we're adapting Doctor Strange, it would have been very difficult to avoid adapting the character altogether. (I still don't think it's necessary, and that if it is there were better ways to do it, but I can at least see the argument.) And I've seen a lot of similar rhetoric surrounding Iron Fist: Marvel was in a double-bind, it was a no-win situation, etc etc.
But here's the thing: there was absolutely no reason they needed to adapt Iron Fist in the first place. Even taking social justice out of the equation, Iron Fist isn't a constant or integral member of the Defenders (funnily enough, the leader is usually Doctor Strange). He has strong connections to Luke Cage, since they were both Heroes for Hire, but honestly, there were SO MANY Defenders to choose from. And furthermore, of the four heroes they chose to represent the MCU Defenders, Luke Cage is the only one who's a regular member. Daredevil has been part of the team in the past, but Jessica Jones has actually never been a part of the team. She's married to Luke in the comics, so she's connected, but she's never actually been a Defender.
And this gets to the heart of why Marvel can really never be in a "no-win" situation: because they can get away with absolutely anything at this point, especially when it comes to their lower-cost Netflix properties. Just like they made a hit movie out of a sentient tree and talking raccoon, they took Jessica Jones, a character who was only created fifteen years ago and didn't have very much name recognition, and turned the property into a hugely successful series that pleased critics and fans alike.
Bottom line: Marvel has a hell of a lot of freedom. People will watch pretty much anything with the Marvel stamp on it now, so of all the characters they had to choose from, there was no reason to pick a character with such an overtly racist origin story. So even if they are in a "no-win" situation in the sense that there is no good way to adapt Iron Fist (because there really isn't), they took on the responsibility of engaging in these issues by choosing to adapt an inherently offensive character.