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Sad, Racist, or Firebendingly Hillarious?

"Avatar: The Last Airbender is a truly unique comic adventure with rich animation and incredible martial-arts choreography. Creators Bryan Konietzko and Mike DiMartino designed a fantastical Asian world with compelling characters and interesting creatures that will capture kids' imaginations and spirit."
-- Marjorie Cohn, Executive Vice President, Development and Original Programming, Nickelodeon

This week, Entertainment Weekly leaked the alleged cast for M. Night Shaylaman's film adaptation of the (awesome) Nickelodeon animated series, Avatar: The Last Airbender.

While the revelation that the most emo-est firebender in all the land will be played by a blonde teenybopper popstar rankled the shippers, many fans were also visually assaulted by the alabaster skin of the youthful cast. The uproar isn't that they cast white people, but over the fact that this is one of the few movies where they could have also cast diverse actors--but like, totally chose not to do so.

omg you guys it's because we aren't good enough.

It's true. Young, East Asian, South Asian, Southeast Asian, Inuit, Aborigine, Pacific Islander, First Nations/American Indian, and other assorted brownish actors just can't compete with the photogenic looks and amazing talent of Jesse McCarthy's Beautiful Soul.

Colored folk are not supposed to be offended by this casting decision because obviously, M. Night Shaylaman (who is colored, yes?) and his ilk have decreed that we have moved past the litigation-worthy discrimination faced by minority actors into a new, Colbert-esque, colorblind utopia!

You may ask: To accurately and sensitively depict Asian-inspired characters and cultures, shouldn't we be exhausting all options and painstakingly seeking for a actor of color before immediately defaulting to whiteness?

NO goddammit. Because to not allow white actors to play parts that would traditionally go to minority actors would be racist. And to not allow colored folk the opportunity to play parts that are based on or inspired by minority characters is like, so not racist at all. Get with the program, people.

Would you like to see some ironic foreshadowing from almost a year ago in which I predict racist casting, and, for whatever reason, that they will cast "someone like Jesse McCartney" from January 2008? (Do you think I jinxed it? Ken says I was tempting fate. ::cries::.)

Honestly, we should have saw this coming. Remember when the casting sides came out and they read "Caucasian or other ethnicity"? I mean, the words "Other Ethnicity" speak for themselves. We are Others. Caucasian was already the stated preference months ago. We should have flipped out then--but I guess no one thought they would go so far as to make the principal cast (and, since the supporting cast is comprised of the characters' families) completely Caucasian. . Ooops.

Okay, okay. So, the uproar isn't that they cast white people. We are upset because this is one of the few movies where they could have cast diverse actors--but didn't.

The white creators of Avatar the Last Airbender painstakingly created the Avatar setting off of Asian and Inuit cultures. To ensure accuracy and respect in their depiction of aspects of those cultures, they even went as far as to hire several different Asian cultural consultants, such as a kung fu Sifu fluent in several different Asian martial arts, a Chinese Caligrapher, Chinese translator, etc.

Paramount's failure to be culturally inclusive in their casting reflects on their lack of respect or understanding of the source material, which pays tribute to Chinese, Japanese, Tibetan, Indian, Inuit, and Aztec cultures otherwise underrepresented in traditional fantasy and animated fare.

By casting wholesome "American" good looks, Paramount has squandered plenty of good will by making a dangerous assumption: that the show's diverse fanbase will accept the whitewashing of characters that come from an obviously diverse background.

Avatar is one of few animated shows on TV with ethnically ambiguous, yet distinctly Asian, characters. It was proof that despite Hollywood's assumptions, little kids will watch TV shows even if none of the characters on the show look white.

Given the diversity reflected not only in the Avatar setting but also in American society, this casting decision sends a terrible message to young children of color--already underrepresented--who will see empowering characters who looked like them replaced by presumably more "acceptable" white children. This casting decision mars not only the reputation of the movie, but also the reputation of the studio. Paramount, M. Night, Mr. Aibel, you could have viewed The Last Airbender as an opportunity to cast young actors of color, who are rarely offered lead roles. Your studio would have been praised for the revolutionary decision and received plenty of positive publicity.

I publicly apologize on behalf of the assortment of yellow and brown folk interested in this movie everywhere. Obviously, this casting is not because the studio has seriously warped priorities, but because we yellow and brown people can't act. I am so sorry we were not good enough to be cast in this movie. ::cries::

I will begin brainstorming now how to explain to little Asian kids why they don't have "the white right look" or enough "srs acting skills" to be in a movie that is based off a cartoon where the characters look like them, even if the show is based on their own culture.

What a tweest!


If this is the final casting, I will never see this movie.
If you get a moment, you should write the producers and tell them this!





Speak English, please. Your FFFFF accent offends me.
Most of the kids I mentor are black or other "colored" ethnicity. I was shocked that they defined me as American and themselves as something else. They weren't quite sure what, but white=American.

That really bothers me. We need more movies that aren't cast pale so people see people. Am I making sense?
Yeah. I've met people whose only real exposure to Asian people was through Jackie Chan movies. It's SCARY.
I kinda totally love you and everything you post about. Link? Heck yes! Friend? HELLS YEAH.
I can't believe you called Jesse McCartney being cast. That's amazing in a totally horrible way. (I don't even know who he is... a Disney kid??)

This is so, so fail. I guess they were scared about making a movie with no white people in it, so they just whitewashed the whole society the story is set in. Of course they still might throw in random non-white background actors, just to be super fail.
Well, you know, we wouldn't want to engender reverse racism by denying white actors the roles who -desperately- need the money...

I -like- Avatar, but what pisses me off is that it's 2008 and Americans still can't get a role based on racism.
Everyone desperately needs money right now. White actors merely have more opportunities to make that money, including, apparently, in M Night's movie. =/
Studio heads are old and don't know a damn thing so they always market the most disgustingly conservative fare to children just to appease their gut instincts as to "what kids want".

The executive version of "what kids want" can be regularly seen on Disney Channel as we speak. I think of this as just another extension of said mindset that brought us the wonderfully diverse casting of whatever that bullshit show is on Disney Channel. The asian actress on Disney Channel makes me ashamed to be associated through racial identity.
What, you mean "Wendy Wang: Homecoming Warrior"? At least they cast Asians in that, unlike ABC Family's "Samurai Girl," where the sensei (Asian in the books) was white. And hot. But still white. ::facepalm::

Dude, I just love you mentioning South East Asians. NO ONE EVER REMEMBERS US! We're like the losers right at the back of the party who everyone refers to just as "Oh, don't worry. It's only South East Asian folks. Want a chip?"

Anyway, agree to everything you said. Us yellow/brown people can't do anything right. :(
Sure we can! They love our kung fu movies and our general tso's chicken! And our women are so "exotic" and our countries are so "beautiful!"
That's disgusting; thank you for bringing this to my attention. If nothing else, I know I can still make a statement by not spending money on a movie I otherwise would be interested in seeing.
You're welcome. People are also getting the word out at aang_aint_white if you want to send letters to let it be known!
I agree that the casting here is, for the most part, absurd, but at the same time, I highly doubt that casting, for example, Jackson Rathbone, was primarily racist in nature. I mean, yeah, it's there: Sokka and Katara are clearly supposed to be Inuit, but I really think that his choice has less to do with race than it does Twilight. Even though he played a relatively minor character there, the media attention is still there. If the inclusion of an attractive actor from one of the year's most wildly successful movies brings them even half of Twilight's audience (whose age group is generally the same target as Airbender), the movie will be a thousand times more successful. And if they chose to cast him, they have to pick someone for Katara who could believably be his sister. This rationalization also probably had a part in casting Jason Isaacs.

While I personally think that Aang really does look white, there's no rationalization for casting Jesse McCartney as Zuko. I mean, if they had to pick a white actor, I'm pretty sure they could have found one who looks a LITTLE more like his character.
Oh, don't get me wrong, I think it's all about the $$$ and pulling in the Twilight fan girls.

But um, denying/changing the character's ethnicity (Water Tribe folk were pretty obviously a brown minority) or the background of the show (heavy Asian and Inuit influences) in order to make that extra $$$ from Twilighters is a little racially offensive, I think, because they were willing to sacrifice this acknowledgment of diversity in the show in order to make the $$$ (which they are not going to make now, anyway--at least not from me and many other fans who feel this way.)

I mean, it's going to be a little awkward for me, as an Asian American woman, to see a bunch of white people in kimonos and shaolin monk outfits and inuit clothes and omg Zuko's topknot lol, to be honest. Kind of like the incongruity in seeing men in drag play women in Shakespeare plays back in the day, and how that was sexist.

While I personally think that Aang really does look white
A lot of people have been telling me that they think Aang looks white because he has big eyes. This is really bothering me because I don't know why there's this pervasive stereotype that Asians have small eyes. Aang has big eyes because he's an anime-stylized character and all anime characters have big eyes, not because he's not Asian. =/ I really hope people are examining why they believe Aang looks white to make sure it's not based on the small eyes stereotype. My eyes are bigger than my white boyfriend's. =P

tl;dr: They were more $$$ motivated than racially motivated, but that doesn't mean it's right. And Aang's big eyes don't necessarily mean he is not Asian.

Bug eyed Asian people protest now plzkthx! (Attn: Vickie Zhao!)
M. Night's control over the film hinged on the success of The Happening, which tanked at the box office. He wanted to cast unknown actors who knew martial arts and, presumeably, would be actors of colour (which is probably why they're unknown). It is unlikely that he's responsible for the casting.
Yeah, I know. On the other hand, it would be better for the movie that these kids cast are the ones he actually wants, rather than kids imposed on by higher-ups.

I wonder how he'll explain to his kids, "sorry, I know cartoon Katara looks like you, but we've cast someone who doesn't look like you instead for the movie." Or um, if he feels sell-outy at all. =/ Even if he doesn't have control, he could quit the project or something (and go without food, I guess. :sigh::)

I still don't think a whitewashed cast is going to save the film, though.

here from Metafandom...

just can't compete with the photogenic looks and amazing talent of Jesse McCarthy's Beautiful Soul.

You win the Interwebs. Your prize will be relief from your amazing (and terrible) psychic ability to predict truly insane and awful events like the above.

::: waves wand :::

So, who'd they cast for Iroh? Tom Arnold?

ETA: Someone should send them Mako's biography and if that doesn't make them cringe with shame, nothing will.

Edited at 2008-12-24 02:29 pm (UTC)