Outraged Deed of the Day

2008 Dec 18

Since some folks were already writing letters…

As a researcher focused on cultural interactions between Asia and the West, I am writing in regards to the casting of the upcoming film, The Last Airbender. Aside from my day job, I am also a fan of the Nickelodeon show Avatar: The Last Airbender, on which this film is based, though it is certainly not targeted at people in my age bracket.

I have been following the casting of the film version of Avatar with a mixture of trepidation, dread, disgust, and outright horror. The overall approach to casting this film and the preliminary decisions made by the responsible parties indicate their intention to “whitewash” the ethnicity of the core cast of characters or, worse, encourage the young actors portraying these characters to don the Asian equivalent of blackface, whether through makeup or simply through their portrayal.

Avatar featured Asian and Inuit characters in a fantasy setting inspired and informed by a variety of Asian and Inuit cultures, though the series creators and some of the main voice actors are themselves white. Generally speaking, the cast and setting were a refreshing departure from both whitebread American media and the stereotypes that often surround non-white characters. Additionally, I was personally struck by the maturity and deftness with which the series handled issues of culture and heritage, making the strong departure the movie seems to be taking especially distressing.

I am immensely disappointed to read that the four actors selected to play the lead roles are all white. While the casting is not final, the statement has already been made: this film will take a culturally Asian and Inuit world and populate it with white actors. I would urge M. Night Shyamalan and Paramount Pictures to reconsider their casting choices.

Surely there is not such a dearth of suitable Asian or Inuit actors in the world that white actors, who have a much wider selection of roles open to them (including, it seems, many roles outside their own ethnicity), need be substituted. The studio may somehow think it is justifiable to “take roles away” from minority actors in order to present audiences with faces that look just like their own, but audiences know when they are being pandered to, especially an audience as sophisticated as the one that has been watching Avatar.

If Paramount Pictures continues to go forward with this cast, I will not be supporting this film with my money, and I will encourage my friends and family to do the same. I have no regrets in this regard because, if those involved with this film continue to demonstrate a similar lack of disregard for and ignorance about the elements that led to the TV series’ success, I am sure that the movie will not be worth watching.

4 Responses to “Outraged Deed of the Day”

  1. shreyas Says:

    Unfortunately, the movie might suffer sales, but if the casting decisions have already been publicised, then it’s probably the case that the movie’s already in filming or post, and it’d be an absolutely suicidal career move for the director, casting director, and so on to change the cast at this point.

    I mean, I’m irritated too, but this battle’s already lost. How do we fight effectively in this war?

  2. Rose G. Knight Says:

    I guess the bottomline is still about profits. No doubt white actors are more famous and therefore will draw a larger crowd to the box office.

  3. storybythethroat Says:

    Man, we’ve sure come a long way from the Bruce Lee/David Carradine Kung Fu fiasco.

    /bitter sarcasm

  4. gaguri Says:

    I agree with everything you’ve said. Normally I would just shake my head and say “O hollywood…”, but this is a series I absolutely love and very upset to see it become yet another victim of uninspired pandering in a disgusting attempt to make easy money. Avatar deserves more.

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