While we're on the subject of whiteness (see my next post or the article in the New Yorker...), I would like to tell you that I'm excited by the adaptation of one of the best animation series out there onto the big screen, but nope.
Avatar, the last airbender is being release soon but I don't think I'll have the stomach to see it.
I've stuck with M.Night Shyamalan all this time because of his demesured talent and ego and he made a film that actually change the history of horror movies. I don't mind ego: you need a healthy dose of it if you're to become one of the best. Also, I've stuck by Signs, Unbreakable, The Village even the Lady in the Water (where his Ego didn't leave us any room to breathe). Even The Happening had its moment - tension, tenderness, some mood reading poignancy caught between anxiety and somber despair.
But typecasting is killing the joy of maybe seeing Shyamalan return in top form. Avatar, you see, clearly draws on different Asian and Native cultural aspects (which for some anthropology enthusiasts are all one and the same) to create a world both wondrous and warm but also really funny. The spiritual and physical elements of these cultures are never explicitly explained but anyone who followed Aang, Katara, Sokka, Toph (my favourite) or Zuko (my second favourite character) during their entire 3 years journey could tell you who supposed to be Chinese, who Japanese, who practices tai-chi and who does judo or is from Inuit descent.
For example, it's pretty clear that, as in the Eddie Murphy's movie, Aang is from an alternate universe kind of Tibet. While Katara and Sokka are from a snowbound Inuit type world.
All that hodge-podge diversity mix of Avatar is what makes it fun in part. Another type of hero than the golden locked muscle girl magnet is always refreshing.
But Shyamalan must have mistaken Avatar for another instalment of the boring couple from Hell in the Twilight movies because the only thing Asian - apart from the villain of course- are the extras. (Black people will recognize the equal-opportunity-only-exist-with-extras-villains-or-prostitutes-or cretins-in-chief-characters-but-we're-not-racist 'cause-you-still-get-a-job syndrome reserve for minority actors still. Except for rappers.)
Katara is now a nice blond chick and her brother Sokka, a golden locked muscle girl magnet.
How refreshing, different and bold!
Racism, to paraphrase Sokka, is like boomerang, it always comes back. But Avatar's fans are not the quiet type. Just see for yourselves how bad little zen buddhists they are.
They're not so easily fooled. Too bad most of them are not of voting age....
April 7, 2010 | 7:01 pmThe practice of casting actors who best reflect the material a movie or television show is based on has long been a thorn in the side of casting directors, filmmakers and fans alike. Go with the best actors available? Go with the actress who looks or has other attributes similar to the character she will portray? Money considerations, fan reactions ... there's a lot to consider and a lot that can derail a choice. And a lot that can saddle a movie with huge negative backlash, which is what director M. Night Shyamalan and his movie "The Last Airbender" are going through right now.
Fans of the original anime-inspired cartoon series are objecting to the casting choices of the movie's main heroes: Noah Ringer as Aang, Jackson Rathbone as Sokka, Nicola Peltz as Katara and "Slumdog Millionaire" actor Dev Patel as Zuko, a villain initially.
A story touting East Asian and Inuit characters and cultures, "Avatar: The Last Airbender" is a fan favorite, with many identifying with the characters based on their appearances as well as their heroic deeds. However, the casting of Caucasian actors as the heroes, rather than Asians and Inuits, has caused many of these same fans to call for a boycott of the film in protest.
Julian Ramsay wrote:
Now, I'm not naive and no one has ever driven a dump-truck full of money up to my house and asked to buy my integrity. I am certain however, that no amount of money can remove that crushing feeling in your soul Mr Shyamalan, when your children look at this film and wonder why they look like the bad guys. This is sad more than anything as a glorious opportunity to show children of ALL color that they can be a hero too. Too bad your kids won't be able to look at you that way when they grow up to see what money does to a person.
I'll leave you with a choice quote from another 'Avatar' directed at you Mr Shyamalan - 'How does it feel to betray your own race?'
David S. wrote:
I'm going to be boycotting this movie. As the above article states, the whole story of Avatar revolves around Buddhism, Eastern Martial Arts, and East Asian themes in general. To have Caucasians play the main role, then insert a South Asian to try to appease the audience just doesn't cut it for me. I'm tired of Hollywood's blatant racism and refusal to admit to it.
As a children's movie, Avatar would be perfectly fine with Asians in the lead role. Who knows? Maybe it will even influence them into believing that you don't need to be white to be a hero.
Liz Williams wrote:
I, too, thought Avatar: The Last Airbender would make a terrific movie or series of movies. I have a deep love for the original series and have recommended it to many of my friends. I found the Asian cultures and characters to be a refreshingly original take, and I really enjoyed exploring that Asian-based world with Aang, Katara, and Sokka.And there were many more touching on this "race-bending" issue. Shyamalan has tried to respond to his critics, saying: "Here's the thing. The great thing about anime is that it's ambiguous. The features of the characters are an intentional mix of all features. It's intended to be ambiguous. That is completely its point. So when we watch Katara, my oldest daughter is literally a photo double of Katara in the cartoon. So that means that Katara is Indian, correct? No, that's just in our house. And her friends who watch it, they see themselves in it. And that's what's so beautiful about anime."
But I'm sorry to say that until this film shows serious efforts to correct the "whitewashing" of the cast, I'll be recommending that everyone I know give the movie a miss. Re-casting only the "bad guys" as Asian is not enough, and only serves to reinforce racist stereotypes. The Last Airbender casting is disappointing and terribly wrong. I hope the amount of outrage it continues to generate can help to effect some change.
Until it does, I'll be boycotting this "Racebending" film.
But even with his explanations, fans continued to protest the choices.
Hal Duncan wrote:
Shyamalan does a lot better at justifying the casting in that article than has been done previously, but I don't think he gets the fact -- and many don't -- that this isn't just about diversity in some "PC agenda" way. It's not just about how much more equitable it would be if the range of ethnicities in film and TV reflected reality more faithfully. It's not about tokens and quotas that would make things nicer. It's about segregation.Disagree Completely wrote:
I'm sorry, M. Night Shyamalan but you are wrong to say that the the characters of the Last Airbender are "ambiguous." This may be true of some animes and cartoons, but it is not true of this one, which is so clearly placed in an East Asian universe.And sbmtrl wrote:
When I watched the trailer with Socca and his sister standing in front of their tribe, all I could see was a pair of white kids slumming it. While everyone else looked ethnically correct, they stood out like two sore thumbs.
What is so disappointing about this entire movie is that it looks so good. Still, I will not be supporting this movie with my money, and if I watch it, you can definitely bet that it won't be in theaters.
Responding to racism is not venom, and its not venting, it is progressive and truthful. Being criticized may not feel great, but it doesn't make it wrong. Silencing talk about racism only reinforces white supremacy, and that is what is being asked here. Just stay quiet and enjoy the movie. Why is racism a "touchy subject?" How is voicing objections to white people playing non-white roles, erasing ethnicity and culture because its "anime," For Meredith Woerner to insist that a in world of fantasy and fiction ethnicity, culture and race must be erased, what is really being said? Its too impossible for the producers to imagine a world where POC author and play roles of POC? Too fantastical?
As the movie nears release, this is definitely not an issue that will fade away or be overlooked, and is a longstanding problem that, to many, needs not only more discussion amongst filmmakers, but also a studio-level intervention.
-- Jevon PhillipsFrom the Los Angeles Times.