A Controversy to Blow you Away

M. Night Shyamalan has decided to cast white actors in the main roles of the upcoming motion picture based on the TV show Avatar: The Last Airbender. The problem: Avatar featured an Asian world with Asian characters, including Aang, the titular character, and his friends Sokka and Katara.

Some people are pissed, pointing to other instances of whitewashing. There’s a letter writing campaign and a Facebook group.

Bingo anyone?

So now what?  I’m tired of reading the LJ drama aroudn all of this; but here’s what I was going to post about this somewhere else:

I dig on the Airbender;  it’s clever and funny.  It’s not as smart as Phineas and Firb but what is on Saturday mornings?  All that said, I don’t get this outrage at all.

Not a bit.

I’m not from North America, I come from a culture that is as old as any other, but I don’t “get” when people (who are predominantly not a member of my cultural group) both co-opt and defend my group.  It’s my culture guys, if I want to defend it, let me handle the heavy lifting.

I can’t speak for the billions of Asians, no way, but I can speak for me and let me simply state what the outraged seem to fail to grasp, there is a vital and vibrant Asian film production market, Asians get to churn out all shades of asian movies all the time.  If an Asian film maker wants to make a movie that resembles the Airbender story (let’s face it, it’s REALLY generic) with an all Thai cast (for example) then so be it.

In this case a Malay person is at the reigns (for the most part) and has cast some box office candy in the roles.  This outrage really smacks of Otaku-Fanism, as if sharing your toy with the unwashed masses will somehow dilute the experience.  I’m not grasping how this is Racist at all, it might be a bit desperate or money grubbing, but Racist?  Please.

Me, I don’t know if I will pay to see a movie adaption of Avatar, why bother, right?  The cartoons are out there for me to watch with the kids if I want.  Why waste cash on what is bound to dilute the experience by virtue of not being the source material.

The last movie I saw that really expanded upon and made the source material pop was Trainspotting, so I don’t think any adaption cum money grab is going to shake any trees.

If you are REALLY outraged, vote with your feet and just avoid the damn thing.

I (for one) will be disappointed if they do recast the roles that have already been set; I’d hate to lose a job over my ethnicity,  wouldn’t you?  That kind of sums it up right there, in some way there are people out there so obsessed with their own ethnicity that it allows them to attempt to victimize others (en-masse) to somehow promote and protect that ethnicity.  Imagine if there had already been a full cast of Asians in place and the reverse was now true?  A bunch of European fans get together and form groups around demands for Caucasian actors in the roles of the title character and the blind girl (along with most of the people in the snow kingdom)  then what?

In the end; the source material stands and the movie will be the movie.  If you feel that strongly about the movie’s cast, by all means, feel strongly about it, but why impose your beliefs upon the general public?  Avatar isn’t some cultural phenomenon like “Kung-Fu” it’s a somewhat well known Nick cartoon, the general public isn’t down with it, so it doesn’t have a cultural cache to pull from, it’s got a studio, some creative types and a need to make money.  If we (as the general public) could have our dreams casts in our favourite movies Pierce Brosnan would have been bond right after Roger Moore and the Next Doctor might have been Joanna Lumley (or Rowan Atkinson)  but we don’t get our dreams. Do we?

Fight on you crazy stars, it’s your right to complain about casting choices, but damn if I wish that the racism card wouldn’t be tossed around so quickly, and this is coming from a guy who actually profiles racists on his blog.  I know that the last qualifier reads like “I can’t possibly be racist” which is the furthest from the truth, I totally can be racist and catch myself being so.  It’s one of those human failings that we should recognise in ourselves.

The whole discussion of “I don’t see people like me on the screen” argument blows me away.  Seriously.  Outside of imported TV, I don’t see anyone like me on TV either, and when I do see someone like me on North American TV or Movies, they are buffoons (without fail).  So What? Should I bitch about it and keep a blog of how offensive it is?  OR have I learned one of the big lessons about life that some folks still need to learn, the prevailing culture of North America is a melange of cultures that end up in a stew or milieu that doesn’t actually reflect society instead it distorts society for it’s own entertainment, which the majority seems to like.  Case Closed.

As for “I can’t Be Ang if Ang isn’t Asian on screen” what?  How did you kill that kid’s imagination?  Is it drugs?  Seriously, that kid is having trouble seperating themselves from cartoons as fantasy.

  • Vina

    “In this case a Malay person is at the reigns (for the most part) and has cast some box office candy in the roles. ”

    Uh, no. The kids are all pretty much unknowns except for Jesse McCartney, who is a singer. So it really fails to reason why a cast of characters who were all originally Asian or Inuit should all be played by unknown white actors when they could have just as easily cast unknown brown or yellow or black ones . Producers are usually careful to have one or two racial minority actors in the mix, especially for children’s films like this. So as much as this is about the whitewashing, it’s also about the film’s producers being really, really *stupid* about it.

  • Did you even look at these kids? The Kid who is rumored to be playing the lead character already kinda looks like him and the girl is a pretty close match for the girl in the show. Be honest, are you mad because you had some idea of a cast in mind or would you still be mad if there was some “token” Asian in a lead role, like Rob Schneider in Surf Ninjas? I don’t think the choices are all that bad, they kind of look like the Cartoon pictures and makeup will do the rest. Aren’t the two Non-airbenders Maori anyway? I mean, if one wants all the Villains of the piece to be Asians, it’ll be kind of like every sci-fi movie from the eighties where all the bad guys were Brits.

    As for being unknowns, the Kid Playing the lead is a Karate Champion and the other Male Lead was in Twilight (which is getting big box office) so there you go, one to grow on.

    Why is it stupid not to simply say “It’s go asian themes, let’s stock it up with ethnic types!” Did you see Forbidden Kingdom, crap tastic, and it had actual “good” asian actors in it. Dwars? Boo! Asian actors.

    Does it make sense just to dump in Asians because they make sense to the theme or casting people who test well for the roles and kinda look like the thing they are trying to emulate? Seriously. I don’t think a great deal of thought has gone into this campaign, not at all. It reads like a great deal of knee-jerk reactions to an inferred hurt.

    What do the Creators of the Cartoon Say? They are listed as producers on the thing and writers and creators so I imagine they might have some say in the matter. It’s their baby, right? I don’t see any public complaints from them about the casting.

    Oh well.

    Like I said back up there; from what I can see, the cast is still “rumored” which means there’s still time for it to change.

    Shine on you Crazy Stars!

  • Yeah, I did call you a pussy in my entry because you have comments turned off. To an outsider who didn’t know LJ was a mirror for this blog, it just looks like you want to spout off and not hear what anyone else has to say.

    At this point, they’re shooting the movie, so boycott is the most likely effective draw. This whole thing is really bizarre though. If you note the casting of extras, then you’ll see that to compensate for the mains, all the background character resemble where they come from, I guess in an attempt to make us ignore the mis-casting of the main characters.

    I personally have nothing against the actors, it’s really not their fault, nor do I oppose the movie directly. My Venom is for Dee Dee Rickets. She’s the main problem – you know enough to cast the background correctly, but not the forefront? What are you ON woman? it’s not like there aren’t asian & inuit actors itching for good character roles, you met them when you put them in the background!

    By using white for the main characters, and thinking nothing of it, you’re sending a message that white is automatically right and to get over it. It’s just like in the 70s & 80s when white people portrayed asians as well. It’s a subtle reminder to the short-sighted ness of the people in charge and make me wonder what other big details they’ll flub.

    So, as a different minority, it makes me wonder what’s really going on. I’m especially insulted at M. Night not being more involved, since it was his children who made him even look at the series.

    But all of this is beside the point. Yes, *you* don’t care, but tons of other people do, and the fact that we want our character portrayed in an accurate way isn’t otaku fan-ism. It’s us being good fans.

    It’s just a big mess. my guess is that it’ll do badly or not as well as expected, and then hollywood will use it as an excuse to not adapt other shows or stores with different cultures made for kids, conveniently forgetting their part in making the movie flop.

  • As I’ve said before on the matter; you’re all entitled to your opinion; but the Racism calls just look petty and unhinged.