I am never surprised when Hollywood takes a story with Asian characters and casts white people instead of Asians. This is so typical and happens with such frequency! I always thought that in order to make our presence known in entertainment, we should be writing, bringing our dreams and realities to the cinema, but now even telling our own stories isn’t even enough.
Why is it better to have white actors play the roles of Asians? I don’t understand. Because it sells more tickets? I am not white and I have had no trouble selling tickets. Maybe the powers that be should ask me what to do. I would tell them. “The Last Airbender” is the last straw to a lot of people:
—— Forwarded Message
From: Boone Adkins
Date: Tue, 14 Apr 2009 13:51:36 -0400
Subject: Racism Against Asians in the casting of The Last Airbender: Would you help us?
I love your standup! Your comedy is as deep as it is hilarious, and touches on a lot of issues I feel strongly about. I’m a college student who is Asian American (I’m half-Thai) and who is involved with the LGBT community as an ally, so I feel I can relate to you from two angles. I’m emailing you to inform you of a controversy that you may not be aware of, and to get your support.
It boils down to this: The hugely popular Asian-themed (as opposed to European-themed) fantasy Avatar: the Last Airbender is being adapted from animated TV to a live action movie by Paramount Pictures. The fantasy world of the original series is very well researched and very ASIAN – kung fu throws fireballs, people wear kimonos and hanboks, the art style is influenced by traditional Chinese painting and anime, and everybody eats with chopsticks and writes in Chinese. There is also a heavy Inuit influence in the design and culture of the Water Tribe.
And yet the producers of this movie thought it would be best to forgo talented Asian kids and cast three WHITE actors in the leading roles! Even with Asian actors in supporting roles and as extras, it sends the message that ‘Only white people can be heroes. Asian people can’t save themselves – they need white heroes to save them.’ There are stories about Asian kids who auditioned who now think their race isn’t okay, that they have to be white to get a role. Possibly to try to soothe angry fans, Paramount recast the main villain with an Indian actor and several supporting villains with other dark-skinned actors. So the message is still that ‘Only white people can be heroes,’ but it adds another message that ‘The evil Fire Nation are dark skinned, so dark skinned people are obviously evil.’ It’s offensive to Asian Americans like myself, damaging to our children, and hurtful to fans of the original series.
I beg you to lend a hand. There’s a small grassroots movement protesting Paramount’s casting decisions. Just a few words would do so much! But don’t take my word for it – more information can be found at www.racebending.com (especially http://racebending.com/youcanhelp.php) and http://aang-aint-white.livejournal.com/.
Boone Jaisard Adkins
From: Crystal Knoll
Date: Fri, 27 Mar 2009 02:02:20 -0700
Subject: the last airbender
I’m a big admirer of yours and a longtime fan.
I was wondering if you had heard about the new M Night Shyamalan film, The Last Airbender. It’s based on a recent Nickelodeon children’s cartoon, Avatar: The Last Airbender, which was an amazing series set in a feudal fantasy world of magic – but unlike most fantasies that are based on European legends and culture, it was based on a variety of Asian cultures and ideas. All the characters in the series were Asian or Northwestern Aboriginal/Inuit inspired, as well as all the architecture, clothing, a lot of the plot structure, etc.
The movie adaptation has started filming, and originally cast all four lead characters (three heroes and one villain) with white actors. The white actor playing the villain (Jesse McCartney!) dropped out and was replaced by Dev Patel, so now we have three white heroes and one brown villain. Did I mention the villain came from a nation of genocidal tyrants? Yeah.
Anyways, you blogged once about 21, and how that was white-washed. Maybe that was worse because it was based on real events, but since this movie is aimed at kids there’s a lot of us that think this is pretty egregious too.
If you want to know more there is a great website set up at http://www.racebending.com/
http://aang-aint-white.livejournal.com also has great posts about it,
and is the home of a letter-writing campaign. I understand you’re on tour just now and probably very busy, but we’d love to hear what you have to say about it!
Lots of love,
From: Min Yang
Date: Thu, 12 Feb 2009 23:10:43 -0800
Subject: We Need Your Help! The Last Airbender Racist Casting
Hi Margaret, First of all I would like to say I am a big fan of you. I think you are a great role model for Asian-Americans and I am so impressed by what you have accomplished. I am not sure if you have heard about this controversy over the casting of the Avatar: Last Airbender movie.
I am not sure if you have ever seen this Nickelodean cartoon, but it is mega popular cartoon that features a world that is heavenly inspired by Asian cultures. The main characters practice martial arts that give them the ability to control four different elements: air, water, fire and earth.
M Night Shyamalan is directing the live action movie and they recently cast the four main characters of the show. In the cartoon, the four main character are clearly Asian and Intuit/Native American, but for the movie… they cast 3 White actors to play the parts.
I am part of a large and dedicated group of fans who are trying to raise awareness for this clear case of discrimination. We are wondering if there is anyway you can mention this issue in your next video and please help us spread the word on this injustice!
You can read about all the issues and the letter writing campaign and demonstrations at the following sites:
1) Letter Writing Campaign
2) Blog by award winning Asian-American graphic novelist who is rallying industry professionals and other blogs
3) San Francisco Chronicle Column on the subject
4) Heated debates on the IMDB.com column… the amount of ignorant and racist comments you see here are shocking
5) Facebook group
I appreciate anything you can do!
Thank you so much,