More Suckage From Hollywood: another adaptation erases POC

My kids are fans of a popular anime called Avatar: The Last Airbender. It’s popular enough that it’s going to be made into a live-action movie. But the characters won’t look the same: they won’t be Asian and Inuit faces having their East Asian martial arts adventures in a mythos based on Asian and Inuit legends. They will be white actors playing these roles.

This LJ article puts it better than I can manage, in this text that is the suggested template for a letter to the producers.

On December 9th, Entertainment Weekly published an article revealing director M. Night Shyamalan’s hoped-for cast for the film, and I am offended by the decisions he and Paramount Pictures have made.

The Nickelodeon show “Avatar: The Last Airbender,” on which this film is based, featured Asian and Inuit characters in a fantasy setting inspired and informed by a variety of Asian and Inuit cultures. The characters fight with East Asian martial arts, have Asian or Inuit features, dress in Asian or Inuit clothing, and write with Chinese characters. The cast and setting were a refreshing departure from predominantly white American media, and were a large part of the show’s appeal as well as an inspiration to many Asian American children.

I am 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. Orientalism this obvious and this dramatic is inexcusable, and I would urge Shyamalan and Paramount Pictures to reconsider their casting choices. Asian characters in a world built from Asian cultures should be played by Asian actors.

There’s an associated Facebook page.

Categories: arts & entertainment, ethics & philosophy, media

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24 replies

  1. You have GOT TO BE KIDDING!!!!! *is fuming mad*
    My son and I LOVE “Avatar.” It is a really excellent show, and the idea that they would cast white actors is utterly f’ing ridiculous. The whole show is based on Asian cultures (at least the parts that we’ve watched; we haven’t seen the whole thing, so maybe they go more “global” later). OH, I hate this so, so much!
    *whimpers, then goes to send letter of complaint*
    Thanks for posting this.

  2. They take one of the only kids shows that isn’t predominiantly white and make it white. It would like be casting Dakota Fanning as Dora.

  3. It would like be casting Dakota Fanning as Dora.
    SHHHH! Don’t say that out loud! You’ll give them ideas. 😉
    (Heh. As if they need any help). *still rolling eyes at the stupidity of the casting*

  4. I really hope the Ang-aint-white people have an effect and the casting directer grows a brain. I think I’ll be sending this along to my classmates (great thing about being an animation student, I know a lot of people who’d care about this sorta thing.)

  5. @ Tamala:
    io9’s got a good round-up post of fan responses to the casting announcements.

  6. What are they thinking?! Avatar is a favourite with us too, along with Skyland.

  7. It would like be casting Dakota Fanning as Dora.
    {gasp} You mean, Dora isn’t white?
    Deus Ex Macintosh’s last blog post..Adventures in Advertising

  8. My kids love that show – the whole cultural environment is asian! That makes no sense. I did read somewhere that Dora becomes less and less hispanic as the series goes on (but I haven’t watched it enough to really tell, I must admit).

  9. As I commented over at Angry Black Woman: It’s fucking Earthsea all over again.

  10. ARGH. Most of the visitors to Avatar communities just can’t understand the problem.
    It’s set in a fantasy world and therefore it isn’t necessarily “accurate” for them to be any particular race, so there is nothing problematic about Hollywood creating cities where everyone is going around in hanboks and eating with chopsticks and writing with Chinese characters who are all White for some inexplicable reason. Right?
    In the cartoon, the characters weren’t all coloured yellow with caricatured slitty eyes and therefore they were all White in the cartoon to begin with. Right?
    Since those White actors got the part, that is PROOF that they were the best actors and you are racist to the poor, oppressed White people if you think Asians who are clearly inferior actors should get the part. Right? Right?

  11. Jeez, lala, if we deliberately cast Asian actors in the roles of characters who just happen to look Asian, that would be racist and tokenistic. It’s that kind of thinking that perpetuates racism, you know.

  12. It’s set in a fantasy world and therefore it isn’t necessarily “accurate” for them to be any particular race, so there is nothing problematic about Hollywood creating cities where everyone is going around in hanboks and eating with chopsticks and writing with Chinese characters who are all White for some inexplicable reason. Right?

    Then I propose a remake of Lord of the Rings, with Denzel Washington as Aragorn, Jada Pinkett Smith as Arwen, James Earl Jones as Gandalf, Angela Basset as Eowyn, Taye Diggs as Legolas, Tony Todd as Gimli, Christopher Judge as Boromir, Aisha Hinds as Galadriel, Will Smith as Faramair, Danny Glover as Denethor, Laurence Fishburne as Saruman…
    After all, there’s no reason we should assume these characters were white just because the novel was building an English mythology; it’s still set in fantasy world, right?

  13. Mos Def was a brillliant Ford Prefect.

  14. Whoah there Sunless Nick, are you outta your mind, Taye Diggs is totally wrong for Legolas. Hows about Harold Perrineau instead?

  15. I was miffed when I heard about this, and then I was fucking infuriated when I heard it was Shyamalan who’s the director. Now I realize the casting isn’t solely a director’s choice, but when you have the kind of pull that he has, you can do whatever.
    Another Hollywood incident that throws people under the bus in the name of money, and another director who can kiss any esteem (read: not much in the first place, I don’t like his work) goodbye.

  16. What I don’t understand, is if you want to make money out of a film, why would you piss off its core audience? It’s not as though the kids they’ve cast are incredibly well known either.

  17. @ Fine:
    I suspect that they think they’ll lure “the kids” in with the special effects, that “the kids” won’t be able to resist it in the end even if they’re muttering now.
    But why would people want to trade a superior anime for a super-dodgy live-action version? I’m sure that the special effects will be spectacular, but as it’s Shalyaman I’m equally sure that they’ll be overblown and that the narrative will be turgid.
    I hope that they’re in for a rude sharp shock.

  18. Morgan Freeman would rock as Gandalf. Mind you, he rocks as God, too.

  19. There are people trying to do something about this, and the more people who join, the more effective it will be:

  20. Why, why, why? Am passing this on.

  21. I completely agree. Honestly it draw to mind other adaptations the film industry has done or is about to do, recent example besides Avatar would be the live action adaptation to Cowboy Bebop, and the supposed Keanu Reeves being cast as main character Spike, or Speed Racer? Both are Japanese originals turned live action this side of the coast it makes me wonder why. My other insight into the making of live action Avatar is that those they do cast will not sound like the voices we are used too, why not just make an animated movie? The voice actors for Avatar very in culture and yeah sure most are white, however we are used to them and they fit the beloved characters what is going to be like seeing a Sokka that doesn’t look like the Sokka we all imagined and then also not sounding a think like the voice actor. It seems so very unprofessional for a company like Nickelodeon to do such a thing. When talking to my friends and expressing my sometimes livid rage at this matter, I finally thought of this example. What if the British film industry had cast a none British boy that looked nothing at all like the beloved Harry Potter? Readers and fans across the globe would have been out raged. So for anyone who thinks that we fans of Avatar are taking this thing to far, please consider for a moment a beloved cartoon or book series from a foreign place being portrayed as something/someone else it wouldn’t fit. A portrayal of a character is one that can be over looked at times, ei not having the same hair color, or the fact that we all have our own imaginations of how a character show look and that there has to be some compromise, but I draw the line at race, because in my minds eye its’ almost as though they are being racist. You can’t tell me that it isn’t possible to find good actors who would much better portray the more oriental features of the character from Avatar.

  22. Paul Mooney said it best with a proverbial summary of how Hollywood views race when it comes to the marketability of their films:
    “Tom Cruise as the Last Samurai, Brad Pitt in the Mexican, and Tom Hanks in ‘The Last Nigga on Earth’” These are the same people who are casting Tobey Maguire to play Rick Hunter, Leo DiCaprio to play the lead in Akira, Justin Chatwin as the Canadian version of Goku, and also the same people that screwed Ken Watanabe out of an Oscar for his performance in The Last Samurai primarily because he’s Asian (Tim Robbins obviously won because his inferior film was directed by Clint Eastwood)

  23. In the spirit of SunlessNick since it’s apparently ok to write off a predominantly Asian cast for white actors because it’s fantasy, why not make the next Harry Potter movie with an all minority cast? After all, “it’s fantasy”. As ridiculous as the series is, just because everyone has a British accents does NOT mean they can’t be from other cultures, am I right? Why not have a Black Harry Potter, an Asian Hermione, a Latin Ron?


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