Some of you may remember a rant or two I’ve posted in the past about the whitewashing of the forthcoming film adaptation of the Avatar: The Last Airbender series.
Well, it’s finally almost here.
So here is my plea to you, as an Indian-American and a huge fan of the original show: if you want to watch it, don’t watch it in theaters. (Take that to mean what you will.) Please don’t support this film financially, because that will signal to Hollywood that it’s okay to engage in racist and discriminatory casting.
If you missed my rant and all the talk of racebending, here it is in a nutshell:
Avatar: The Last Airbender was a wildly popular and critically acclaimed animated series. Its creators wanted to explore Asian tales and myths instead of the typical western ones. Everything about the show–the characters (clearly Inuit and Tibetan and east Asian), their names, their clothing, the architecture, the writing, the bending styles (based on distinct forms of martial arts), the governmental and political systems, the other major and minor artifacts throughout–is based off Asian culture and religion and mythology. Not only that, but they took great pains to make sure they were faithful depictions, and not in the last bit stereotypical, employing cultural and martial arts consultants and a traditional Chinese calligrapher.
M. Night Shyamalan’s film adaptation, though, involves a cast of white protagonists and dark-skinned minority antagonists (Indian, Iranian, Maori). The casting call asked for actors who were “Caucasian or any ethnicity,” so this really wasn’t them casting whoever they thought was right for the parts–they went straight for white actors.
This is wrong for several reasons:
– Part of the show’s success was rooted in its diversity and ethnic richness, something that’s quite rare in western media and something that resonated with millions of viewers of all backgrounds and ages. These casting decisions demonstrate a total lack of awareness of what was so significant about the show.
– It is well documented that Asians very rarely are the primary characters in American movies and TV shows. This would have been a prime chance to highlight talented Asian actors.
– Hollywood is perpetuating the ridiculous notion that Asians can’t carry major films and can’t draw in the same money that white actors can.
– There is no ambiguity in the characters’ ethnicities, as many try to argue: every single other facet of the Avatar universe is Asian, so it follows that the characters are meant to be Asian as well.
– It’s not reverse racism to want Asians to play these roles: it’s a cry against institutionalized racial discrimination and whitewashing in Hollywood, which has occurred in a number of other movies historically and recently (Prince of Persia, Dragonball, 21). Racist depictions are nothing new, either (Sex and the City 2 and its really horrible depiction of the Middle East). Jacksone Rathbone, the actor playing Sokka, was quoted as saying that he needs to “shave his head and get a tan” in order to play the part. (“Get a tan?” Are you kidding me?)
– How on earth can an Indian-American director allow for such racist casting, and then claim that he isn’t being racist? What a slap in the face that is.
Think about this, too: one of the things that made Pirates of Dark Water so unique was the diversity of its cast. Ren, Tula, and Ioz–none of them are white! Tons of fans have noticed that, too, and commented on it in a very approving way over the years. Conceptual artist Floro Dery did state that he based Tula’s character design heavily off Middle Eastern influences, and you can see similar influence in Ren and Ioz’s character designs.
So, yeah…that’s all I’ve got for now. I’ve ranted about this so many times to so many people that I occasionally forget some of my speaking points because I thought I hit them already, haha. Please do steer clear of seeing this film, or at least don’t go see it in theaters. The show deserves a much better adaptation than this, and Asians have been jerked around by Hollywood more than enough already.