Airbender: one last follow-up post

It seems that my last post has ruffled some feathers and ticked some people off. Please know that I don’t “pick these fights” (not what I set out to do) or “play the race card” (not what I am doing, but some would beg to differ) needlessly. In all my years of running the site, I have never brought these issues up (except to occasionally marvel about how cool it was that PoDW featured such a diverse cast–none of the main characters are light-skinned, something that was very rare in American animation).

Avatar: The Last Airbender is rooted in Asian cultures, with fantasy elements interlaced. This was the creators’ intent, to tell a story that is set in a pan-Asian world. The various cultures are not purely cosmetic; they have a very real impact both on the behavior and thoughts/motivations of the individual characters, as well as the nations they hail from. The industrial practices, value systems, and politics in play are actually references to real aspects of Asian history, and a number of the side characters are based on historic Asian figures as well.

Really, there is nothing about the show that ISN’T Asian. I wrote about it at length in a comment on the previous post–if you’re so inclined, please do check that out.

Please understand: I didn’t post any of this to pick a fight, and I’m not just “being PC”: Avatar: The Last Airbender set out to be a celebration of Asian cultures, something that isn’t seen often in the west, and it has resonated with people of all backgrounds all over the world as a result of that. What resulted with the casting of the Last Airbender film is a real, systematic issue in terms of Hollywood’s casting decisions and general attitudes towards Asians (whether east or south). It isn’t racist to be aware of people marginalizing other races; we unfortunately do not live in a post-racial society (as a brown-skinned south Asian, I definitely have had occasional encounters and experiences that will affirm that sad reality), and we can’t afford to be “color-blind” when this marginalization is still going on. I just want to explain why we feel this way, to help people understand that we are indeed sincere and justified in our conviction that this is wrong.

If you have any other questions or comments, please e-mail me so we can continue to discuss this. I mean this very earnestly and I only have the most positive of intentions: this is a point of discussion and dialogue that’s important to have, and I’d be very happy to talk about this with you.

Thanks. 🙂

3 Responses to “Airbender: one last follow-up post

  • It seems like the movie sucks so I won’t let it tarnish my memory of the animated series.

    It’s a real shame they didn’t do justice to it.

    Interesting news of an animated sequel though. Not sure what to think of that yet.

  • I remember white-washing being an issue for Legend of Earthsea, a miniseries adaptation of the first two books of the Earthsea series by Ursala Le Quin. The series’ main characters were deliberately described as being of different ethnicities but the entire cast was white (though one actress was half Chinese).

    Changing the race/ethnicity of a character is not racist by itself, but I consider altering the race of a character in poor taste if the creator specifically went out of their way to portray/describe them as a specific race or ethnicity.

  • Thanks for the comments!

    Andre–I appreciate that. The reviews and the critics are in almost unified agreement that the movie’s horrible, so it’s best to just steer clear from it. (The few “fresh” commenters on RottenTomatoes are either known contrarians are people who are saying, “well, if you set aside the crappy stuff, the rest is good!” Seriously?)

    I’m really psyched for the story of Korra. 🙂 It should be interesting–it seems to have some steampunk elements to it (the Fire Nation’s industrialism combined with the rest of the world’s technologies, perhaps?).

    Ben–yes! The Sci-Fi (SyFy? ugh) Channel’s Earthsea’s another example of that. I haven’t read LeGuin’s books but definitely heard about the controversy.

    And yes–it’s one thing if the race isn’t relevant to the character’s story. But in A:TLA, the race of each character dictates so much about how they think and act.

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