Tuesday, February 09, 2010

whitewashing The Last Airbender

You guys know by now that racism in media is a really, really angry sawhorse of mine... Thanks Ello for writing this illuminating piece on the new movie The Last Airbender. Not having any kids, I might have missed the story on my own.

How sad, though, that this opportunity for celebratory media was blown.

48 comments:

Laurel said...

I don't get all righteous about much but this is beyond the pale. (No pun intended.) I don't really object to white authors writing white characters. I get that. Write what you know. Hopefully, you know someone who isn't exactly the same as you but your voice needs some authenticity.

What defies reason is the constant call for more PoC in film and books and then, when we get them-with a successful track record, no less- we make them white? What? It makes no sense. I can only assume the success of the series is what led to the movie.

Stop putting any book with a black MC in "African Studies." Stop waving the magic mighty whitey wand over non-white characters. Give us a little damn credit out here.

I promise I will read a book with a black MC who is NOT the housekeeper or the nanny or from the hood or meets up with kindly white folk who help him or her meet potential. Or a tough gay man who doesn't spend his free time dressing his chick friends and decorating their houses. I might even see a movie with an Asian lead who is not Jackie Chan. Scout's honor.

moonrat said...

Thanks, Laurel :) I see there's more than 2 of us out there, then.

Rick Daley said...

In regard to what eastern philosophies are retained in the film, I advise everyone to wait until you actually see the movie. Do not rush to judgment based on a30-second trailer.

The lead role (Aang) was cast based on acting ability and martial arts background. It's a very specific role. We need to trust the director in making a good film. In regard to the ethnicity of the actors, what is a director to do? Genetic testing?

My kids got me hooked on the TV seriers, and I think it looks like M. Night is going to make a good movie. He's already taken other flak for using an Indian actor to play Zuko (Dev Patel) instead of a Japanses actor. Admiral Zhao is also an Indian actor (Aasiv Mandvi). That's not white-washing, and I don't think he is doing it because he is racist towards the Japanese.

Jon said...

Also, it's an American cartoon created by two white guys about a fictious world of a non-distinct racial origin. Yes, there are Asian influences in the design, but the characters are not asian. Also, the Director is a PoC. As a PoC myself, and based on the people behind the project, I'm not ready to call foul yet.

just saying...

annathepiper said...

I'm a big fan of the Avatar show, and I won't be going to see the film. Sorry, M. Night. Not happening.

Leaving aside wondering exactly how they're going to condense three seasons' worth of lovely, complex story and character development into a two-hour movie, just the casting alone is enough to make me bail.

Fortunately, the original show is readily available on DVD and I encourage anybody interested in the story to watch that instead. It's amazing work and the finale is Hugo-worthy, in the joint opinion of my household.

Jon said...

I hear you, but I believe it's a trilogy

Matthew Delman said...

Jon --

While it is a fictious world of non-distinct racial origin, the source cartoon has the characters clearly drawn as Asian (Aang/Zuko) and Inuit (Katarra/Sokka).

I also find it difficult, at best, to believe that the producers couldn't possibly find an Asian child with the requisite martial arts skill to play Aang, or that they couldn't find two people of color that would fit the roles of Katarra and Sokka. If the whole "you're Asian therefore you know martial arts" statement is offensive, I apologize. But still ...

That said, I don't know if I'll be boycotting the DVD release, per se. I definitely won't waste the money to see it in the theater though. Maybe I'll Netflix it instead.

Delilah S. Dawson said...

Sometimes, I'm embarrassed to be your basic caucasian-American mutt. I have no culture, no history, no grand family traditions, aside from our secret recipe for chocolate pie. Our national costume is blue jeans. And there's nothing I can do to change that, to be made of more interesting or prideworthy stuff.

That being said, I went to school with one of the creators of the show, and he is one of the nicest, most talented, most deserving dudes that I've ever met, so I'm going to support Avatar just for that, because it's rare that a good guy wins.

Jon said...

No, Matt... they are darker skinned, NOT Asian. Why? Because that is NOT Earth. Besides, pull up a picture, Aang looks white to me...

Matthew Delman said...

All right, I'll give you the cartoon Aang as white.

Side note: I've noticed a lot of animes where the heroes have Asian facial structures but have wide European eyes instead of the Asian almond shape. This is from Japanese creators, by the way. I think someone once said that the narrower, more Asian eyes, seem sinister as compared to the wide-open European eye. Thoughts?

Snarky Agent-man said...

Last year there were accusations of whitewashing when there were several recasts right before shooting began. Yes, it would be horrible to think the recasting was on purpose. I'm unhappy because the trilogy will basically retell each season per movie, when the show was perfectly delightful in this and many other respects. *trudges to movie theater to see it anyway* I hope M. Night doesn't mess with it too much.

Anthrophile said...

@Jon -- Yes, it's an American production. There are people of Asian descent who are also American. American and Asian are not mutually exclusive, although casting like this seems to imply that Asian-Americans might as well NOT exist. American = a lot more than just "white."

The two "white guys" who created the show would also seem to disagree with you, since they sought out Chinese sources, put all written material in the cartoon in Chinese characters, and wrote in their production notes that the Fire Nation is "basically medieval China."

Aang does not look white. Look at him in profile, even in the first episode -- he's got prognathy, for pete's sake. (European noses tend to be far more prominent while the eastern Asian profile tends to be flatter. And some Asians are quite pale, especially northern ones who live up in the mountains... like our hero the Airbender, perhaps. )

Not to mention the cartoon scenario (pale skinned hero, pale skinned antagonist) has been replaced in the film with something far more boring and stereotypical (pale skinned protagonist, dark skinned antagonist). Boo.

These are not white people.

I really don't see why this concept isso threatening to some.


Re: Asian cartoons with "white" characters -- we may see them as white because we are Western and therefore conditioned to see white as the default. Humans are wired to see faces implied in even the simplest forms. Which is why emoticons work. :-D You show us two eyes and a mouth, we see a person. However, a white face is not the Asian default. You show an Asian person two dots and a mouth, they will see an Asian face. (Besides, what we tend to draw as "Asian" features in the West are stereotypical and offensive -- Asians do not have, for example, smaller eyes than we do, nor even particularly "slanted." What they have is more shallowly-set eyes than Westerners, and less of a brow ridge -- these are more subtle features than can be conveyed in most simplified cartoon styles.

caterfree10 said...

Jon, the reason Aang "looks white" is because he's drawn in an anime influenced art style. To anyone not familiar with said art style, anyone and everyone would look white if they're ignoring the cultural clues around them. Aang has a shaved head with robes taken from Tibetan groups and a philosophy mirroring Tibetan Buddhism. Therefore, he is Asian. Zuko comes from am imperialistic nation that uses Palanquins for transportation of royalty and has architecture pulled straight from China and Japan. Therefore, Zuko is Asian.

The "not even Earth" argument doesn't hold. If "false Earths" such as Narnia and Middle Earth which draw from European cultures can be populated with Caucasian humans, why can't a world steeped in Asian cultures have people from those cultures populating and saving their false Earth?

As for the "anime characters look Asian!" bullshit, I'll just redirect you here for further education on the anime art style. Wide eyes are NOT exclusive to Caucasians, for Pete's sake. And interestingly enough, I've read an insane number of manga where, if a white foreigner was featured, HIS/HER eyes were the "squinty" ones. Just a thought. ^_~

Jon said...

It's not threatening, man, relax. I happen to be asian american, alright? My point is, I believe that the people involved have the best of intentions, so I'm not ready to protest them yet.

Anthrophile said...

(And seriously, if the place is not Earth, then why does the casting automatically -- like 99.9 percent of all other movies in the U.S. -- have to be white by default? Whites are an Earth people too, y'know. :-D And it's not as if whites are underrepresented in Hollywood. This isn't a takeover -- it's ONE FILM. There was no reason not to be conciliatory.)

I don't blame the actor kids, though. I feel bad for them, caught up in this.

Lia said...

Rick, I just wanted to comment on your comment -- as far as Noah Ringer being cast based on acting ability and martial arts background, if I'm not mistaken, they couldn't have known his acting ability beforehand because he hadn't acted before TLA. And let's not forget the casting call for Aang that requested actors of "Caucasian or any other ethnicity," which implies that they were looking first for a white kid.

And I would also remind you that before an Indian actor was cast as Zuko, a white actor was cast as Zuko, and he backed out when people started to cry foul.

Anthrophile said...

@ Jon -- (I don't think they had bad intentions either. I just think they were extremely lazy. Which is also harmful.)

Also I am not man. ;-)

Lia said...

And Jon, as far as good intentions, people can still be racist and mean well. I don't care about their intentions. I have a problem with their execution.

Sushu Xia said...

Delilah -- I think the "basic caucasian-American mutt" has plenty of culture and traditions ... it just doesn't feel like it because the culture and traditions are so dominant and normalized. I've lived in America for most of my life and I'm still learning American cultural traditions like Christmas, eating spaghetti and hamburgers at home, going out for ethnic food, being polite and making small talk, using sarcasm as a way of joking, etc etc.

Jon -- I agree that the Avatar world is fictional and created by two Americans. However, when I watched it, I saw many clear references to different aspects of Asian culture, including the general ethnicities of the characters. I suppose part of my frustration is that the film has utterly failed to respect that -- casting the Fire Nation, which seems analogous to imperialist Japan, as some sort of Indian Samurai thing , and casting the Earth Kingdom, which had many Chinese/Korean dynastic aspects, as some sort of multiethnic group (the casting call for Earth Kingdom extras asked Koreans to bring their "kimonos"). So for me, it is less about race and more about respect. Lord of the Rings is fantasy, but clearly set in a European setting. I would protest as well if someone made an official LotR movie that made Hobbits and Elves Chinese.

Julie said...

I was going to address the erroneous (IMO) claim that Aang looks white, but looks like some more eloquent posters beat me to it. :) So I'll just address this comment:

The lead role (Aang) was cast based on acting ability and martial arts background.

Except there have already been two reviews of a very rough edit of the film, and going by those reviews, Aang isn't a natural actor. Even the one review that praised Noah Ringer (the kid who plays Aang) had to qualify its praise with stuff like, "It's very impressive considering this is his first film!" and, "Noah's rougher moments can be fixed in editing." Let's get real, this kid isn't channeling Haley Joel Osment here.

As far as martial arts go...um, no. Noah is trained in karate, which is very different from the type of martial arts that Aang uses. I know that people not familiar with martial arts might see it all as one giant monolith and that they're all the same, but trust me, there are some serious differences.

Linguista said...

You know I just realised they parodied this in Tropic Thunder. Having a white guy play a black guy was hilarious in a spoof, but if you stop for a minute, that's pretty much what happens these days!

Thanks for the link.

Anthrophile said...

@ Jon -- actually, I'm sorry about one thing I wrote earlier, which, on rereading, doesn't seem that clear. (I'm not white either.) When I speak of "Asians seeing an Asian face" in those simple signifiers of "two dots and a smile" I should have emphasized that I meant Asians raised in a majority-Asian culture, who are surrounded by faces similar to their own in the media. We who are raised in the West, a majority-white culture, tend to default to seeing things that way regardless of what our parents look like unless we make just as much of a conscious effort not to.

(Me, I am in favor of more, better, and more varied representation of Asian men in Western media. Let them be heros, not sidekicks! And hot, not humorous! For a change.)

twaddleoranything said...

Thanks so much for sharing this link. It's important that people continue to be made aware of problematic media decisions like this one.

wysteria said...

Thanks for posting this. It's good to see many people spreading the word about such a problematic issue.

Hopefully, as the release date comes closer, many others will learn about the offensive racial practices in the media and boycott this film and the others like it.

Falen said...

i'm a bit upset about the whitewashing, BUT i think i'll keep my mouth shut until i've seen the whole movie.

I LOVED the show, the least i can do is give them a chance and not cry fould based on a 30 second trailer.

Krispy said...

Thanks for sharing this! This issue surrounding The Last Airbender has been a particularly annoying point for me too.

Racebending.com is a really good, comprehensive site covering the whitewashing of The Last Airbender.

imnotasquirrel said...

i'm a bit upset about the whitewashing, BUT i think i'll keep my mouth shut until i've seen the whole movie.

I LOVED the show, the least i can do is give them a chance and not cry fould based on a 30 second trailer.


Here's my question - why not? The racefail in this situation has nothing to do with the plot. So why would you need to see the whole movie to make a judgment? We KNOW they whitewashed the characters. This movie isn't like James Cameron's Avatar, to use a recent example of another controversial movie. With James Cameron's Avatar, one could perhaps reasonably make the argument that a person shouldn't judge until seeing the film, because the criticism towards that movie has to do with the plot and not the characters. But as far as I'm concerned, we don't need to watch The Last Airbender to know that it's full of racefail. Even if it turns out to have an excellent storyline, the whitewashing will not and should not be negated.

I just don't get the argument that we shouldn't judge until we see the whole movie, with respect to this film in particular. Our criticisms have nothing to do with the plot, so why on earth can't we?

Karen C said...

My daughters love the cartoon. I think I have a couple of episodes memorized at this point. Then the younger daughter's friend called to say that they weren't using Asian actors in the movie. My daughter's reaction? "That sucks!"
No, my daughter isn't Asian.
Yes, her friend is.

jjdebenedictis said...

I LOVED the show, the least i can do is give them a chance and not cry fould based on a 30 second trailer.

The movie is not being made by the same people who made the show.

You don't own the movie-makers any loyalty.

How about feeling loyalty to the intentions behind the wonderful--and purposefully multi-ethnic--original?

Emmy said...

For anyone who hasn't seen the original show, I HIGHLY recommend it. It's incredibly complex, both visually and emotionally, and I can't help but feel this movie is completely missing the point. Avatar's world came from real cultures and the four nations each borrowed from a different Asian country. It's not just a mish-mash of influences. Anyone who watches the show will recognize imperial China in the Fire Nation or Japan on Kiyoshi Island; these elements are specific and intentional. Casting the actors as white strips the setting of its significance. It's offensive and disappointing, especially for a children's show where characters of color are so deeply needed.

Avatar fans have been upset about this for a while, and I second the rec to check out Racebending for more info.

Jennifer said...

I was a huge fan, but I disagree with this one. The biggest complaint I've seen from fans up to this point is that the Fire Nation is no longer basically Chinese (Some of the actors still are, btw). I actually assumed this was an intentional move to avoid making China into the evil bad guy trying to take over the world. I can see the logic in this. I can also see the logic in them having found an actor who would be perfect for Zuko and happened to be Indian instead of Chinese, hence the shift.

That being said, many of the characters are still played by minorities. And they are minorities of a wide-range as well. Chinese, Japanese, Middle-Eastern, Southeast Asian. It is a cartoon about a fictional place with many characters who had a somewhat exotic look about them. Aang, while having slightly slanted eyes, still tends to look white. So do Katara and Sokka. The most obvious characters who are not are Fire Nation and Earth Nation (of whom you have more variations, including Japanese cultural influences). And as far as I've been able to tell from the casting I've seen, the movie looks to be following this--just without making the bad guys specifically Chinese.

I also agree that Aang was cast on his martial arts ability. I'm agreeing with the wait until the movie comes out to decide, and then it's probably a good idea to watch the show first to see what's being complained about. When I saw the cast list, I was pretty darn impressed that it *wasn't* all white guys, myself.

(For the record, I hate the whole whitewashing thing in general and am one of the first up in arms about it. I just think this is a hasty jump to an incorrect conclusion)

writtenwyrdd said...

I have to agree with those who are offended by the whitewashing of a multi-ethnic anime that is obviously set (mostly) in Asian cultures. So I'll pass on the movie despite my fangrrl crush on the director, because he's not doing the right thing here. Besides, I think the originals are just fine, so why do I need to see a movie remake?

Jennifer said...

Okay, I'm going to comment more on what I said last because I've done some research to make my case. Aang does not look Asian (imo) most of the time in the show. Look up some pictures and you'll see what I mean. Katara and Sokka, while both having darker skin, also have bright blue eyes, which isn't typically what one thinks of when you think of Inuit peoples. Also, Aang even appears to have blue eyes as well, though I'd have to get the DVDs out and I'm at work right now, so I can't check that one beyond looking at promotional photos. So in all honesty, with those three characters, based on what was shown in the original, it's impossible to claim that they were intended to be Asian-looking aside from cultural references that link the fictional universe to societies in our own world.

Many of the other characters are not white, and those who are often look more Hispanic than white. The Kiyoshi warriors, while not being played by Japanese, are still all Asian as far as I can tell from the cast list and their photos. Most of the Fire Nation is, indeed, not white.

This bothers me mostly because I was excited that they were using so many minority actors for this. There is always going to be something for someone to complain about. If they had, in fact, used all Asian actors, I'm sure you would have had complaints similar to those that came with Memoirs of a Geisha--using a Chinese actress to portray a Japanese character.

Please look at the whole cast and get a good view of what it is. And no, not only bad guys are being portrayed as minority. The Kiyoshi warriors are good guys. One of the main Fire Nation cast is, in fact, a good guy.

Sorry, rant finished.

Julie said...

Aang, while having slightly slanted eyes, still tends to look white. So do Katara and Sokka.

Really?

So the only reason you're saying that Katara and Sokka look white is because of their blue eyes. That ONE physical trait is enough to negate everything else?? Their dark skin doesn't override that? Or do you simply think that they're white people with tans?

For your information, 'eye color' in the Avatar verse correlates to what 'tribe' the characters are from. Therefore, the Waterbenders often have blue eyes, because of...you know...water. Aang does not have blue eyes, he has brown. You'll also notice that Zuko has yellow eyes, which do not exactly correlate to real life; I can't recall seeing anybody IRL with yellow eyes.

In short - eye color is NOT an indicator of race in the Avatar universe.

Julie said...

Oops, I mistyped...Aang actually has gray eyes (to correspond with the element of air), although in some screenshots they look brown.

Rick Daley said...

The creators of the show are executive producers, they are involved.

Here is a link to a YouTube video where the creators of Avatar interview M. Night:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dBiGRraX3Fs&feature=player_embedded

At 6:06 in, Michael (on of the show creators) quips that he be considered for Aang role. Obviously it is a jest, but still, he doesn't seem to be adamant that the role be cast to an Asian actor.

Cnsider that Zach Tyler, a caucasain boy, voiced Aang in the series. Mae Whitman, who voiced Katara in the series, is also caucasian. Same with the voice actors behind Sokka and Toph.

I looked at the cast of the movie on IMDB. While Asains are surprisingly thin, it is still a very ethnically diverse grouping that cannot be called "white-washed."

And I may be a white male, but I would see this movie if the cast were 100% Asian (or any other ethnicity). To me, the race of the actors is inconsequential. I want to see it for the story.

faye said...

I've been following this story for a while and it never, ever fails to piss me off. Have you seen the animated series? If not, you should--it's some of the BEST tv I've seen in recent years. I made my dad watch it, who loved it and said "there's no way the creators of this show aren't Chinese." I admit I wallowed in a bit of pride when I told that they were, indeed, not Chinese, not Asian at all, but white people who had been brave and talented enough to do a show inspired by Asian culture right.

I get doubly pissed off when people say "oh it's just a cartoon for kids, who cares." That's the point. It's for KIDS. What an amazing example it could have been for Asian-American children (I have another soapbox about this, but mostly related to the cyclical paradox of career paths chosen by Asian immigrants, or lack thereof in Hollywood). Instead, it's just going to be a forgettable piece of whitewashing, and a certainly unworthy adaptation of the fantastic original.

Jennifer said...

To Julie--

I think Aang almost always looks white in general. I still believe that. His skin tone is also whiter than the other characters. His eyes even tend to look white rather than Asian to me, and honestly he was never a character I "pictured" as Asian, if that makes sense. That might just be me.

I have always assumed Katara and Sokka were representative of Inuits. I also know that when I saw the pair of actors picked for the part, my first thought was that they were a great choice and that they greatly resembled the characters. Also, in terms of facial features and the way they're drawn, aside from the slightly darker skin tone they also look more "white" than the other characters. What I'm saying is that while I initially thought of them one way, I don't think it's necessarily fair to say that they *have* to be Inuit in order to fit the character. In fact, when looking at photographs of actual Inuit peoples, they don't tend to look like either of these two.

My point is that I feel like all of the characters who have been given to minority actors, particularly those who *needed* to be (Kiyoshi warriors, Fire Nation, for instance), all have been. Now Dev Patel might be Indian instead of Chinese, but I don't really care about that. I don't necessarily think of the three main characters as white (well, Aang, sorta. It seems really strange to me to think of him as Asian), but I also don't have a problem with them being played by white actors because the actors DO resemble the characters. It's not as though they're completely different and look nothing like them.

I still think they did a decent job with casting. I don't think it's fair to put these complaints on the same footing as something like the situation with the recent book cover, which was just ridiculous. Maybe I'm in the minority here, but I just don't see, particularly considering the attention paid to minority roles in the cast of this one, an equal fault.

I'm not someone who just blows this stuff off as nonsense. I take all of this very seriously. I am also a minority in the country in which I live. I've dealt with prejudice, I understand prejudice, and I absolutely despise it when I see it. Like I said before, when I saw the cast list and looked at it as a whole, I thought it was a huge step in the right direction and I was impressed. That's why it bothers me so much to see it getting so much crap.

Jennifer said...

I also want to say that if you look at the cast list on IMDB, please actually go and click on the names. For instance, the actress playing Suki has an American name, but she's Asian. Many of the actors have names that are American-sounding, but they are in fact either minorities or people who look remarkably close if they are not.

Emmy said...

@Jennifer- someone else mentioned the eye colors being representative of what nation you're from, and I'll add that when Aang grows his hair out in the beginning of season three it's quite dark. Also, the Airbenders are very clearly based on Buddhist monks. If you saw a bunch of white monks, wouldn't you think that was weird? You may read Aang as white, but he's not. As far as I can tell there are no white people in Avatar. You may want to check out this essay about why many people read anime (or, in this case, anime-styled) characters as white: "The Face Of The Other" by Matt Thorn. Also this is a wonderful visual essay on Aang's character design and race.

Even if they cast the secondary characters with people of color, I think it's discouraging to see the three main characters (Aang, Katara, Sokka), the HEROES OF THE STORY, as white people. And wouldn't it be depressing for fans of the series who specifically identify with the Asian characters to see these roles whitewashed? What does that say to kids? They can be the sidekick but not the hero? It's not that people are nitpicking over a couple casting decisions. It's that these really interesting, really cool heroes who are huge role models for kids of color were recast as white, sending the signal that their stories aren't important.

Jennifer said...

I'm actually going to be most curious to see who the cast as Toph, who was my favorite, as well as the former incarnations of the avatar.

In any case, I understand that they're based on Buddhist monks. I live around Buddhist monks, I recognize the cultural references. They're one of my favorite aspects of the show. I was just stating that from the way he's drawn, it's difficult to imagine. I know in season 3 he has dark hair. I just always felt that these three actors looked pretty representative of the way the characters were drawn. I know some people might disagree with me there, however some characters are much more obvious. Azula, Zuko, Suki, etc. Also, a good friend pointed out something else that I had forgotten when I was discussing this with him. The nations aren't representative of a single group. The water tribe also has redneck hicks as members. I'm not making a statement on the three main characters at the moment, I'm just saying that the different groups are composed of many different types and while each is representative of something in real life, they're inevitably still fictionalized accounts and varieties of it.

This is my last comment then I'm bowing out haha. I love the cultural influences in the show. I adored that they used actual Chinese writing and actual martial arts and things relevant to actual societies. Do I think it would have been *awesome* if everyone had been cast as more representative of what they likely are? Yeah, I think it'd have been great.

And don't get me wrong, I completely understand the frustration here. I can see how it's upsetting to people. From my perspective, however, this movie is a step in the right direction. It's not perfect. I do think it's a good attempt, however, and (again, MY opinion only) that it seemed to show actual effort on the casting director's part. If I were to find out one of them had said, "whatever you do don't make Aang Asian because no one will watch the movie" my opinion of this would change in a heartbeat.

As it is, it looks to me like there was an attempt to create a very diverse cast and they succeeded. I'm happy with that. I believe it's possible to find negatives in almost anything, and in a lot of cases they're warranted. This is a case where there are some negatives, but I when looking at the whole picture, what I see is enough positives to outweigh the negatives. And I like to emphasize the positives about it. That's what I'm saying, and that's just my opinion. I completely respect what the rest of you are saying as well, whether you agree or disagree.

Venus Vaughn said...

Hell, I read a book a couple of months ago where all the white people were heroes and all the black people were evil or willing to be swayed by evil.

I wrote the author a letter (on actual paper) via the publishing house and told them I wouldn't buy another one of her books again. It was the first book of her series.

I'm only one person, but I hope the publishing company took note of the sentiment. It's not okay to keep perpetuating the myth that all white people are good and all people of color are bad. It's just not.

imnotasquirrel said...

To Rick - So? Bart Simpson is voiced by a woman. Doesn't mean that a woman should play Bart should there ever be - heaven forbid - a live-action Simpsons adaptation. Appa in Avatar is voiced by Dee Bradley Baker. Why not get a human to dress up in a sky bison suit then? Because that'd be silly.

Voice acting and live acting are two very different mediums. The latter is much more visually based. It is not terribly important for voice actors to 'look' the part, because you can't see them.

(Hmmm...actually, a live-action Simpsons movie might be fun in a train-wreck sort of way. But Bart would still be played by a boy.)

Ello said...

Tomorrow I will post a heartbreaking conversation I had with my daughter on this subject and maybe the people who don't understand why I am objecting may get a little taste of why it hurts me. Someone wrote me a note and said if the role of Storm in X-men had been cast with a white woman instead of Halle Berry, you would have seen a tremendous backlash from the black community. But Asians have always been easier to marginalize because they are not known to protest. But times are changing. We are protesting.

Someone here said that this was no way the same thing as the LIar book cover controversy. I'm sorry, how can you even say that? The whole idea is that the publishing company believed a black face on the cover of the book would not sell it even if the book was about blacks. The same person said that the movie was at least a step in the right direction. Well then by the same token why get mad at the LIar controversy? At least it was a black MC and it was a step in the right direction.

The decision by Paramount was that asian actors could not sell the film only white ones can. Oh yes, we can people the background with ASian fillers, but they can't carry the film. And to everyone of you who says I don't care who plays the characters, I just want to see the story. Well that's fine, you are entitled to believe what you want. But understand that you are allowing them to continue to believe that Asian actors aren't as good as White ones.

Someone said that Lord of the Rings was clearly set in a European setting and therefore a European cast was expected. Well why is it that with such a blatantly ASian setting as the Avatar world is, the producers didn't think that an Asian cast was expected? Because white people are always the heroes, even in another culture?

It's wrong. Keep your blinders on if you want, but you can't shut out our voices because we won't tolerate it any longer.

Sushu Xia said...

I know Jennifer has bowed out, but I just wanted to address her comment that: "If I were to find out one of them had said, "whatever you do don't make Aang Asian because no one will watch the movie" my opinion of this would change in a heartbeat."

I agree with you, that intent is important here, and I wasn't certain about the intent until I found out about the original casting calls for the film:

Casting calls for the main characters asked for "Caucasian or any other ethnicity" instead of "All ethnicities."

Casting calls for the extras were for "Near Eastern, Middle Eastern, Far Eastern, Asian, Mediterranean & Latino Ethnic groups" to "dress in traditional cultural ethnic attire... If you’re Korean, wear a kimono. If you’re from Belgium, wear lederhosen.”

cite

Yes, the casting process looked for many different ethnicities, but (a) specifically for background characters, and (b) with little respect to the various ethnic cultures depicted in the original show.

pacatrue said...

A collection of random comments that likely only interest me:

1) Delilah, I disagree very much with the idea that white people or Americans have no culture. This is a misconception I try to fight in my classes, mostly arising from white Americans like you and me. White American culture is just so dominant that people forget it's there. Blue jeans are a national dress, just as much as a kimono. I love kimonos and I love blue jeans. I remember when the USSR fell and tons of Russian youths were desperately trying to get American blue jeans because they represented a cool, previously forbidden culture. Similarly, it's common in China (and other places) to be enamored with the English language as a pure fashion statement. At least in the early 90s, young Chinese people would wear t-shirts with the most bizarre "English" expression on them. They weren't even coherent, but they were English-looking words and that was enough.

2) This isn't a comment on either "side" of the debate, but in a lot of live theater, from community to professional regional productions (not sure about Broadway), there's a tradition of ignoring race on stage. I remember a production of Dickens' Christmas arol with a black Bob Cratchett. The audience is trained to ignore this and just appreciate the person that brings the character alive. In movies, we don't allow such a concept at all. We expect everything to be as realistic as possible, including the race of the actor and the race of the character. I don't know what this means for Racebending; just an observation.

3) Which isn't to say that white-washing doesn't happen in live theatre. It's old now, but there was an incredible stink when the producers of the original Miss Saigon cast a white guy in one of the lead roles -- a Vietnamese character. But I can't disparage the production too much, because one of my old high school friends got his biggest part early in his career in that show. He later helped co-found Second Generation, a company that puts on Asian-American-related/themed/created shows.

4) It's a shame that all these issues are going on when the director is perhaps the most famous Asian-American director ever in our nation's history.

5) I think there has been some progress on media having non-white people in the leads where the target audience is a general American audience, including the barely majority whites. I remember suddenly thinking during that oh-so-enlightened movie Rush Hour II at some point that our three protags were Chinese, black, and Puerto Rican, and almost every white person was bad or incompetent. Critically, the target audience for this movie was not an ethnic niche. It was intended to be for white Americans as much as for anyone else. (Of course, Rush Hour II mostly depended upon action and comedy, not romance or drama, places where minorities are often allowed first, and some progress does not eradicate the seeming backward steps of TLA.)

5) No, probably won't see the movie. In solidarity with some of my friends.

Nishant said...

Hopefully, you know someone who isn't exactly the same as you but your voice needs some authenticity

Observer157 said...

Similar complaints about racebending were made about the 21 blackjack movie starring Kevin Spacey

http://www.8asians.com/2008/04/01/the-mit-tech-movie-21-discriminatory-casting-unjustified/

http://tech.mit.edu/V128/N15/21casting.html