M. Night Shyamalan's The Last Airbender

Discussion in 'Archive: SF&F: Films and Television' started by Miana Kenobi, Dec 10, 2008.

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  1. Jek_Windu Jedi Master

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  2. Lord Vivec Chosen One

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    *headdesk*

    There is absolutely no reason for Asian characters to be cast by white actors. Absolutely none. It makes no sense. It's like casting all the Native Americans by white actors in a live-action Pocahontas. The reasoning does not exist, and because there is no logical reasoning, the only conclusion that can be drawn is that it's racist. After all, you cannot back the decision to make all the leads (who are supposed to be Asian) white.

    It. Makes. No. Sense.

    Now you can play word games about how calling the casting "racist" personally offends you somehow, but all that are distractions being presented by your post. leia_nabarre's point still stands. All the leads are being played by white actors when all the lead characters are Asian. There is no justification for this.
  3. Jek_Windu Jedi Master

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    Except, perhaps, that Shyamalan didn't care and just wanted the movie cast- an idea that would trouble me more than "oh, their the wrong race", as it would point to Shyamalan not really caring about making a quality film. Also, try not to belittle the opinions of others when you're accusing a person and group of being racists; it detracts from the credibility of your argument- further eroding the chance that you will be taken seriously.

    I can see where this is coming from and would give it more consideration, except for the fact that it seems to be entirely based on the fact that fans are nervous about a live-action adaptation. I can't help but feel that if all the cast had been Asian, people would still be complaining that they didn't "fit". It's only that the difference in race opens up this line of argument.

    As for being personally offended, it's because you seem to be comparing the casting a live-action movie of a cartoon to, say, what happened in Jena two years ago. Honestly, calm down, wait and see- then go off on a crusade. To react like this from the announcement is rash and illogical. Ask yourself, what reason would M. Night Shyamalan, an Indian born director who is an admitted fan of the series, have for casting racially? Really? Do you honestly think the "average American" is so backward they can't accept the idea of non-white leads, therefore necessitating some racist conspiracy to cast them white? Seriously, what would be the point of that? All it takes is a quick bit of channel surfing or a wiki search to discover the shocking truth- Avatar has Asian characters. Really, if someone were prejudiced enough not to watch a movie with non-white leads, why would they watch this movie anyway? Is the race of the actor going to drastically change the content or theme of the story?
  4. Lord Vivec Chosen One

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    I'm not blaming the director here. I'm blaming the producers. One thing that the producers are clearly afraid of is that if they have a cast of Asian no-name actors, people won't watch it because they'll see it as an Asian B-movie. Now it may be a legitimate fear, but it's still no justification to choose an all white cast. It is clearly racist.
  5. Jek_Windu Jedi Master

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    No. It would be clearly business. The key phrase is B-movie. The public will go see foreign films, or films starring non-whites- but very rarely will they see a B-movie.
  6. Lord Vivec Chosen One

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    "Purely business?" Pfft!

    Racist acts during business is still racism.

    Choosing a white person over a black person to represent a company because of some business fear is still racism.
  7. Jek_Windu Jedi Master

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    No. Racism requires there to be discriminatory intent for the sake of discrimination. This, if true, would be business practices. Saying the producers are racist is like saying that Affirmative Action is always completely fair.
  8. BobaMatt TFN EU Staff

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    Negative reaction otherwise would have been for separate reasons. Sure, fans often complain about fannish things.

    But this is not trivial and it's not connected to the fandom - it's a larger, "political" question, particularly because, as has been pointed out, this is not the first time it's happened, which points to an at least subconscious inability on the part of filmmakers to reconcile characters that don't look white with fantasy, or at least a belief that nonwhite characters are not bankable. This is no more trivial than the need to have respectable Black and Female superheroes. If the characters races and features were indeterminate, that would be one thing. If the characters were originally white, and we were asking them to be changed into minorities, that would be something different, too. What has happened here, and has happened again and again and again, is that characters written to be brown or yellow or red are altered to make them white instead of what they were.

    Racism does not, contrary to your statement, require a malicious intent. A great deal of racism is inculturated, institutional, or subconscious. The intent of the producers may not be to slight nonwhite fantasy fans, but the attitude that the characters can and should just be whitewashed despite their presentation in the source material is a racist one. It is not weird if the main character in the Earthsea movie is cast as a White guy, but it would be weird if Harry Potter and his friends were Black. That's a double-standard and a value judgment, whether it's conscious or not.
  9. leia_naberrie Jedi Master

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    io9 is covering the story: Avatar Casting Makes Fans See White.

    Firefox News has picked it up as well: Avatar Casting Rumors Cause Fandom Tremors.


    Even better than Writing to Paramount, we can also Here's a list of email addresses. i09.com and Firefox News picked up the news on the strength of the letter-writing campaign.


    Good points BobaMatt and Lord_Vivec. I think the best thing is to just ignore people like Jek_Windu and focus your energies on letting people know about this and do something about it. As you said, no one expected a black Harry Potter or an Indian Gandalf. But we don't have to raise eyes at a White Katara? Mel Gibson found a whole multitude of racially appropriate people to shoot his movie, Apocalypse but Hollywood cannot find four Asian children?

    The burden of proof is not on us. It's on Paramount and its supporters to make a really good case for why the people in a broadly non-white culture should be White.



  10. BobaMatt TFN EU Staff

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    I wouldn't go that far. We're on a discussion board and Jek deserves as much respect as anyone else even though he disagrees. In fact, I'd venture that if we could engage in discussion and be clear without getting too emotional, Jek might not feel so on the defensive...
  11. Merlin_Ambrosius69 Force Ghost

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    Whether you care to name it "racism" or not, casting actors who do not look like the characters described in the source material is always the wrong/bad/incorrect/foolish choice.

    In the mid-90s, before PJ was attached to LOTR (and the production of those films was still a pie-in-the-sky), insider talk was that producers wanted to make all the elves black, all the dwarves Asian and all the humans Nordic blondes. This is obviously the dumbest idea in filmmaking history, but at the time, when it was unclear whether the public would take to a faithful adaptation of Tolkien, this PC, AA-friendly casting must have seemed to the execs like just the gimmick they needed to draw audiences.

    A few years ago, when the made-for-TV movie Earthsea announced its casting, and especially after the movie premiered, fans of the LeGuin books were incensed that the dark-skinned characters described in the novels had been jettisoned in favor of all whites. The movie came and went without a blip of interest. (I only own the DVD because I'm such a LeGuin fan, but the movie is dreadful beyond belief.)

    In conclusion, this is simply NOT a good decision on Shyamalan's part -- all the more bewildering given that Night himself is Indi-American.

    You wouldn't cast Superman as a freckled redhead.

    You wouldn't cast Robin Hood as a black dude.

    You wouldn't cast Tarzan as a black dude!

    You wouldn't cast Wonder Woman as a Nordic blonde.

    You wouldn't cast Hercules as a midget.

    You wouldn't cast Anne of Green Gables as a Spaniard.

    The list goes on! Make your own! The point is that Asian characters should and must be cast with actors of Asian descent... otherwise the filmmakers open themselves up to ridicule, protest and bad press.
  12. Jek_Windu Jedi Master

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    Again, I can see where this debate is coming from, but as I have said before, I feel it is far more inspired by disappointed fans rather than honest concern. After all, is there a letter campaign boycotting Dragonball for making Goku white? Also, Merlin, I'm not sure the Earthsea example really fits here. The race of the characters in Earthsea was integral to the story, philosophy, and world of that series. The same cannot be said for Avatar- the culture is much more critical than race.


    On a similar note, leia you should be proud- you convinced my mom. :oops:
  13. BobaMatt TFN EU Staff

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    And I think a lot of the negative reaction you're getting is because this is condescending.
    There was some backlash, actually, but that whole project is considerably more low key...of course, there's also the fact that this is what he looks like.
    [image=http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/3/33/Three_Super_Saiyan_Stages_of_Son_Goku.PNG]
    I think you're misunderstanding. This is not about the look and feel of the fandom, it's about dignity and respect for artistic vision and for the fans, particularly nonwhite fans. The problem is not a question merely of the casting not fitting, but a question of the fact that Hollywood repeatedly thinks it's a-okay to jettison character description in favor of making things all white. Why is it unacceptable to actually present characters as brown/yellow/red when the fans clearly accepted them as they were? Why is making them white favorable?

    And maybe I'm just not a big Earthsea fan (I'm not) but how is race more important/culture less important there than in Avatar?
  14. Jek_Windu Jedi Master

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    You're right, I am being condescending, and for that I apologize- but I find extraordinarily difficult to seriously consider an argument where the key piece of evidence can be boiled down to "because it is".


    With Earthsea, Le Guin switched the racial paradigm- those dark-skinned were in the power position, those light-skinned oppressed. This was key to the world she built and the philosophies presented by the work. By casting them as mostly white, something was taken from the story. There lies the reason I'm not up in arms about the casting of Avatar- the characters' races are irrelevant, their nationality is where problems come in. Changing their perceived racial backgrounds takes nothing away from the story.

    That said, the casting does concern me for a similar reason. The hardest thing about making this movie is condensing a 20 episode season into a 2 hour movie. By casting the characters as different races (that doesn't mean all Asian or all White/Arab/Wookiee, but a mix), Shyamalan would have given the audience a visual cue that would allow them quickly grasp the core conflicts driving the war. Since that is not there, he's going to have to take time in the script to explain and show it- time that will be very precious when you're trying to get Aang from the Southern Water Tribe to the North Pole in the span of 4 episodes. Remember, the most important things in The Last Airbender are going to be parts like Kyoshi Island- the introduction of concepts and characters that don't become critical until much later.
  15. BobaMatt TFN EU Staff

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    Because it is again and again and again. Because the characters weren't white and now they unilaterally are, and there's no reason for it.
    Gotcha. Like I said, I don't know much about Earthsea.
    Again, the umbrage taken has nothing to do with the story and everything to do with Real World racial politics and this, I think, is where our arguments break down: you're arguing about something that we're not talking about.
  16. Jek_Windu Jedi Master

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    That's the thing, there is another possible reason- they just didn't care. Look at it this way: if you're a producer/casting director stuck working on a project you hate, have no faith in, and are sure will fail anyway- or one you're desperately trying to save financially, are you going to work hard or take the path of least resistance? From there, which is easier- finding young Asian actors who will all be no names (how many young Asian actors are there in Hollywood- there need to be more) or finding kids with brand appeal you feel will draw in large crowds? Three of the four released cast are established youth actors, and two of them (Rathborne and McCartney) are guaranteed to draw in teen girls. I would be more inclined to agree that this move was racist if all the cast were white no-names. As it is, it seems much more likely that they were cast for their names rather than their race. And as I said in the other thread, I'll be wholeheartedly behind letter-writing/boycotting when there is clear evidence of wrongdoing. Right now, there's too much chance that it's a case of poorly presented brand-name appeal.
  17. BobaMatt TFN EU Staff

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    What is?
    Which would be disrespectful to the artistic vision of the original piece, and what's more, to see it as unimportant is problematic for the racial reasons.
    Is there any indication that any of this is the case, given the property?
    Using no-name actors is more or less the norm when casting children, but the problem we're discussing is the attitude that an Asian or otherwise minority look is expendable. Again, a black Harry Potter is unthinkable, regardless of the fact that his race isn't ever explicitly mentioned in the books, because he's understood to be white, as are his friends'. We'll take it back to Earthsea, for which, according to you, race isn't just important because that's the way it was written, it was important to the actual story - why, then, were the characters' races more or less jettisoned?
    Because the fact of their being Asian, and a number of them dark-skinned, was seen as useless information.
    I think you have a rather narrow view of what racism actually is. We're not saying that the producers hate Asian people, or that they're seeking to hurt Asian people. We're saying that the creators, most likely unconsciously, do not value the ethnic appearance of the characters; they have decided that however the characters are presented in the source material, White works just fine as a sort of racial neutral that can just replace and supersede other identities. It's got a lot to do with White Privilege. In particular, I think the "self-image" and "absence of racism" subheadings of that article are relevant.
  18. Jek_Windu Jedi Master

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    I was referring to the first sentence of your previous reply "and there's no reason for it." Sorry, I should have made that clearer- I was rushing.


    Possibly. You see, as much as we love Avatar, it's not particularly well-known outside of kids and those adults who've stumbled upon it. The only way the movie is going to make money is if it can draw in people who have never heard of Avatar or had no previous interest in the title. Hence, trying to find names recognizable to teens outside of Avatar's subject demographic (how many girls who love Jesse McCartney would be expected to watch Avatar?).


    That's usually true, but in order to be a success The Last Airbender must emulate the series and attract people outside of the children's movie demographic. For Harry Potter, you're right. But answer me this, if Harry had been cast as African-American, would the producers have been accused of racism or just stupidity?

    As for the Earthsea examples, I ask when do the races of the characters become important in the story? It was always their nationality that was called into question. The Fire Nation was fighting because the other nations were the wrong color, but because they had the wrong magic powers. In fact, if a Fire Nation baby had been somehow taken and raised by an Earth Kingdom family, would that child not experience the same discrimination from Fire Nation soldiers, despite their cultural background?


    Thank for the link, it was informative- I've heard of that term before, but never had anyone try to really explain it. That's true to a certain extent, but I would point to this debate itself for evidence against the idea of "absence of racism". Would people be so vehemently decrying this as racist if the cast had been all black, or all Arab? Though they experience it far less than minorities- and it is rarely taken seriously when they do- many whites have been the victim of being accused of being racists simply because they're white; something that would be called racism if it were a minority. After all, is it not considered racist to assume someone of Arab/Persian descent of hating Jews simply because of their racial/cultural background?


    Although it didn't occur to me until that last post, I'm really becoming convinced that name power may the reason here. I'm willing to bet that if Disney or Nickelodeon had a young, Asian star somewhere, they would've been cast in this movie. Given the people involved (remember, the creators of the series itself are listed as executive producers), it seems much more likely that they are doing what they can to ensure financial success.

    Now, what it is really troubling from a racism standpoint is the question o
  19. BobaMatt TFN EU Staff

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    Stupidity, but then I doubt a decision like that would be made for the same reasons. The larger point, though, is that if something like that clearly makes no sense - again, a role where the character's race isn't important to the story, but is part of him nonetheless - then why is it so easy and acceptable to change people into white characters on a whim?
    This is one of the reasons I mentioned Harry Potter - it's true that the color and facial features of the characters in Avatar is less important to the story, but we're offended for reasons that lie almost entirely outside of story concerns and everything to do with us right here in the Real World with the filmmakers.
    Agreed, mostly. The thing with "absence of racism," however, is applicable in the idea of unconscious racism, and the tendency to believe that racism isn't really something that happens anymore.
    It is, but it's not really what's going on here. A value judgment was made.
    Which is not something wholly outside of this argument - the reason there aren't any, largely, is because there is no market for them.
  20. Jek_Windu Jedi Master

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    I would suppose its easier to change the race of the characters of Avatar because it's a fantasy setting. Harry Potter is much closer to urban fantasy, where the real world marches on right beside the magical one. As for changing them to white, I would say it hasn't been easy at all. Look at what's happening here. The producers would've received less backlash if they had decided to make them all 20 and have an Aang/Katara sex scene in the first half.



    And that's where the racism argument runs into trouble. While racial motivation is certainly plausible, is it more so than the idea of name recognition and attempting to draw in the crowd? It's hard to argue it in Real World terms because no one from the production team has weighed in on the controversy. When they do, we'll have clues to whether it was intentionally racial, or if they just didn't see the implications.


    And the source of that feeling? People seeing discrimination around every corner and being unable to convince populace. It happens so often that now the public is easily blinded against real issues of racism, such as what happened in Jena.


    Yes it was, and the crux of the debate here seems to be whether it was intentional or an unintended consequence.


    There is a market for them- it's just they have been pigeonholed into the comedy relief. We see plenty of Asian characters as sidekicks (Harold and Kumar despite the name order, Disturbia), but very rarely to we see anyone but Jackie Chan or foreign-born Asian actors in lead roles.


  21. BobaMatt TFN EU Staff

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    And black people don't exist in London?
    The backlash came after they announced the casting. I like to think if they had the chance to do it over again, now.
    The very point is that it very well may not be intentionally racial, but instead a symptom of an inculturated, institutional tendency that does not value non-whiteness as much as it does whiteness.
    Not at all.
    Because an Asian actor, in ways that not even Black and Latinos have to contend with anymore, is still viewed as Asian first and an actor second. A character cannot often be incidentally Asian.

    And Harold & Kumar are both Asian, technically, and that movie did a pretty good job of giving us two guys in a movie where their race wasn't particularly central to the plot.
    So that Asians, who fill a number of roles in American society, are rarely anything but comic relief or Karate fighters doesn't smack as bias?

    The reason there aren't any big Asian stars is because there aren't any significant Asian roles, and a reluctance to cast Asians in race-neutral roles.
  22. Jek_Windu Jedi Master

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    Not many with green eyes.


    But would that still be the case if they were going for name recognition? Wouldn't that change it into a case of valuing pre-existing fame over trying to make new stars?



    I wholeheartedly agree with these statements. But in particular instance, I would say this is part of the result rather than part of the cause. A vicious cycle you could say- some people don't see Asians in neutral roles, so only cast them in one niche. Asian actors that do not fit this niche do not get cast, and therefore are not recognized. Then when a movie comes up requiring a serious Asian lead, studios are forced to take chances on no-names. The Last Airbender, I think, is on the latter part of this cycle.

  23. BobaMatt TFN EU Staff

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    Point. I think the larger point stands, though.
    No, because the characters are Asian looking, a good many of them dark skinned, and that was considered disposable.
    I wish it was. Instead, they've decided that the characters don't need to be Asian, after all...
  24. Jek_Windu Jedi Master

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    We really need someone from the studio to weigh in on this somehow, or it could shot the movie in the foot.


    Then again, you know what they say about publicity.
  25. BobaMatt TFN EU Staff

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    I'll give you a case in point. There's a movie out called Nothing Like the Holidays. It's supposed to be "universal," but the fact that the family is Puerto Rican and appears affluent is very different choice - even if, in the end, it's not central - than if the family was White. The choice might, perhaps, be more salient to me, as a middle-class Puerto Rican than to others, but hey.

    Another example - the all-black production of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof here in NY was stupid, because it assumed nothing would change instead of exploring what that casting choice meant.

    It's important that there was a fantasy setting filled entirely with what we'd recognize as Asian people that could easily stand it's own in a genre dedicated to Tolkien rip-offs, and it's important that Paramount decided to change it. Even the fact that it wasn't considered salient enough to preserve is indicative of a racial value system.
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