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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    That statement I can come close to agreeing with. This decision was stupid because it added nothing, and simply made Shyamalan's job as writer/director harder. I'm not prepared to call it racially motivated though- it really seems like an example of the Law of Unintended Consequences.
  2. BobaMatt TFN EU Staff

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    I'm inclined to agree, in large part. I don't think it was intended as racist. The fact of its inherent racism may never have even occurred to the producers. Which is white privilege defined. :p

    Of course, we're never going to agree on this 100%, but it seems we've come to a respectable standstill.
  3. leia_naberrie Jedi Master

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    Sci-Fi.com have picked up the story!!!


    But the actor cast as Harry Potter does not have green eyes. So that point - that it was eye, not skin-colour that influenced the casting - is invalid.
  4. BobaMatt TFN EU Staff

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    I don't think that was actually the argument he was making, there.
  5. Merlin_Ambrosius69 Force Ghost

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    I've never seen episode of the Avatar animated show. I have no emotional investment in the success of a live-action film. I am a fan of the Earthsea Trilogy, the movie version of which I believe was ruined in large part by casting white actors in black and dark-skinned roles. I see a repeat of that same mistake here, so I'm joining the voices in opposition to Shyamalan's choices.

    Here are some of the more salient passages from the Sci-Fi.com article:


    Marjorie Cohn, executive vice president, development and original programming, once stated, "Creators Bryan Konietzko and Mike DiMartino designed a fantastical Asian world with compelling characters and interesting creatures that will capture kids' imaginations and spirit."

    A Nickelodeon press release said, "The unique attributes of the show--epic storytelling, Asian influence and film quality graphics--have generated one of the most passionate fan bases in Nickelodeon's history."

    Over at mnightfans.com, David argued the following: ".... If there was a cartoon mythology based on African culture, and because of the magic, it was clearly not our world, does that mean when you make a movie about it that you'd hire white people to act on the subject matter, which is based on African culture? Or reverse that. If there was a cartoon mythology based on British culture and history, if you turned it into a movie, would you get Africans to play the main characters? I think the respectful thing to do is to hire people to play the characters who actually have something to do with the source culture the mythology is based on. If someone was going to make a movie about World War II, when the Japanese invaded Pearl Habor, can you imagine if they cast Japanese to play Americans? And Americans to play Japanese? That movie would be such a joke. It would make no sense. The same applies here."


    The above-quoted fan makes excellent points, and the Nickelodeon press releases clarifies that Avatar was indeed intended to depict an Asian milieu. While I understand that the Avatar characters were designed to represent a variety of unspoken ethnicities (rather than being definitely Asian across the board), even this admixture is not reflected in the casting.

    The casting of all whites, in roles at least a portion of which are meant to be Asians, bespeaks an obvious ploy for mainstream acceptance -- that is, financial success -- on the part of Paramount and Shyamalan. The latter, a once-respected wunderkind director whose last two films have been poorly received, appears to be cynically and desperately forcing an originally multi-cultural project into a cookie-cutter mold that will be readily embraced by the Twilight demographic: white adolescent middle America.

    I find this maneuver highly questionable, and I will continue to speak out against it until or unless the news is satisfactorily explained by the corporation, the director and/or the creators.
  6. Jek_Windu Jedi Master

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    You make excellent points, and I can agree with one thing- I want to hear what Shyamalan and Paramount have to say about what they did. Personally, I believe that it was motivated by short-sighted financial concerns, and the decision-makers didn't realize the implications. What concerns me as how they could possibly have missed such an obvious no-no.

    For the movie itself, there's still some hope that will be quality- but this controversy is going to mar the movies and, by extension, the series itself.


    Also, I think Shyamalan and Paramount are in a rather sticky position as to what to do next. If they ignore the anger, it will only go worse and completely overshadow everything they do with the movie. At the same time, however, if they give in to what fans want (a full or partial recasting), they could lose a lot credibility and be seen by the general public as closer to Snakes on A Plane than Harry Potter.


    Also, for future casting decisions, I really hope they choose Jason Issacs to play Zhao. That man made the character.
  7. BobaMatt TFN EU Staff

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    See? Once the dust settles it turns out we pretty much agree.
    Epic fail.
    Not to mention that they probably won't be very popular in the industry because they've written up contracts.

    If change is going to be made on the project, it's probably going to be allowed to die, and then resurrected with a new producer/director team. More likely, they're just going to go ahead with it.
  8. Dawud786 Force Ghost

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    It's absolutely critical that the characters in Avatar be preserved as Asian characters portrayted by Asian actors. The fact that they've cast white actors as the leads is bad enough, what if they were to do it as "yellow face"? That'd be doubly offensive.

    We are talking about an epic opportunity to create characters that kids can relate to, but who do not look like them. Anyone remember this superhero kids show that used to be on the WB a while back called Static Shock? Black lead, was on for quite a while. Had they made a movie and turned the character into a white dude it would've significantly changed the dynamic of the show's world.

    I'm a white dude and I'm super offended by this. I'm a Sino-phile too. I watch mostly Asian films.

    Look, the casting of a white dude as the entree into the fantastical Asian world of The Forbidden Kingdom was largely inconsequential... though there are plenty of Asian Americans that were offended by the main protagonist in that movie being a white kid instead of maybe a Chinese American with no connection or respect for his roots rediscovering them in a dramatic way... that movie wasn't billed with that kid's face. In fact, by the time they started the ad campaign for it they did their best not to feature him in any of the trailers and Jackie Chan and Jet Li got the top billing. This was, after all, their first film together and these legends of Hong Kong cinema had their first on screen fight with each other. And it came outta Hollywood. I respect that project and love that film because of the respect and love that went into the background of the story. The white American writer is a practitioner of Chinese martial arts... loved to read classical Chinese literature when he was a kid... and based the story for that film on stories he'd tell to his son at bedtime that involved his son being miraculously transported into the Journey to the West.

    Avatar The Last Airbender is very much like that, with writers with the same sort of respect and reverence for their influences. The casting choice disrespects that whole thing. It also undermines a means of showing that people can relate to whomever they wish to. Star Wars was an easy one to telegraph for American audiences... but it's captured the imaginations of people all over the world. Race is not important when it comes to capturing imaginations in telling universal stories. However, it's quite important when you take a story that is set in what is for all intents and purposes a fantastical version of ancient China and casting it with white actors. It says a great deal about the motivations of studio execs whether it's conscious or unconscious.

    You could make the very same argument about Jade Empire for being an "Asian-influence fantasy world, not Asia" but that just doesn't ring true at all. You can bet your bottom dollar that had BioWare constructed an Asian fantasy world and then populated it with non-Asian characters... instead of populating it with Asian characters and a strange Englishman type dude that pesters their philosophers and scholars... there would've been a uproar. Exactly as there would've been a few cross looks given to Chuck Dixon had he made his CrossGen hit Way of the Rat into an Asian fantasy world populated by white folks rather than Asians.

    Point is, not only is this choice of casting racist... it's blatantly bad for the story because it removes all possibility of believability of the world because the people populating the world don't match up with the culture, philosophy, art, food, dress etc of said world. This is just as bad as casting David Carradine as Kwai Chang Caine in Kung Fu when that role was initially developed for Bruce Lee.

    For the record, I'd rather see this movie made in Hong Kong... choreographed by Yuen Woo Ping or Sammo Hung... heck, perhaps the fight choreography and direction should be Sammo Hung. Given a Hollywood sFX budget, Sammo would turn out a better product and be true to the source material.

    You want to see the real Aang?

    This kid, with the tuft of forelock:
    h
  9. Quiet_Mandalorian Force Ghost

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    Apr 19, 2005
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    I'll have to disagree with you there, Matt. A good many of the extras and minor characters may look Asiatic, but to my eyes at least, the main cast themselves generally look like Caucasoids, regardless of skin tone.

    Somehow, I'm not surprised. :p
  10. Miana Kenobi Costuming & Props Mod - Retired Admin

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    Jackson Rathbone talks to MTV about The Last Airbender

    I'm a bit happy about this interview. He mentions how he's loved the show for a while, so at least we have it confirmed that one of them at least knows about their character. :p

    It also talks a bit about the casting controversy, which Rathbone says he hopes "the audience will suspend disbelief a little bit."
  11. Fel_Freak228 Jedi Master

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    Nov 23, 2007
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    Rathbone is the only cast member that I'm close to liking so far, he has a very 'Sokka' look to him, I can't wait to see what he looks like all costumed up. (is 'costumed' even a word?[face_laugh]) I really think he'll be able to pull it off.
  12. Miana Kenobi Costuming & Props Mod - Retired Admin

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    The interviews and stuff he did for Twilight has me very certain that I'll love him as Sokka. He very much has Sokka's voice and goofy personality.
  13. Dawud786 Force Ghost

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    The part about suspending disbelief was racist as hell of that kid.
  14. Miana Kenobi Costuming & Props Mod - Retired Admin

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    I didn't really take it as racist; I think he was just touching on the fact that he hopes people won't be watching the film to see whether or not he looks Inuit but will be watching the film to just watch the film.
  15. Dawud786 Force Ghost

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    Trust me, that's not how Asians and African Americans on some other forums took it.
  16. Miana Kenobi Costuming & Props Mod - Retired Admin

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    Well, I'm not either, so that's probably why. ;)
  17. leia_naberrie Jedi Master

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    Fortunately, history has shown that there will always be people amongst the privileged majority who have been willing to put themselves in the other person's shoes. If everyone adopted the attitude of "Well it's not my problem", humanity would never have moved forward.

    Your reaction - indifference, amusement - may not even be intended to offend. It doesn't stop you from being just that - offensive.
  18. BobaMatt TFN EU Staff

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    I didn't think that's how he meant it. What he was saying was that he's not particularly sensitive to certain attitudes because he's not experienced in them.

    Anyway, the problem with the kid's statement is the idea that we'll just nod along if he gets a tan, and further, the idea, again, that somehow this doesn't matter at all.

    Did anyone see Tropic Thunder?
  19. henchman24 Jedi Knight

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    Feb 22, 2008
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    As far as movies go, if they cast a black guy as Batman/Superman/whoever, as long as the guy can act, really act, I'd prefer it to some stiff who looks the part and can't act. This election alot of people voted for Obama because he is black, alot voted against him because he is black, both are folly. Voting for the RIGHT PERSON FOR THE GIG, regardless of color, is the way. No one had a problem with Will Smith playing Jim West, why is that? Racism is what it is, no reverse needed.

    Thinking that any role needs to be filled by a specific race, of asiatic descent or otherwise, is just as racist as casting a bunch of white kids just because I like white people.

    My real problem isn't the casting of random races of actors to play the part, its the crapfest of teenbeat stiffs who are bound to destroy this franchises potential, before it gets off the ground. This casting is about name recognition at the box office, not race. While this is ok for us as a society trying to progress past race, its awful to see as a movie fan.

    How about getting some young actors with some chops for once.
  20. BobaMatt TFN EU Staff

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    Because it was a modern revision of a campy TV show in which the ethnicity of the characters wasn't actually central to the setting? Because, in the script, it was worked into the setting? Because the movie was so bad in every other aspect that no one really cared much?
    I'm sort of unclear how you can actually believe this. The artists behind Avatar made a choice, and the idea that that choice is merely unimportant is as silly as deciding to cast a white Static Shock or - hopefully they won't bother with another Spawn movie - Al Simmons. It's why there isn't a proliferation of Black actors playing Nazis in American WWII films.

    Ironically, this was part of the reason that the looks of the bad humans in the LotR movies was preserved rather than changed to be PC - because the artist's vision was what it was.
  21. Dawud786 Force Ghost

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    I really don't like the dismissal of this serious misstep on the part of casting, just because people are afraid of being "racist" or "reverse racist." This is a wholly different situation than just casting someone randomly in some random modern setting. This whole thing is set in a specifically East Asian inspired fantasy world. Can you imagine having playable character choices in Jade Empire that didn't look Asian? That didn't fit the setting? It makes no sense, and to ask me to suspend disbelief so long as the kid pulls up his hair and gets a fracking tan is the epitome of outrageous AND condescending.

    It's also dismissive of all the Asian children that saw themselves and their cultural heritage being depicted heroically in the American media world, and it wasn't something that was imported from overseas no less.

    I'm waiting for the martial arts consultant guys that post on a forum I go to to say something about this in the thread we've got going over there. Folks there are outraged and offended by this for the most part too.
  22. henchman24 Jedi Knight

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    You write as though Avatar isn't an adorable kids cartoon, I don't see the difference. A campy TV show can't be made an example in this case? Avatar is a frekin cartoon. If I was to re-write Static Shock's(mentioned below) backstory for my new script, in order to make it race specific for casting, would that then be ok? You seem to think so for Wild West, why not any tall tale? Perhaps if the movie makes race a non issue in the script, you will be appeased? Sell your franchise rights to studio, lose ability to complain, as far as the creators are concerned. You think the creators of Wild West had a black man in mind to play the role, but racism got in the way? This ain't Kung Fu. Most absurd of all, because the movie wasn't good, its ok to turn a blind eye to the issue of race in any regard?

    How can I believe this? I am a man of many many problems, but racism isn't one of them, thats how. The creators have no say here, obviously. The artists behind many fictions made a choice too, Jim West, Lantern, Nick Fury...spin it in any direction, personally I am ok with random races being cast for FANTASY tales. The Nazis were also a real part of our worlds history, and not an artists brainchild that got sold to the highest bidder.

    While we may disagree, this is more about fans not wanting anyone to mess with there baby, not race. The reason no one bucked about Wild West...Will Smith is a good actor, and all the folks invested in that show originally are ancient. Avatar is a modern show, creators still very much around and current, as are the devoted fans.

    I would still rather any race of actor play any role in Avatar as long as they can act, which apparently won't be the case. This is my issue with the casting.
  23. henchman24 Jedi Knight

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    Hmm...so a flying bison is ok, but we can't suspend disbelief for a white pop star as Prince Zuko? If you find this condescending, perhaps you should stop watching movies all together, because thats what Hollywood does best. Or maybe take your cartoons a bit less seriously, one of the 2. The Inuit tribes are not "specifically East Asian", in fact they are certainly not... Jade Empire is a cool game =) and you are right to a point, but if they made it into a movie, I wouldn't put anything past a studio exec. This is the difference between an original property with the creators intent being carried out to the letter, and a re-made movie version. This applies here. This simply isn't a race issue from where I stand, again its what big names will draw in sales. The same goes for all the horrible rap stars who are cast in movies nowadays, its not about race left or right, its about draw.(My apologies to the Mighty Mos Def)

    Just because you are a fan doesn't mean every asian kid was proud of how they are depicted here. This all or nothing type of stance is where most bias starts, racial bias included. The cartoon itself may have been dismissive or insulting to many people in its 3 season run. As a fan we don't think about that though. Only when someone steps on our toes do we take issue with it. Any argument for or against racial casting issues, or racial portrayal can easily be spun the other way.

    Martial arts fanboys are just as bad as any other fanboy when it comes to whats right/wrong...if Keanu Reeves can look decent in Matrix, anyone can with the proper choreographer. Being that movie fight scenes are more a dance number than anything else, a pop star might suprise you =P
  24. Jabba-wocky Chosen One

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    First off, let's be done with your ridiculous assertion that all animated programs are apparently no more serious than intentionally campy TV shows. We'll focus on the point about the ability to write race sensibly into the script. In Static Shock and Avatar the Last Airbender, the characters' ethnicities are central to the plot in a way that was simply never true of Wild Wild West. Shock, for instance, dealt with his friend's racist parents, as well as the general difficulties of being black in American society. This was essentially the show's whole selling point: a positive black role model/superhero. There is no way to change the race of the character and retain that message. Similarly, Avatar is about people traveling through mostly Asian geography, where the cities are dominated with Asian architecture, belief structures are distinctly Asian, the written word is in East Asian characters, all weapons and styles of combat are those seen in historically ancient Asia. I could go on. But how is it then possible to fit a white person into all of this, without radically altering things to make it sensible? By contrast, Wild Wild West was about a cowboy/secret agent. The central part of the show was being able to showcase Western and Sci-Fi themes. Historically, there were plenty of black cowboys, and the race of the protagonist doesn't interfere with the message of the show in the same way that a white lead would interfere with portraying a positive black lead character (as would be the case for Static Shock).
  25. Miana Kenobi Costuming & Props Mod - Retired Admin

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    She, but yes, thank you. That's how I meant it.


    My take on him saying "suspend disbelief" would be like if they cast Superman or Robin Hood as an Asian or African-American. You would "suspend disbelief" for a few hours to see if the actor actually does the part JUSTICE before condemning them just for their race.


    Interesting thought for discussion: would there be as much of an uproar and calling of the casting as racist if Katara and Sokka were cast as African-Americans?
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