Overthinking so you don't have to.
It takes merely a glance at the title to notice some degree of Asian influence in the hit cartoon series Avatar: The Last Airbender. The show, which has won over diverse audiences since its airtime on Nickelodeon, is a surprisingly epic martial arts story that crossed cultural boundaries by appealing to mainstream audiences with good story, quality animation, and Appa.
Avatar only lasted three seasons, and it was intended to do so. Some argue that this is what allowed Avatar to succeed so well: it was focused. With a definite story arc and a finite ending, the standards were able to be kept high.
Like almost any successful piece of kid targeted work these days, Avatar has gone down the movie franchise route with the production of a live-action film. M. Night Shyamalan’s on it! Fans are excited!
But they, and every person with a minutely cultured brain in her or his head, is probably more offended by Paramount’s decision to cast every main character with a White actor.
Umm, what? I know the voices are mainly Caucasian actors, but even Dante Basco has a role in the actual animated series. Rufio won’t actualize his role as Prince Zuko. Instead, Jesse McCartney will.
Do I even need to say anything about that last one? Anything at all? Really?
Angry Asian Man quickly summed up the series in words that aren’t specifically persuasive of Avatar’s Asian influence, but rather they form a simple synopsis of what naturally, inherently, displays Asian values:
The show is set in an Asian-influenced world of martial arts and elemental manipulation, following the adventures of the hero Aang and his friends, who must save the world by defeating the Fire Lord and ending the destructive war with the Fire Nation.
I think the closest you could come to Caucasian “elemental manipulation” would be to track the history of witchcraft. Maybe X-Men – and even Storm was Black.
This has popular bloggers from interdisciplinary subjects buzzing, including the reliable animation industry read, Cartoon Brew:
To rub salt in the wound, this is what actor Jackson Rathbone told an interviewer about how he needs to prepare to play a role in Avatar: “I definitely need a tan.” Unbelievable.
I’m having a very hard time not filling this post with repeating lines of “WHAT THE FUCK.” If you know me, you know I’m staunchly against the casual usage of the word “retarded” to describe things that aren’t actually mentally challenged. Situations like this, though, make me want to slap someone across the table and ask “How fucktarded can you be??”
When a role is ethnically ambiguous, I’m all for spicing up the diversity on screen with characters that don’t fit stereotypes. But when you come up with a cultural story like this, one whose very inception was inspired by Asian martial arts, it is your well-funded storyteller’s duty to be respectful of that which you are portraying. By not casting Asians in Asian roles, you are perpetuating the notion that Asians can’t act, that they don’t have a place in American arts, that they are not worthy of American media, that they have no voice in how their cultures (however artistically interpreted) are exhibited. It is a complete violation of simple cultural respect to take this project from the lands where its inspiration came from and give it an assimilated yellow face. Or worse, to not even bother at all.
The creators of Avatar, are not “all Asian” and nor are they “all White.” In the interviews I’ve seen of the two, Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko are all respectful of the source of their story and never fail to mention Avatar’s Asian influence. They’ve probably been advised by lawyers and execs to speak nothing of the issue. Their stomachs are probably doing flips right now as they consider the cash that’s about to come into their pockets. They’re probably fully aware that right now they appear about as trustworthy as, well, our last President.
I urge you to protest this film if you are in the Philadelphia area. I’m boycotting it if it comes out with the same cast that has been announced.
One thing I will say, damn, Shyamalan, you actually surprised me on this one. Way to represent, fucktard.
And just because this is really just sick in a twisted way, here’s info on that extras casting session in Philly:
“Casting folks are looking for extras to play soldiers, martial artists, dancers, gymnasts, athletes and families — specifically physically fit people from 18 to 65 years old. The open call will be 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday at Bullies restaurant at the Wachovia Spectrum. You’re asked to dress casually or in the traditional costume of your family’s ethnic background. Info: firstname.lastname@example.org or 215-574-7878.”