It’s happened again. Hollywood has once again ‘whitewashed’ a movie for the sake of financial and commercial success.
I wasn’t a fan of Avatar: the Last Airbender, but have seen a few episodes. And, from what I have gathered, the American-created, Anime-styled comic is heavily influenced by Asian and Inuit culture.
The debate around it stems from whether the characters are white or Asian. Which, because it’s Anime-styled and Anime characters are often Eurasian or white-looking(typical of Asian cartoons), it’s hard to tell.
Naturally, Asians assumed they are Asians, and when it was announced a live-action movie would be made, Asians felt this was their opportunity to shine. But, like 21 and Dragonball-Z before it, the studios cast all white actors (Aang to karate-trained Texan Noah Ringer; Sokka to Jackson Rathbone (Twilight); Katara to Nicola Peltz (Deck The Halls); and Zuko to Jesse McCartney) in the lead roles. In the case of Avatar: the Last Airbender, there was even controversy around a casting call memo that asked for “Caucasian and other ethnicities.” The studios and producer Frank Marshall quickly distanced themselves from the memo, insisting it was done by a third-party, independent casting agent. Also under fire is director, writer and producer M. Night Shyamalan, of East Indian descent, who many felt should have spoken in defence of casting Asian actors. As it stands, the only Asian actor in a ‘lead’ role is actor Dev Patel of Slumdog Millionaire .
Despite Frank Marshall’s defence of the casting, the damage was done. Petitions began appearing online asking to boycott and protest the movie, opening in theaters in July. In response, Viacom, the owner of the rights to the movie, has gone as far as to use “copyright” law to censor some of the backlash. Case in point:
The signs were created by zazzle.com and it has been ordered by Viacom to remove any reference to the movie and its characters, whose licensing it owns.
Many (mostly whites) argue that the characters are not Asian because they look European, which I don’t dispute, but that’s a whole different topic. However, comic book artist Derek Kirk Kim said it best:
“Imagine if someone had made a “fantasy” movie in which the entire world was built around African culture. Everyone is wearing ancient African clothes, African hats, eating traditional African food, writing in an African language, living in African homes, all encompassed in an African landscape…but everyone is white. How offensive, insulting, and disrespectful would that be toward Africans and African Americans? How much more offensive would it be if only the heroes were white and all the villains [sic] and background characters were African American? (I wince in fear thinking about THE LAST AIRBENDER suffering from the latter dynamic — which it probably will.)”
Let’s hope Avatar: the Last Airbender suffers the same fate as Dragonball-Z until the studios get it: give [white] people the benefit of the doubt and stop harboring and promoting racism and exclusion. The world only revolves around whites because you insist that it does and do everything to maintain this status quo.