Browse By

M. Night, say it isn’t so!

I don’t post much about TV stuff because I don’t watch a lot of TV. But when I do, because my tastes have always been eclectic and a little weird, I tend to watch weird eclectic stuff. Thus was born my love of Avatar: The Last Airbender. It’s a children’s cartoon. Yeah, I know. But I fell passionately in love with this show, because it’s frankly some of the most original fantasy I’ve seen in a very long time. Like most good children’s shows, it’s made an effort to appeal to adults as well, through complex subject matter and multi-layered jokes — to great and successful effect. I watched the finale episode at a party with 20 other twenty- and thirtysomething adults, all of whom were literally holding their breath and cheering at various points. Yeah. Over a kids’ cartoon. It’s that good. Go rent/buy it and see for yourself.

But let me be blunt: one of the things that hooked me about this show was that it was set in an all-Asian world. And it wasn’t fucked up. OK, let me clarify. You know how usually, when there’s an Asian character in an American TV show, he (or more frequently she) ends up as the martial arts master, the (white) hero’s submissive love interest, the dragon lady vamp, or the magical elderly person dishing out nonsensical proverbs and occasionally a can of whoopass? The thing is, all of these stereotypes are present in Avatar to some degree. But because the whole world is Asian, they’re lost in a sea of non-stereotypical, non-exoticized, perfectly normal human beings. How amazing is that? Not only that, but Avatar actually depicts different Asian ethnicities. Though this is a fantasy world, there are clear allusions to the Inuit, Koreans, Mongols, Tibetans, several flavors of southeast Asian, various Indians, and more. The Chinese- and Japanese-analogues of the story actually come in several varieties (Earth Kingdom and Fire Kingdom, Kyoshi warriors, etc.). Better still, while there are lots of martial artists in the show, the vast majority of people in this world wouldn’t know a punch from Hawaiian Punch. Just like most people anywhere. I know, huh? Good shit.

Given all this, I wasn’t surprised that M. Night Shyamalan, twist-director extraordinaire, was drawn to the material in order to make a live-action film. I was actually excited about his direction when I heard. I don’t like all his movies, but at least he’s not some no-name music video director. So it sounds like he’s chosen his cast for the film.

Katara, as played by (non-Asian) Nicola Peltz

Katara, as played by (non-Asian) Nicola Peltz

Zuko, as played by (non-Asian) Jesse McCartney

Zuko, as played by (non-Asian) Jesse McCartney

Sokka, as played by (non-Asian) Jackson Rathbone

Sokka, as played by (non-Asian) Jackson Rathbone

What a twist!

I’m sick of this. I know it happens all the goddamn time, but I’m sick of it. This persistent belief on Hollywood’s part that brown people “don’t sell” has to change. I would’ve expected better from M. Night, who is Asian himself, but as we all know, being a PoC doesn’t make one immune to white supremacist thinking, or stupidity. I’m holding out one hope — that this is some kind of messed-up viral marketing effort, maybe using reverse psychology to get people all riled up about the film so they’ll blog about it, etc. But if this is really the cast they’re planning to go with, I will definitely be boycotting this movie, and urging everyone I know to do the same.

102 thoughts on “M. Night, say it isn’t so!”

  1. Maria says:

    I’m a fan of Avatar too and I’m really not interested in a live action movie. M.N.S. being attached is a plus though. Anyway, I never saw race watching that show. I just saw people. I don’t mean that in some colorblind/we are the world type way, I mean that they looked pretty ambitious to me,as far as race is concerned. And since Avatar isn’t based on the Earth as we know it, I don’t know if it’s accurate to assume that they were Asian to begin with, because there were similarities to many different races in opinion and tradition to more than just Asian throughout the show.

    Regardless – it looks like it’s going to end up like another shitty live action take on a kick ass cartoon. Much like this new Dragonball Z bullshit. That saddens me. Why can’t we leave well enough alone, or at least do it better? I’m holding out hope that they don’t fuck up Akira. :(

  2. QoT says:

    Oh fuck me it’s fucking Earthsea all over again.

  3. eternal_llama says:

    Some people are arguing that they cast technically isn’t literally Asian, but Asian influenced; our racial categories don’t really apply in this case and I said well if the Avatar world is racially ambiguous then why is white the default? Why can’t that ambiguity be used to increase the diversity of the cast instead of whitewashing it? If you want to pretend that Katara and Sokka aren’t Asian/Inuit, fine, but why do they have to be played by whites? Because of the ambiguity you could find talented actors from various from non-white communities to play them since some of them might actually resemble the original characters. If you’re going to make the argument that they don’t have our racial categories well there’s even less excuse to whitewash the cast.

  4. Deirdre Saoirse Moen says:

    What QoT said was exactly my reaction. And then I facepalmed.

  5. Nihilunder says:

    As a white person I feel about as condescended to as you do marginalized. Why do the goons in hollywood think white people just won’t see a movie unless the cast looks like them? I mean, look at us: we help drive the imported anime industry, listen to rap music, and eat up foreign movies on those rare occasions when they are offered.

    Is the message not clear? I can’t help but conclude that they think I’m stupid.

    “But Nihilunder, what about BET and similar programming that doesn’t get a white audience?” If the product is a quality one, we see it; most visual media geared toward non-whites is of questionable quality, and THAT’S why we don’t spend our money on it. If it’s good, we really don’t much care if the cast is all asian, or all black, etc. Honest.

    I love Avatar as well, and I’m sickened at how the studio is going to screw this up. Not that I should be surprised, really; just about every movie adaptation of anything ever made has been crap, so why should this be any different?

  6. Kristen says:

    I belong to an Avatar community on LJ. We all had mixed feelings about the live-action film, but there was a general assumtion that at least some of the cast would be Asian, and that Katara & Sokka would wind up being played by somebody–anybody–with at least a natural deep tan.

    When the casting choices were unveiled, you could actually HEAR the excrement hitting the fan. There are a LOT of people who are deeply infuriated by this. It’s insane. It’s stupid. “There is no Asia in Avatarverse” I saw one defender declaim.

    I suppose. Except for the writing, which is all in Chinese, with scattered Korean. And the clothing, which varies from fantastical to regionally-specific. And the names, which are mostly meaningful, derived-from-Asian-languages ones. And the culture cues, like the background artwork and eating with chopsticks. And the OBVIOUSLY DIFFERENT ETHNICITIES OF THE CAST’S FEATURES.

    FINE. Talent over race. But you can’t tell me that in the entirety of the entertainment industry, there aren’t three decent actors who could at least vaguely resemble their characters. It’s shameful and ridiculous and I, a white girl from southern California who never makes a stand on anything, am not going to pay one cent towards this film.

  7. amy says:

    Ugh. I’m with you on your entire post.

  8. nojojojo says:


    I mean that they looked pretty ambitious to me,as far as race is concerned. And since Avatar isn’t based on the Earth as we know it, I don’t know if it’s accurate to assume that they were Asian to begin with, because there were similarities to many different races in opinion and tradition to more than just Asian throughout the show.

    I’ve seen a lot of people in reaction to this casting declare that the characters don’t look Asian to them, and I really have to wonder what that means. The character designs, to me, look like Asian people. Not like the caricature Asians too often seen in American cartoons — Asians as defined by white creators, with eye-shapes grossly overemphasized and skin tones that evoke liver failure rather than racial distinctiveness. The characters of the Avatar cartoon look like real Asians, who have widely varied skin colors and varied hair textures and varied bone structures and varied eye-shapes (no, they don’t all have epicanthic folds!). I think the reason a lot of people consider the Avatar characters “ambiguous” is because they’re looking for the caricatures we’re used to, not the realism that the show actually depicts.

    Because it’s so obvious that the characters are meant to be Asian that I think anyone who says they aren’t is smoking something. Good grief, they write in Chinese characters/Japanese kanji. They use chopsticks and teacups without handles. They have names like Mai and Toph Bei Fong. They wear Korean hanboks and Chinese scholars’ robes and Japanese feudal battle-armor and Inuit sealskin. If they’re meant to be white, then why not pepper the show with the trappings of European culture instead? If they’re supposed to be some generic everyrace, then hell, why not toss in some black actors, or Latinos? That makes about as much sense. Zuko’s a bit of a thug; let’s make him black. Hell, let’s make the whole Fire Nation black; Hollywood loves to make us the bad guys. (I nominate Laurence Fishburne for Zuko’s uncle Iroh. “Find the Avatar, nephew, and I’ll show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes…”)

  9. Asada says:

    actually, airbender never came across as Asian, and I always thought his two friends were Inuit. But I do like the story line and would have watched it more if it were not on nick and on more often.

    As told by ginger, SPIRITED AWAY and FullMetalAlchemist are like that too.

    I guess this is the new trend in kids cartoon, appeal to adults as well? Humm….. seems like the trick is to show the innocence with adulthood responsibilities and optimism? These “kids” live very adult lives but get to have fun and almost always come out on top. That’s the point anyway. Plus, the love scenes are kisses, hand holding and loving stares then everyone is happy.

    I swear one day I’m going to come up with a fantasy cartoon Idea. d

  10. jmang says:

    Yes, Asada, there’s absolutely nothing Asian about dressing in hanboks and kimonos, using chopsticks, writing and reading in Chinese characters, and quoting Buddhist scripture. ABSOLUTELY NOTHING ASIAN AT ALL.

  11. Asada says:

    forgive the first part of my last post. I just did a wiki!!!!

  12. Asada says:

    jmang, my apologizes.

  13. Dedicated 2 Emoticons! says:

    “I’ve seen a lot of people in reaction to this casting declare that the characters don’t look Asian to them, and I really have to wonder what that means. The character designs, to me, look like Asian people. Not like the caricature Asians too often seen in American cartoons — Asians as defined by white creators, with eye-shapes grossly overemphasized and skin tones that evoke liver failure rather than racial distinctiveness. The characters of the Avatar cartoon look like real Asians, who have widely varied skin colors and varied hair textures and varied bone structures and varied eye-shapes (no, they don’t all have epicanthic folds!). I think the reason a lot of people consider the Avatar characters “ambiguous” is because they’re looking for the caricatures we’re used to, not the realism that the show actually depicts.”
    I agree with this 100%!

    :-) @ JMang

  14. bankuei says:

    Remember, it’s -only- stuntcasting when it’s a black Dr. Who (alien not tied to ethnicity), not when you take characters of color and make them white!

    Let’s all get ready for the Marky-Mark remake of Malcolm X, coming to a theatre near you!

  15. Kim says:

    Haven’t been here in a while, which is to my discredit – I always love your blog. Big Avatar fan as well, though I came to the party fairly late via the last season. I’m white and don’t really know much about Asian culture outside of anime viewing, but one look at the place and you know it’s a fantasy environment with Asian roots. I’m watching all the way through now and I’m always so surprised and thrilled to see white creators of the show who actually did years of research and worldbuilding, who are inspired by Miyazaki, who have directors and writers and *voice actors* of color so a number of the clearly Asian characters are also being played by Asian people. And an incredible use of gender, as well, but that’s for another blog.

    I’m surprised the cartoon even got made, and made as well and it did, so I’m not entirely shocked Hollywood is messing it up. But I am disappointed. And surprised that a director of color is whitewashing it so clearly, which means he’s either clueless or his hand is being forced. I’m not sure which I’d “prefer.” I don’t actively protest much of anything, and I’m nervous to do so here only because does so well because of vocal fans, and there’s buzz about a spinoff. The movie doing poorly because of a movement behind this might make Nickelodeon think it’s not profitable anymore. But if this is what they’re going to do to it, I’d sooner write in and tell them exactly why they won’t be getting a dime from me either.

  16. ChloeMireille says:

    You know, this would be the post that brings me out of Stealth Mode.

    1. I’d been trying to figure out who the Waterbenders were analogous to since I started watching. I dunno why the Inuit never occurred to me. *headdesk*

    2. Worst. Casting. Ever. Jesse McCartney barely lasted 2 years on a soap opera for goodness sake, and they want him to be Zuko?! No, just NO. And if you’re just going to build a cast of nobodies to be fake Asians, how about hiring a cast of nobodies who actually ARE Asians? I haven’t been this mad since they hired Zoey Deschanel to be Trillian on the Hitchhiker’s Guide movie.

    3. Apparently, their idea of “ethnic casting” these days is hiring “gasp* a brunette with brown eyes! Yeah, whatever.

    4. Nickelodeon has always been decent with multiracial casts, especially in the last 5 years or so….even with their (over)use of the “Sassy Black Friend”. This movie is a huge step back.

  17. Attie says:

    My brother and I were just talking about boycotting the movie. I’m tired of these bastards thinking that we owe them our cash or something. Like as fans of the original series, it’s *obvious* that we’re gonna show up to watch the film, even if it shits all over the source material. Uh no. I’m going to keep my eye on the developments of this movie and if this doesn’t turn out to be fake (or if they don’t change it later on), I’m out. My devotion is to the source material not to some disrespectful remake.

    Oh and can we please talk about all the morons who have been saying “well, it’s better that they choose the best actor/actresses who can play the part well then choose someone else just because the ethnicity matches up”. WHUT? Um, so what indication is there that these particular actors (who all happen to be white) just happen to be the best out of everyone who audition? Where does that assumption come from? Is it so unbelievable to think that there might have been good or even GREAT actors of colour auditioning for the role? The entire ridiculous idea is a strange mixture of naivite and racism.

    Others have even said that it’s better to choose actors that everyone knows than unknowns. Just…wow. I for one, don’t know who the hell these people are, besides McCartney, because he played Roxas in Kingdom Hearts 2. And the assumption that white actors would be better well known than PoCs…and the idea that unknown actors can’t possibly sell a movie, when we’ve seen countless examples to the contrary…my brain hurts.

    Please let this be fake.

  18. Sheana says:

    I pretty much just wanted to chime in and agree that this is totally effed up and disappointing. I was genuinely looking forward to the movie… slightly less so when I heard it would be a live action film, but this has pretty much ruined it for me. How could they assemble an all-white cast for a television show that so clearly evokes many aspects of different Asian cultures? The show’s creators themselves have specifically discussed the different influences, but that apparently has zero impact on having actual, I don’t know, Asian people in these roles.

  19. Rhea says:

    There is a letter campaign about this here ( ), if anyone’s interested.

  20. Lorena says:

    I wanted the actors to be very diverse actually. I thought they had a great opportunity to have a multiethnic cast and they wasted it.

    Someone from LJ posted this and it echoed my sentiments:

    “It’s not that hard to get diversity. Earth Kingdom: find actors from Lebanon eastward, Mexico down and Native Americans, Fire Nation: predominately Japanese and Chinese, Water Tribe: African American, Inuit, Indian, Bangladesh and Austrian Aborigines (some have naturally very dark skin and platinum hair = Yue), Air Nomads: Raid a Tibetan Buddhist temple – seriously, they already have the right clothes in the right colors too….

    ….and the fact that M.Night and his crew are willing to put white kids in yellowface, brownface and blackface is disgusting, insulting and disheartening.”

    My grandmother is Egyptian and she always complained that she had to watch generations of movies where our Queens and Pharaohs (especially our black pharaohs!) were portrayed by white actors….*sigh* and here I thought my children, and other minority children, wouldn’t have to endure similar things.

  21. Lorena says:

    *Australian Aborigines

    I fail at copy and paste

  22. steadycat says:

    Thanks for the heads up ABW.

    I’m not going to pay and see this movie either. If Hollywood wants to claim that the characters aren’t Asian and can be any color – then why is white the only color they chose. How many times do I have to say “I’m sick of this.”

  23. Betty Chambers says:

    M. Night might not have had a choice. Hollywood and the critics don’t like him as much as they used to. The only way he could make a film may be to “whitewash” it.

    Although I wouldn’t assume that because he is South Asian (is that right?) that he has any sympathy for other Asians.

  24. Kymberlyn says:

    Sad to say this is just standard operating procedure for Hollywood. The suits will do whatever it takes to keep people of color out of the public eye unless we’re catering to precious stereotypes. Not that I’m a fan of ‘Airbender” but I’ve seen a few episodes here and there and there’s nary a caucasian person in the series as far as I’ve seen. And you know what, that’s okay–the kids don’t care.

    This is the big reason I refuse to see Twilight–the Native American werewolf Jacob–was played by white guy.

    It’s funny that conservatives have been screaming for years about Hollywood’s supposed “liberalism” when in fact Hollywood is populated by some of the most conservative and bigoted jerk-offs in the world. They still fart kittens over interracial storylines, so it’s absolutely NO surprise that an obviously Asian series like ‘Airbender’ has to get the eurocentric treatment as well.

    But a million dollars says that if they made a movie based on Grand Theft Auto or Saints Row, they would be casting black and brown folks so quick your head would spin. Then again, as long as we’re killing, cussing, shooting, being ho’s, and rapping–that suits Hollywood just fine.

    So now people, what the hell are we going to DO about it? Obama talked about change, so maybe it’s time to get into the studio’s faces with this nonsense and drag their sorry butts into the 21st century.

    I’m in…who’s with me?

  25. dianne says:

    I am convinced that film-makers somehow profit MONETARILY from convincing kids of color that the most empowering route open to them is to be a gangsta. Because when it’s the easiest, most sensible, thing in the world to have powerful characters be played by PoC, odds are on that not happening.

    Honestly, it will take the powerful PoC in Hollywood to change this, because, as Nihulunder pointed out, the folks making these movies think the people watching them are stupid. (Example: Hancock was a crappy film, but I am guessing that this barrier breaking is the reason the infinitely watchable Mr. Smith did it).

  26. Kymberlyn says:

    **Honestly, it will take the powerful PoC in Hollywood to change this, because, as Nihulunder pointed out, the folks making these movies think the people watching them are stupid.**

    Sorry, but I’m just not that sanguine about the PoC’s in Hollywood to do ANYTHING that interferes with their own profit margin. Right now, the only PoC who seems to be raking in the ducats is Tyler Perry (and I’m of several minds about him). Also, there’s just not enough PoC’s in Hollywood to begin with and the ones there are kind of too afraid to stand up for what’s right.

    The only way to drag Hollywood screaming and kicking into the modern age is for all of us to stop handing them our hard-earned money for trash! I mean, what’s it going to take before we just declare enough is enough? I’m tired of the mass media’s love affair with so-called “black pathologies” and their seeming shock and awe at an intelligent and articulate and thoughtful black man soon-to-be President of the United States. And I’m waiting to see what Asian-American blogs are going to say and do about this nonsense.

    We blog about the endless whitewashing of movies like “21” and ‘Airbender’, but guess what–a lot of people, even those in the fan community–are still going to go see it in the faint hope “that it might not be so bad after all” or “we have to support movies like this or they won’t get made anymore”.

    That won’t solve the problem because the suits still get paid and will still screw us PoC’s in the a** without lube or a kiss afterwards.

    Someone once said, “stand for something or you’ll fall for anything.”

  27. Attie says:

    By the way, to anyone who wants to do something about it, someone has set up a letter-writing campaign at . I think it’s a great idea to at least show that we’re not going to stand for this bullshit.

  28. Angel H. says:

    sigh…just freakin’ shoot me already….

    Any ideas which character M.N.S. is going to cameo as?

  29. Dolly says:

    So, I’m gonna reveal my nerdom here and admit I watch Dragonball Z and was totally pumped when it was announced that it was going to be turned into an action movie. But something similar to the Avatar thing happened… a few Asians got secondary character roles, but the lead roles for the hero and the villain both got Caucasian actors. It was really surprising to me (and also really disappointing). Sorry to derail a bit from the Avatar focus.

  30. LTP says:

    Oh fuck me. This is so disappointing.
    Like you I was also really drawn to this anime for similar reasons, and was so happy to see such a diverse and non-stereotyped cast of cartoon characters (as weird as that sounds to say…).

    Please, please say it isn’t so!!

  31. drakyn says:

    “a lot of people, even those in the fan community–are still going to go see it in the faint hope “that it might not be so bad after all””
    Just tell ’em its far better to check it out on TV-links or torrenting is; if its worth supporting, go and see it. ^.^ Imo, its no different than going to Borders, reading a book, then only buying it if you like it. Just the other night I watched Twilight on tv-links then I decided it was so bad there was no way I was giving them money.

    My little sister is a big fan of Avatar; she was really disappointed when I told her they whitewashed the cast. Funny thing is, she’s 16, white, goes to a basically all-white school, doesn’t pay any attention to activism or anything. And she still knew it was racist to whitewash Avatar.

  32. A. says:

    All I just had to say to myself….


    Really, Hollywood, is it necessary to fuck over EVERY SINGLE GOOD THING THAT IS REMOTELY ETHNIC?

    I’m still pissed off over Oldboy and the idea that Sympathy for Lady Vengenace might be remade with Charlize Theron as Lee Geum-Ja (that could be a rumor, though). This shit is salt to the WOUND.

    Really, and DBZ being bastardized? Even despite the fact that it’s heavily based on the JOURNEY TO THE WEST/SAIYUKI legends? Which are, in fact, FROM ASIA?

    Ohhh my god, I’m so done with M. Night. DONE. He will never redeem himself for shit like this. I’m so sick of seeing Asians get shafted in films.

    If THIS isn’t White Privilege at it’s best, I have no clue what the fuck is.

  33. Ico says:

    W. T. F. Ditto to what everyone else has said about how effed up all this is. I am so sick of this nonsense.

  34. Reverend Smooth says:

    “And surprised that a director of color is whitewashing it so clearly, which means he’s either clueless or his hand is being forced.”

    That was the first thing I thought, besides ‘sigh’. (The second was, ‘yet more roles perfectly talented folks will miss out on because suits are assholes’.) Though this can’t be a clueless choice, he’s not that stupid. This is a conscious decision to appeal to a majority, where ironically the target demographic — or at least the fanbase — is so much less racist than the folks, apparently, making the movie.

    They should’ve stuck with animation. Live-action usually loses something in translation, and in this case, it’s part of what made this world itself.

  35. Conni says:

    When I saw this news on Wednesday, I got really annoyed. Then I wrote a letter to Paramount. I also wrote in my blog (linked above).

    Angel H: MNS’s cameo should be that cabbage vendor who’s always getting rocks dropped on him.

  36. Mac says:

    I agree with EVERYTHING. I will not be seeing this film. They should have just made a big animated feature anyway. After all the care and attention to detail the original show put forth — down to the detail on the outfits and the kanji characters used for people’s names, and how the kanji changed as the characters learned, grew, and evolved — this is a backhanded slap. I knew it would happen, but I thought having Shyamalan would make at least a small step in the right direction.

    Just a teeny note of defense about Taylor Lautner — isn’t he at least part Native American, though? I was under the impression that he was Hispanic from his association with Robert Rodriquez– he’s not — but his ancestry is mixed. (And I’ve learned from Sherman Alexie books that this counts!) I know if Lautner had been cast in this film, I’d be far less annoyed — he looks the part and can actually perform real martial arts.

    My perfect Zuko would be, like, Julliard trained (really, it’s one of the best character evolutions I’ve ever seen on TV) but if I had to have a teenybopper I’d take Lautner over McCartney in a heartbeat. They do realize Zuko has to be COMPETENT and an actual physical threat to Aang!??

    Hollywood does indeed think we’re stupid. But why? Didn’t “The Kite Runner” do well?

  37. Mac says:

    I have to point out, too, that even the Airbenders don’t look very Caucasian to me. Avatar Yangchen:

    I can’t find a profile shot, but look at the cheekbones, the eyes. (The fact that she sits in lotus position constantly…) Some Asians are very pale-skinned. Coloration is not the only signifier.

  38. Robin says:

    Why does everything about Avatar except the cartoon itself fail on an epic level? I’m reminded of the fiasco that was the toy line – three main characters (the group leader, the resident martial arts bad-ass, and one of the main villains) are girls, and yet none were released as toys, even as subsequent lines of the male characters wearing different clothes were released. Avatar was concrete proof that boys will watch shows featuring girls and that ‘mainstream’ audiences will watch shows featuring an all PoC cast, and yet the business still clings to its outdated and incorrect assumptions about what is and isn’t commercially viable and what is and isn’t offensive as all get out.

  39. JAM Renaissance says:

    In reference to the “characters don’t look Asian”, I wonder how much of that thought (and the casting process) is a result of placing one’s own thoughts in the mix.

    I am a Black man that has never seen Avatar (though I have a feeling I’ll be “heavily influenced” in the near future). This posting was the first time I saw the characters and, despite logically knowing they were Asian, I looked at the characters and I saw “ethic”. Not “Asian”, not “White”, not “Black”… these were PoCs of indeterminate race as far as I saw.

    I wonder if some White casting person looked at them and saw “tanned”.

    This isn’t an excuse for the casting. If a few of the characters were white washed, I’d wonder if it were a question of the White actor simply being a better choice (i.e. how Sanaa Lathan has had to land every non-obviously-Black role she’s had)… but when most of the characters have a switched ethnicity…

    On the other hand, they made Nick Fury Black and Janet Pym Asian in “The Ultimates” and I thought that was cool, so perhaps I’m off…

  40. Saving The World With Postage says:

    It’s really heartening to see this issue popping up on the blogosphere — I had worried the relative low-profile of this project might mean it would be ignored.

    As a few people have mentioned, we’ve started a letter writing campaign to Paramount Pictures — if nothing else, we want them to know they do this kind of thing and not get called out on their bad behavior.

    I just linked to this blog entry from the page — hope that’s all right! And thank you again for helping to get the word out on this issue!

  41. cranky says:

    And in other news, Robert Downey Jr. has been selected to play the role of Barack Obama in the upcoming epic, “Yes, We Can”.

  42. Miss Smilla says:

    >Just a teeny note of defense about Taylor Lautner — isn’t he >at least part Native American, though?

    Lautner’s ancestry is primarily European; supposedly recent genealogical research discovered that he had some distant NDN forebears…a discovery that was rather conveniently made and announced shortly after he got the part of Jacob in Twilight. But whether or not those genealogical claims are true, being raised as white and discovering as a teen or adult that you have a few POC ancestors many generations ago is a very, very different thing from growing up within a culture.

    (As for M. Night’s inevitable cameo — the current top choice in snarky Avatar communities is the Cabbage Man.)

  43. azrael24 says:

    This is ridiculous! i didnt expect this kind of casting from someone who is not white himseld (middle eastern?). Im sure they could have found some other actors (actual actors not singers) who could have played these roles and actual looked like their cartoon counterparts.

  44. azrael24 says:

    This is ridiculous! i didnt expect this kind of casting from someone who is not white himself (middle eastern?). Im sure they could have found some other actors (actual actors not singers) who could have played these roles and actual looked like their cartoon counterparts.

  45. fracturedpeace says:

    i am completely on your outrage level @ the fact that hollyweird has decided to whitewash the faces of a multicultural series.

    i have found a site that might be useful to all that want to change the casting choices:

    it’s a link to various new channels and papers. good luck spreading your voice!

  46. unico says:

    I personally have doubts that this was M.Nights decision.
    It’s not his series, it belongs to Nick, and the studios belong to the people who run Hollywood.

    M.Night is the director not the creator, or the caster.

  47. Pingback: This Matters: Avatar the Last Airbender’s Friky Diky Cast « Lemon Water
  48. Trackback: This Matters: Avatar the Last Airbender’s Friky Diky Cast « Lemon Water
  49. Robert Monroe says:

    Hollywood effs up another sci-fi/fantasy show by either minimizing or erasing PoC. What else is new? The only time they want to show us in a sci-fi situation is with some dumb crap like “Brothers from Outer Space”. Maybe it’s like Richard Pryor said…”They don’t plan for us to be here”.

  50. Sam L. says:

    Does M. Night Shayamalan have a blog/internet space? Because hopefully he’ll have something to say on this, and ideally sooner rather than later. I can’t believe that he’d be entirely ignorant of the controversy that this casting would cause.

    It’s a shame, I always liked Avatar. I really liked watching it as a counterpart to Rune Soldier, with one being an American series set in a clearly Eastern Fantasy World, and the other being a Japanese series in what is clearly a D&D-esque Western Fantasy realm.

  51. neecie says:

    “M.Night is the director not the creator, or the caster.”

    I’m sure he had some choice… he IS the director. You would think that by being as true to the show as possible would be the way to go, but apparently this isn’t the case. Let’s make this movie as horrible as possible and maybe that’ll bring in the dough. Ugh.

  52. shikamaru says:

    To answer the question as to why Aang looks white or doesn’t look asian…….Anime shares a common trait with Disney, actually anime took this from Disney. In animation facial expressions are not easily conveyed as in real life. So the best way to show facial expressions is to draw large eyes to convey innocence. If you look at the Fire nation, they probably look the most Asian(in the stereotypical sense) because they were the bad guys therefore had smaller eyes. This is only an animation thing and is nothing indicative of the race. I can’t read the creators minds but they did say it was anime influenced and I KNOW for fact that in anime large eyes are drawn because of this. As for skin tone, that’s meaningless I know Asians whiter than Caucasians. Aang’s hair when it grew made him look more Asian. The eye color thing, although I can’t explain it in things like Naruto(who I think is supposed to be white) in Avatar it was to show which elemental nation they were for, like blue for water tribe. I highly doubt if this was suppose to be indicative of their race cause NOBODY in the show, if my memory is correct, had blonde hair.

  53. jbramx2 says:

    This is an awful situation. I’ve written about it in my journal. But I didn’t think it could get worse, (yes, yes it can). Check out what these folks had to say about it…(oh some of them claim to be black, btw)

    and when you’re done being wowed by that, check out the next page. They truly are baffled as to why Katara can’t be allowed to be white.

    I can’t dignify a response to any of that. Really.

  54. Duncan says:

    “M. Night is the director not the creator, or the caster.”

    Then he could have dissociated himself from the project. But directors do have some say in casting.

  55. Pai says:

    Well, just lump this and DBZ with the upcoming Street Fighter Chun Li movie where she is also being played by a white woman. =/

  56. the angry black woman says:

    For everyone who says “M. Night is the director, not the caster!” please stop being foolish. If you know ANYTHING about Hollywood at all you know that the director has a LOT of say in who gets cast, especially in the main roles. Movies have died before production began because directors changed and the new one didn’t want to work with the attached actors. And if you’re dealing with a big-budget prominent film like this with a highly-acclaimed big deal director who is, of course, going to get his way on nearly everything, you cannot, ABSOLUTELY cannot try to pretend that he has no say in this casting. To believe so would be, forgive me, naive or willfully blind.

  57. Susie says:

    This isn’t said as a defense of Shyamalan, but his power is seriously waning. His last three movies were huge disappointments. He’s really not a big-deal director anymore, and he’s probably desperate both for a hit and to be seen as cooperative. Although his producing partner, Kathleen Kennedy, is still very successful overall, there’s only so long anybody’s going to keep propping up a has-been, which is what he’ll be if a fourth picture tanks.

    But again — that’s not a defense. I don’t think any of that excuses him. It’s just filling in the background behind the decisions being made. Yes, he has input on casting decisions, no doubt, but he doesn’t have the ability to make a stand against the studio and win. There are two different results from that, and in my view they both make him look bad: either he doesn’t give a crap and is happy to whitewash, or he knows it’s wrong and is going along because trying to salvage his career is more important to him. Either way, boo.

  58. Marcus says:

    @ Pai,

    Actually, Kristin Kreuk is half-Chinese. Most artwork of Chun-Li (including how she actually looks in-game) actually gives Chun more of Eurasian look anyway.

  59. Miss Smilla says:

    >I highly doubt if this was suppose to be indicative of
    >their race cause NOBODY in the show, if my memory
    >is correct, had blonde hair.

    Your memory serves correctly: there are no blondes or redheads shown in the Avatar-verse. All the characters young enough not to be going gray have hair that ranges from deeper brown and reddish-brown tones to black. The one exception is the white-haired teenage Princess Yue, and that’s a matter of supernatural intervention — she was dark-haired at birth, but her hair changed color magically after the Moon Spirit saved the sickly baby’s life by giving her some of its own life force.

  60. D.R. says:

    Funny, this is how I feel about any Tyler Perry movie. He may be black and he may be talking about black issues, but he doesn’t represent what life is like in my household. I think he does more for stereotypes than he does for black entertainment. I know that I’m poking a tiger with this post, but man I am sick to death of TP.

  61. brownstocking says:

    Wow, apologists for M N S. Guess it takes all kinds. He’s a sellout (if he ever was conscious..dunno) and what’s done is done. We (who like avatar and care enough to) should definitely boycott. I’m so BEYOND sick of the whitewashing incessantly. The show definitely had a non-western essence, and it would be ridiculous to act otherwise. And the teenyboppers from Hell? Really?

    @DR you aren’t the only one. My church was talking about going to see him when he tours again, and I had to speak on it. They’re still going to go see it, but at least they’ll know why I won’t.

  62. A. says:

    D.R. – I despise TP. I had to do a paper on Race, Gender and Film – which involved me watching Foreign Movies versus American films. By the time I got to the black folk section of my paper, TP had the most egregious stereotypes next to Monster’s Ball.

  63. Hmmm says:

    This isn’t really a stretch of the imagination. I’m not sure if people are choosing to ignore the fact that these characters (supposed beacons of non-Western peoples) who are upheld to represent a non-Western culture, are voiced by decidedly “white”, “Western” people? Don’t tell me that people are so easily fooled into diversity! What sort of cultural consultation process went on to ensure that the character of Katara, for example, isn’t an entirely whitewashed and romanticized portrayal of an Indigenous person? Mae Whitman, the voice artist of Katara, certainly isn’t one. Why are people settling for a paper-thin sort of racial/cultural empowerment? The characters are true representations of indigeneity of any sort, they are simply filtered through the eyes of the producers as to what constitutes the “orientalist other”.

  64. Susie says:

    Brownstocking — What troubles me most about the selection of Shyamalan as director is the thought process might have been something like this: “Well, Shyamalan does fantasy, he’s still something of a name but he’ll come relatively cheap, and maybe people will be less likely to criticize us about using an almost all-white cast for a clearly Asian property if we’ve got a South Asian director.”

    I actually doubt that anyone was that open with themselves or anyone else about what they were up to, but it could easily been a consideration in the back of someone’s mind. And it’s sad and a little sick-making that Shyamalan is apparently so ready to play along. To be honest, I don’t know anything about the series, it’s just the principle of the thing that pisses me off.

    A. — I made an involuntary grimace of disgust when I read the words “Monster’s Ball”. God, I despise that movie.

  65. Liz Y says:

    I’m going to go ahead and say “fake”. There’s just no way they would make all of them white – the secondary characters at least they would make Asian. Right? Plus who would seriously cast Jesse McCartney to be in a hit movie?

  66. Orange says:

    Well, this is a disappointment to say the least. Am I supposed to believe they couldn’t find any talented Asian actors out there? Or at least some people who looked like the characters, or who looked like people who had names like Aang and Xiao?

  67. A. says:

    I didn’t want to watch Monster’s Ball at all. I just had to forward over the parts of Halle Berry getting drunk and shagging Billy Bob Thornton. That movie was a pile of shit.

  68. nojojojo says:


    I would challenge you to watch the series and decide for yourself whether they’re good representations or not, since it doesn’t appear you’re familiar with the series from anything other than IMDB or listings of the voice cast. The series is fantasy, and it’s set in a secondary (non-Earth) world, so no one in it is a direct correlation to any Earth culture. And the indigenous cultures used in the series have a relatively minor role compared to that of the Asian cultures — the Inuit-like culture is most notable, but there’s also an Aztec-like culture and a couple of others. But it seems clear to me that the producers attempted a respectful representation rather than simple cultural appropriation. The voice actors included several people of color in prominent roles — not Whitman, but most notably Dante Basco, who arguably played the series’ most pivotal character. The producers did employ consultants, actually, on several elements of the show — not just the martial arts — and moreover, they treated the cultures involved like people, not caricatures. To employ the language of Nisi Shawl and Cynthia Ward’s Writing the Other, no cultural appropriation is without problems, but I think they tried to be Guests, not Invaders. Your mileage may vary — but you should judge by the show’s content, not the paper-thin information provided on some database.

  69. Eliza says:

    Most likely M. Night doesn’t have a final say on the casting like his previous movies. I don’t understand why studios are not casting Asian actors; it wasn’t that long ago when we had “The Joy Luck Club”, “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” and “Memoirs of a Geisha” that proved that Asian movies do make big money at the box office.

    Also about “Old boy”, Will Smith was quoted saying that they are not adapting the movie version(I’m guessing this has to do with the director not giving them the rights ); they are remaking from the anime version which does not have the incest angle.

  70. A. Seib (formerly Hmmm) says:

    nojojojo —

    I have seen the show – I would suggest you take a look at “The Truth About Stories” by Thomas King. As an Indigenous person I take seriously any depiction of “Inuit-like” or “Aztec-like” cultures, regardless of how minor the appearance may be. A comprehensive consultative process involving Asian cultures to be sure, but I’m concerned with the like of care shown the other cultures represented. Also, I think if Nisi Shawl and Cynthia Ward have acknowledge that no “cultural appropriation is without problems”, perhaps the appropriating of culture needs to stop.

  71. Hmmm says:

    I have seen the show – I would suggest you take a look at “The Truth About Stories” by Thomas King. As an Indigenous person I take seriously any depiction of “Inuit-like” or “Aztec-like” cultures, regardless of how minor the appearance may be. A comprehensive consultative process involving Asian cultures to be sure, but I’m concerned with the like of care shown the other cultures represented. Also, I think if Nisi Shawl and Cynthia Ward have acknowledge that no “cultural appropriation is without problems”, perhaps the appropriating of culture needs to stop.

  72. nojojojo says:


    Thanks for the book recommendation; I’ll check it out.

    Re: no appropriation without problems = no appropriating, period — I can’t agree with that. There are two sides to the cultural appropriation coin. On the one side there’s appropriation — which in and of itself is not a bad thing (as Shawl and Ward argue). Because our (in this case I mean modern) literature, etc. permits appropriation, artists have the freedom to stretch beyond the limits of their own identities in creating fiction, music, etc. This allows the birth of “fusion” art forms, like jazz and step-dancing, as well as “speculative” art forms based on no currently-existing culture, like science fiction and fantasy. If there were no appropriation, then each of us would be limited to the art/expressions that fit our individual identities. And while black American thirtysomething lapsed-Christian heterosexual women in the modern era do have lots of interesting things to say, I think I’m capable of telling other stories.

    Which is where the danger of the other side of the appropriation coin comes in: restricting art by identity. This is a form of racism which has hurt many PoC artists, because we are assumed to be incapable of telling “universal” stories — only stories told from our particular slice of life are accepted as authentic. Some of this probably figures into the casting decisions re Airbender — the assumption that Asian actors are incapable of appealing to anything but Asian viewers. As a result of this kind of thinking, Zora Neale Hurston got poor sales on several of her novels which featured white characters, because critics dismissed them even though they were just as well-written as her “black” novels. More recently, many black romance novelists have been forced to write within the sales ghetto of the African American Interest section. They’re literally not allowed to write white characters in some cases. It’s nice that there finally is stuff out there featuring us falling in love and having relationships like everybody else — but that doesn’t mean PoC authors should be forced to write PoC characters, and be prohibited from writing anything else.

    So when you say there should be no appropriation, that’s what I fear.

    I believe it’s possible to have “good” appropriation. Again to quote Shawl and Ward, an appropriator does not have to be an Invader, barging into a culture they don’t understand and raping it for whatever tidbits look good, regardless of context or value. Nor does an appropriator have to be a Tourist, developing only a shallow understanding of the cultures they explore, objectifying the shiny bits and ignoring the unpleasantries or realities. It is possible to instead be a Guest — immersing in the culture, learning from it, sharing one’s own experiences if possible, meeting its people as people and not just props for one’s personal play. I think the ATLA creators for the most part were Guests — they did screw up now and again, but in general they did a good job.

    Keep in mind also that the show we’re talking about was intended to be fundamentally pan-Asian.* Given that, there’s no way to avoid appropriation, unless the show was created by a very large committee. Even if the show’s creators had been Asian instead of white, they would still be members only of one Asian culture (or a handful at best). Without appropriation, Chinese creators could not have included Japanese or Indian or Khazak cultures, or any of the dozens of non-Chinese cultures which were prominent in this show. And IMO, the show would’ve been far weaker without that inclusion. Pan-anythingism is in essence a commitment to appropriation — but the good kind.

    *(My guess is that they included Inuit and Aztec cultures as a nod to recent genetic studies which suggest that the indigenous groups of the Americas migrated over the land-bridge from Asia pre-last-Ice-Age. Ditto the Pacific Islander-like people who appeared in the show.)

  73. A. Seib says:

    Nojojojo –

    Yes, but was is good for the goose isn’t necessarily good for the gander (lawd I hate that expression but it is helpful here). Many Indigenous peoples in North American (Inuit to be sure) have their own creation stories of how they come to reside on the land that they do (suggested source “If This Is Your Land, Where Are Your Stories?”) – reliance on a single scientific method elides the truth of an entire peoples existence as understood by them – and I’m not about to privilege the white man’s understanding of my own existence (re: Eurocentric science) over that of my own peoples. These genetic studies are wildly offensive, and it needs to be examined the motives underpinning these aggressive attempts to pin down Indigenous peoples as “not really” being Indigenous to the land they are now presently battling both American and Canadian Supreme Courts over. If this IS the position the writers are approaching the incorporation of Indigenous characters, all the more problematic.

    While I have a great appreciation for many things fused, the key to what you have said lies in this notion of the “Guest” – is a Guest invited or uninvited?

    It is my understanding a Guest wouldn’t simply show up on my doorstep and insist that they are being respectful and therefore should be allowed to sit on my couch, wear my clothes, eat my food, or speak on my behalf. I’ll have to read the text you suggested, but I suspect that “guest” is a much more complex term than the way it appears in our discussion. I invite my guests over, or have an understanding that the door is always open – which is definitely not the case in the relationship between white authors and Indigenous peoples (Taiaiake Alfred, “Peace, Power, Righteousness” – second on Aboriginal education, or Devon Mihesueh Abbott “Indigenizing the Academy”).

  74. A. Seib says:

    Nojojojo —

    I have to say, I’m also really interested in semantics, and think you should take a look at this. I’m not convinced we can separate words from their original meanings, and perhaps this is why I can’t accept a modification of “appropriation” given its historical implications and originating definition. Here’s just one example from – the third given definition is particularly illuminating.

    Main Entry:
    transitive verb
    Inflected Form(s):
    ap·pro·pri·at·ed; ap·pro·pri·at·ing
    Middle English, from Late Latin appropriatus, past participle of appropriare, from Latin ad- + proprius own
    15th century
    1 : to take exclusive possession of : annex
    2 : to set apart for or assign to a particular purpose or use
    3 : to take or make use of without authority or right

  75. C.Z. says:

    As an AsianAmerican parent, this is really awful news. What is there for my children to identify with when all these Asian parts are homogenized into the mainstream culture?

    I won’t be taking my kids to see this. Period.

  76. Pingback: A Controversy to Blow you Away : Local Blogger Writes the World
  77. Trackback: A Controversy to Blow you Away : Local Blogger Writes the World
  78. nojojojo says:

    A. Seib,

    I’m not sure what your point is re the dictionary definition. I should also note that “cultural appropriation” is not my term; it’s the term used for when members of one culture “borrow” information from another. Not sure where it originated, but it’s been used for some years now.

    Also, re Guest — yes, a Guest is invited. An uninvited guest is an Invader. There are those who might argue that Avatar’s creation was an invited thing, since PoC in the US have been clamoring for more non-stereotypical representation of their faces and their cultures on TV for years. And while there have been many attempts by PoC creators to produce such shows, there still aren’t enough given that the US is a nearly 50% PoC society. It’s an inescapable fact that there aren’t enough PoC creators in the entertainment industry to do it themselves — so until we can get more of ourselves in there, we have no choice but to ask the predominantly-white industry to try it too. (And they should. It’s good for their kids too.)

    And when they make a good-faith effort of it, we’ve seen that they can do a good job. ATLA isn’t the only example — there’s also Dora the Explorer, which I haven’t watched, but about which I’ve heard the same kind of praise as with ATLA: it doesn’t reduce Latina/o culture to a set of caricatures and stereotypes. It’s worth watching, for everyone — not just brown kids but black ones and white ones and everybody else. It’s made by (predominantly) white people too. Should we dismiss all such efforts, no matter how good a job they do, solely because their creators were white and their creation is therefore cultural appropriation? Heck, Dora has been syndicated and translated and shown in dozens of different countries. That’s appropriation too — somewhere out there Malaysian kids and Mandarin kids and Irish kids are being entertained with the trappings of American Hispanic culture. But do we automatically dismiss it as bad? Or do we accept that it does more good than harm?

  79. EbonyRabbit says:

    I’m kind of late into the discussion, but re: the ‘cultural appropriation’ thread, I feel that it deserves its own post. I love Avatar and am a big fan, but there are some problematic instances in the show that should be discussed(and probably have been, if I recall correctly.) Nothing’s perfect after all, not that it’s an excuse, but I’d rather have someone trying their best to do right by a culture other than their own than not at all.

    The nice thing about Avatar’s input of culture, for me at least, is that it feels so natural( for lack of a better word) and not tacked on in the least. It’s a great example of world building just with a world full of POC, little to none non-POC, and magic-type martial arts. With this supposed casting, we lose one of the things that make this show so unique. I have to admit, I’m skeptical whether this is real or not since we’ve only gotten one source to this info. Regardless, I’m still going to let the studios know that I will no tolerate this whitewashing bull that is going on to this day.

    Ugh, my grammar is atrocious today.

  80. the angry black woman says:

    actually, I’ve been meaning to have a discussion about cultural appropriation for a while, so now is a good time, I think. Let me gather some folks together who have some experience talking about this and I’ll hopefully have something up in the coming week.

  81. Pingback: Things You Need To Understand #10: The Dictionary Is Not A Perfect Rhetorical Tool « The Angry Black Woman
  82. Trackback: Things You Need To Understand #10: The Dictionary Is Not A Perfect Rhetorical Tool « The Angry Black Woman
  83. A. Seib says:

    Nojojojo —

    Apologies for my late reply, but holidays were calling and visits to my relatives mean long stretches without internet access. By no means did I intend my reference to definitions of appropriation to be the “final attempt” to “win” some sort of debate as implied by the current ABW blog. Since we were talking about appropriation, I wanted us to consider that we’re using this term as though it could be used for good – I’m saying I’m not convinced that “appropriation” is good in ANY form (both due to its contemporary usage as a concept and through a site of its original meaning).

    I think it is important that we try to understand its meaning (it says a lot about the people who created it in the first place), and in the case of this definition is suggests that appropriation means taking without authority or right. When I’m suggesting that Avatar uses Indigenous culture (however minor its role may be) it is appropriating it – and it’s not in a good way. While the creators made sure to be respectful of Asian cultures, by creating a pan-Native character they did not. Yeah, it’s a minor example, but it’s still offensive. Indigenous/Native American peoples have very different understandings about the usage or implied usage of our cultures and identities in pop culture.

    I an entirely agree with that you’ve written about representation and the lack of PoC – and that these more respectful portrayals can prove a positive function. But what I’m trying to get it as that it’s erroneous of people (both white and other non-Native American PoC’s) to assume that just because this is okay for them, that it is okay for Indigenous peoples. Maybe our peoples aren’t okay with accepting this because it’s the best we can get right now. Maybe we’d prefer to be left out of these depictions entirely. Whether anyone agrees or disagrees with whether this is a great approach to raising awareness (which I’m not saying it is or isn’t) – shouldn’t we be allowed to choose whether we’re included? If the creators could consult Asian peoples and spend time in Asian cultures, why wouldn’t they do that with us? I don’t care how minor the Indigenous character is, I think that the very major fact that this entire continent (not to mention Central and South America) has been built through the genocide and theft of land of Native peoples, warrants us a little consideration.

    Perhaps the reason that I expect so much is that the show DOES take such pains re: Asian cultures to be respectful, and that the creators ARE trying to do as good as they can. Yet as Native people, for us to ensure that in the future we are shown as much respect, we have to interrogate these instances, no matter how minor and innocuous they may appear.

  84. nojojojo says:

    A. Seib,

    Yeah, just got done with the holiday thing myself. =)

    OK, you’ve got some good points here, and I’ll admit I can’t tell whether the depictions of Native cultures have been done as well as the depictions of Asian cultures. (I’ll assume from your reaction that they weren’t done as well.) All I have to go on — in both cases, since I’m not a member of either — is the reaction that I see from fans and parents of that persuasion. Which is where some of my confusion arises, because you’re speaking as if Native dislike of Avatar is a universal thing, and it isn’t. If you look through the comments on any of the Avatar posts that have been linked here and in the comments, you’ll see a few Native people saying that they like this show, and even some protesting that it’s not that damn hard to find Inuit kids to play in the movie, just do a casting call in Canada or Alaska. To me this suggests that there are at least a few who are OK with Avatar’s depiction.

    I’m not by any means saying that because this handful of X people is OK with it, then any member of X who’s not is wrong. I’m well aware that not everyone reacts to appropriation in the same way, and not everyone knows how to articulate what they’re feeling when they see a case of it. But by the same token, I’m not sure you should employ the universal “we” and “us” when speaking about this, because no single person can speak for an entire culture.

    Not sure what you mean about a pan-Native character, BTW. The two main characters are from a culture pretty blatantly appropriated from the Inuit, though the show was careful to show that there were two distinct Water Tribes with very different traditions [Inuit and Yupik, maybe?]. Later we learn that the show’s main antagonist is descended from some Mesoamerican Toltec-descended culture. I would guess Aztec, though that’s a total reach on my part — the show’s creators did more research on it than I did. -_- That this culture’s traditions have been badly-appropriated and misunderstood over centuries is an important point of the series plot, actually. Other than one minor character who was kind of obviously a Don Ho comedic tribute — I think this happened shortly after he died — I can’t think of any other Native characters, and certainly none who seemed to be *pan*-Native. So who do you mean?

  85. davidly says:

    First, by way of disclaimer, I’d like to say that I understand what follows does not apply specifically to this project considering the age range of the audience. Nevertheless, you inspired my response.

    Culturally speaking, as it relates to film, I find the language aspect to be critical. I mean, I really liked The Last Emperor way back when, but come on. This is typical Anglo 2.0, and using the big finance angle just shows how influential money is. I’ll never go to see an English version of something that should be done in another tongue again. It’s amazing how often American actors put on a bad English accent for any other culture. While I do think the Brits are better at applying acting craft to film than what Hollywood produces, it just seems to me, in this age of globalization, the least we could do is cast films with culture in mind.

    Ironically, here in Germany almost all of the imports are dubbed. Even if they wanted to stop, they’d have to kill off a huge industry. It might even be bigger than the normal film industry, considering the fact that consistently 9 out of the top 10 weekly grosses are English language movies.

    My friends here can’t believe that Americans favor subtitles on their imports because it doesn’t fit the stereotype. I tell them that Americans who want to see foreign films can read.

    At any rate, I would urge anyone who feels the same way you do NOT to lay down the dough to see this thing.

  86. Whimsicalmusing says:

    I wanted to chime in my 2 cents about a director’s role in casting. A casting director is hired to assist a director in his selection process. But the decision making process in casting is an essential responsibility for a director. There are exceptions, such as when a film is a vehicle for a high profile actor, who has been “attached” before a director, but I struggle to believe the actors chosen are higher profile than M Night. His star is waning, but I suspect it was a power play between his people and Paramount.

    And to believe he had no say in offering even “token” PoC to portray some of these characters when they were taken from unknowns is probably not accurate. His motivations may be murky. An executive producer may have put on some heat and applied pressure to cast “what sells” especially with the lead, Aang, but to think M. Night’s hands were tied behind his back and he just accepted what a casting director presented to him isn’t based on how the casting process happens in Hollywood. He had to meet with each and every one of those actors, and if he hadn’t already he will asap.

    And if he decides or decided they weren’t working they would be booted. If Peter Jackson could boot Stuart Townsend 3 weeks into filming that risky and unproven venture called Lord of the Rings, I daresay Mr. S could have changed things in this case if he believed these actors weren’t going to work for the part.

    Aside from my skepticism in believing he didn’t have a say I agree with what many people have cited as reasons for this disappointment in this process. My son and husband are part of the Asian diaspora (Southern Chinese) and my son especially looks much like Aang. My mother in law who is Chinese and a Buddhist monk instantly recognized and admired the representation of some elements of Tibetan Buddhist and Chinese culture (as well as many others) when she watched part of the show. I will be writing a letter to express my disdain, and will also boycott this film.

    /Long Winded comment.

  87. cvb says:

    My reaction to any detractors who think it’s “not a big deal” is the same thing I say every time this kind of thing happens to asians, and it’s a lot of times this happens. Asians get the short end of the stick and then people say “so?” But nobody ever thinks to ask, if you did the same thing to a black person would you have still done it?

    Let’s say we want to remake “Roots” into a new movie. Ok, now let’s replace all the characters as white actors. Does that make any lick of sense? No. So what makes Hollywood think they are allowed to the exactly the same thing to asians? They remake asian movies all the time. They take a famous asian movie, replace all the actors with whites, then re-release it here. The Grudge, The Ring, etc. How different is this from remaking an asian-casted cartoon into a movie?

    Hollywood hates asians, it’s as simple as that. We are STILL struggling in this day and age with a minority for a president, to boot! We asians STILL face racism, we STILL face exclusion, we STILL face all this stuff that went out of vogue a looong-ass time ago. But no, it’s STILL ok to screw asians in hollywood and TV.

    Everyone better raise the biggest stink in the world over this. An avatar live action movie i think is kinda dumb idea (I hate cartoons turned to live movies) and I probably wouldn’t have watched it anyway.. but it’s the principle of the matter here. If we all band together and tell Hollywood about this, we can actually cause a HUGE change in the way asians are depicted in movies and TV forever, from this day forward. Seriously, this could be huge. Think about it and spread the word

  88. nezua says:

    hi abw. sorry to not comment on Avatar now. good to see you!

    i just wanted to let you know i’d love to have your discussion over here anytime. :)

    it’s my new site dedicated to filmmaking (there’s a video area) as well as film/TV critique. if you dig it, please let people know where to find it. i thought you might enjoy, given your own interests and skills.

    hope I see ya around! be well, my friend.

  89. nezua says:

    In my last comment, I really should have mentioned that the topic is very related to your Avatar discussion. It wouldnt have felt so rude then, or off-topic. Lately I’ve been discussing the portrayal of Asian Americans in Battlestar Galactica, for example.

  90. 2fs says:

    Of course, you can’t really mean “Asian Americans”…as neither “Asia” nor “America” exists in the BSG universe. There are, if I can remember, three characters portrayed by actors who look to be of Asian descent (whether or not they’re American, I don’t know): “Number Eight” (Sharon), Dee, and Tory. I guess that I’d question the validity of saying much about the show’s “portrayal of Asian Americans” since the show doesn’t portray Asian Americans at all: its producers employ Asian (Americans), but the characters aren’t presented as Asian, or even of any distinctive ethnicity. And three characters from a rather large cast (with most of those characters being secondary at best) is a small sample.

    That said, while the series does a pretty fair job with gender, in that without crushing difference it presents no particular limits on performance that seem to arise from gender, its treatment of ethnicity is difficult to parse, simply because we have to read it off of the *actors’* ethnicity rather than that of the *characters*…since while cultural & religious differences play roles in the show, those cultural & religious traits do not seem to map on to the actor’s ethnic or cultural background.

    But maybe I’m misunderstanding: is the discussion you refer to online anywhere to be read? Thanks.

  91. ChloeMireille says:

    Ok, so there’s a report out that Dev Patel from “Slumdog Millionaire” has been signed on to the Avatar movie, which is scheduled to film next month in…Greenland.

    Miracle of miracles, he’s replacing Jesse McCartney as Zuko.

    Wait…so is Uncle Iroh going to be of Indian/South Asian descent now?

  92. Jhenne "JT" says:

    Thank you, thank you, thank you!

    It’s good to spread the word about the casting failure, before the movie hits theatres. At least there’s still a chance (however minute) to fix it.

  93. colBoh says:

    If you were a Korean War veteran who watched “M*A*S*H”, you’d be surprised by the realism.
    If you were a New York detective who watched “Law & Order”, you’d be surprised at the accuracy.
    If you were a professor of ancient Oriental culture who watched “Avatar”… well, you get the idea.
    This movie is violating Mike & Bryan’s baby. For God’s sakes…

  94. Arica says:

    This movie is going to be a complete [b]disaster[/b]!

    Just to let you know, I am a 23 year-old African American female. I for one, believe that “Avatar the Last Airbender” was undoubtedly the BEST cartoon Nickelodeon ever produced. As a matter of fact, that show was the only thing that crap-ass network had going for it. For me to be as old as I am and for that cartoon to captivate me the way it did is something really special! I’ll admit I love cartoons but they don’t play any of the ones I grew up watching anymore. But Avatar was a new cartoon that I thought was just about the best thing in the world! I own all three seasons and still watch them when they come on TV…

    When I found out that they were making an “Avatar” movie (not to be confused with James Cameron’s “Avatar” movie due out this December) I was ready to puke. I go by that old rule, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. A live-action version of a story that was already 110% perfectly done in animation seems like a waste to me. It’s just a studio’s attempt at trying to cash in on a successful franchise by tring to “take it to another level” when all they are going to do is destroy it. You don’t capture the same feel or get the same humor from a live action movie as you do from animation. So to be honest, I had no intention of seeing it anyway. I’ve really had enough of the books/cartoons turned to movies; only about 1 in every 5 is worth anything. There’s nothing original in Hollywood anymore…BUT there was always the possibility of seeing a trailer and being like “hmm, I might just check that out…” But this movie has gotten three strikes in my book so I won’t even bother at all.

    Strike 1: Um…they’re making it. Why tarnish a perfectly good story by trying to re-tell it? Whether it’s “based on the cartoon” or an “adaptation of the cartoon” the idea needed to be left alone. It was perfect as it was…

    Strike 2: M. Night Shamalan. This fucker hasn’t made a good movie since “The Sixth Sense”. His movies have gotten increasingly more ridiculous over the years and for the life of me, I can’t understand why people keep giving this man money to make movies! He sucks at it. It’s like he gets a great base for a movie, something you hear about think “Oh, man! This is gonna be good!” and then the story plays out and you end up saying “WTF?! Give me my damn $10 back!”. Like “The Happening”: I didn’t go see it; my sister did. When she came back and told me that “the happening” was the trees making everyone kill themselves…I was too effing through. Never again will I waste one ounce of energy on another one of his cinematic abortions…

    Strike 3: Now I find out that they are casting all white actors for this movie. Well, that’s the final nail in the coffin for me. I don’t understand how a movie so blatantly Asian in origin and style is being cast with a bunch of non-Asians. I’m very fond of Asian culture, so to see this movie basically be stripped the people that inspired the show is extremely infuriating. It’s like making a movie about people in Ethiopia and casting all of the characters white. It would be unheard of and ludicrous. It’s a dishonor to what you are trying to portray to have something so deeply rooted in a certain culture or ethnicity and basically take on all of those ideas and traits and completely leave the people out of it. It’s bullshit.

    There’s a difference in animation vs live-action. Several of the voice actors in Avatar are white and there’s nothing wrong with that because the visual is Aang, Katara, Zuko and the others being portrayed as Asian or of Inuit descent. I love the voice actors they chose! But when you’re talking about putting something on a screen, when there’s already a visual imprinted in the minds of the fans, the rules and expectations change. You expect to see Aang look like Aang was animated: I want to see a bald-headed, scrawny yet somehow muscular kid of some sort of Asian descent, not a taller, older white male who’s been doctored to look like he should be that younger, scrawnier Asian kid. For Katara: I want to see a pretty girl with brown skin and long black hair who’s of Inuit or at least Indian descent, instead of the cute but in-no-way-resembles-the-character white girl they have cast.

    I see a lot of people making mention of being “colorblind” or “it doesn’t matter if they’re green or purple as long as they play the character right” in regards to this matter. In perfect world, color wouldn’t matter; this world is far from perfect. If it didn’t matter what color the actors are, I ask again: How is it that nearly every one of the main characters have been cast as white? What’ll be the kicker is if all of the people from the Fire Nation are minorities… It’s different for white people simply because their race is represented all of the time in various roles. They dominate all of the television shows, movies and entertainment shows and magazines. There’s only a handful of non-white actors and actresses who are mentioned in those productions and publications and it’s never on a consistent basis unless they are in trouble for something. Race shouldn’t matter, but when you have a show that is based around a certain ethnic group, it makes sense to cast people that reflect it and give that recognition to that group. By not casting Asian actors they are tossing out a crucial element of the show to “white-wash” it for Hollywood. At a time when there are so few minorities who get the respect and attention they deserve, it would have been nice to have an under-represented minority group represented in this amazing story as they were intended to be. I think it’s a slap in the face and I’m kinda shocked that the creators of the Avatar are letting this fly. Of course, when you sign your idea over to someone to do what they please, you lose the ability to intervene in their decisions but I would have at least thought they might have stayed on and maintained some kind of veto power to make sure that the spirit and integrity of their brain-child was represented in the way they envisioned it. But even if they didn’t, it’s not like the producers only had a description to go off of like this is a book or something. They had visuals! They had every characteristic of the characters right their in their faces and yet they did a 180 and went in the complete opposite direction, casting people who in no way resemble the characters people have come to love. It’s like casting Batman as a black man or Harry Potter as an Asian boy; that’s just not how they were intended to be and there’s nothing wrong with that. Nobody is up in arms about those castings because it’s so blatantly obvious that those characters are white. So why then, when it’s so obvious that the characters are not white, have been cast white?

    This show has many fans; kids, teens and adults love this show. I don’t understand why the producers didn’t just allow the fanbase to carry the movie instead of trying to boost sales by casting whites in the roles. The sad truth is, movies that are cast predominantly white do better than movies that care cast predominantly with minorities. But in this case, it shouldn’t matter because fans of the cartoon (who are the people this movie is aimed at) expect to see Asians in this film. I think it’s unfair and wrong to try to fashion someone of a particular race to be something they are not. It’s not like they are close to what the characters look like; where a little bit of make-up and some contacts would do the job. These people look NOTHING like the characters. I think that is wrong just because undoubtedly there are a ton of wonderful Asian actors who could have filled the roles perfectly. I’m not a part of the Asian community, but as a person of color and as a huge fan of the series, I think this is unacceptable.

    I will not be seeing this movie when (and if) it’s released. It’s an affront to the show, the show’s characters, its creators and the fans who love and supported it…

  95. nemogbr says:

    Thanks for this site and all your views.

    I guess the Hollywood players really got it wrong this time.

    If they don’t change their minds, this film will be a flop and probably the most pirated film to be sold for a penny.

    Serves them right.

  96. Frank says:

    I just want to start to say that I was amazed by all the comments for “The Last Airbender” movie. I have watched all 3 seasons and own them on DVD. In fact I have watched the episodes with the Directors commentary.

    I think everyone should do the same, because they will understand that although there are many refrences to different Asian cultres, it was never a stamp saying the charecters were Asian or any specific culture we know about. I have looked at the casting and Im ok with the choices. Jessie Macartny is out for a new actor that I dont know about.

    I think we all attached to these characters not for the culture but rather because we all identified with the charecters in some way.

    I would wait for the previews to come out and make decisions then if you will or will not see this movie.

    1. nojojojo says:


      Seriously? You’re seriously pulling the “it’s not really Asian” argument?

      So the characters in this world write with Chinese characters, use chopsticks, wear kimonos and hanboks and cheongsam, eat dumplings, build pagodas, sleep on futons, and more… for no particular reason? What the hell are they supposed to be, then, French? Oh, wait, I know! They’re black. Black people totally created haiku. (It’s just like rap!)

      Oy vey.

      You’re right in that I’m attached to the cartoon’s characters. Culture is a fundamental part of characterization, however, and by stripping out their Asianness, the producers have removed something that made these characters feel realistic and complex. It’s been replaced with the same old Hollywood formula of Generic Pretty White People Out In Front — and on top of being racist as fuck, that formula is boring. It’s a cliche that we’ve been forced to endure for generations thanks to racism, and a lot of us are way past tired of it. Wait for the previews? Why? It could look as good as “The Matrix”*, and nothing will remove its “been there, done that, bought the T-shirt” taint.

      I hope this movie bombs so hard that it ruins Shyamalan’s career, and the careers of everyone involved in the casting decisions. Maybe that’ll clear the way for some younger, more open-minded, and less racist people to get a foot in the Hollywood door.

      *Actually scratch that comparison — “The Matrix” actually had a few PoC in heroic roles. “The Last Airbender” can’t even manage that.

  97. Frank says:

    Hi there…I completely respect your point of view. But I what I am saying is that there is way too much being read into something that people want to put there.

    Lets start at the beginning. This show was created by two of the whitesest of white boys out there. The depended on their Korean counter parts to help them out in terms of certain Asian culural things (ie how to correctly write in caligraphy)

    Ive spent a lot of time listening to their commentary on episodes, what they thought, and the one thing that was constant was that they werent pulling from one particular cultar, but rather infusing a mix, which also includes western culture.

    I mean really how many people that are trying to ban watching the new Airbender movie know where the influence of the Ember Island design was based on what culture? (besides me cause i listned to the commentary.)

    I think banning a movie based on what you personally think the culture background of the role should be played is small minded.

    Look at the New Moon movie in the Twilight series. They hired guys with Native American decent to play the wolf pack. Thats because thats how it was written. Kind of blows your theory out the door.

  98. Legible Susan says:

    “The depended on their Korean counter parts to help them out in terms of certain Asian culural things (ie how to correctly write in caligraphy)” That would be doing research, which is what you’re supposed to do when writing People Who Are Not Like You.
    “but rather infusing a mix, which also includes western culture.” And western culture owes all its innovations to white people, so they should be the leads … NOT.
    “ban watching”…”banning a movie” A boycott =/= a ban. There have been several conversations about this fact recently, I’m sure you can find them if you try.

    You really want to bring up Twilight here? Hoo boy. “They hired guys with Native American decent to play the wolf pack” (emphasis mine) You think that’s an argument you want to bring up in this company? *gets popcorn*

  99. nojojojo says:


    No, it doesn’t blow my theory out the door, and you don’t respect my point of view, because you clearly haven’t paid attention to it.

    What’s your point? That because the show’s creators were white Americans, everything they put into it was white and American? I guess the characters were eating cheeseburgers with those chopsticks, then. And the creators depended on their Korean staffers to help them correctly write the Chinese calligraphy? Really?

    Of course they inserted a mix of cultures; that much is obvious from the cartoon itself. But none of those cultures was “white American”. And for the producers to stick white Americans in where there were none (certainly not as the stars of the show), then claim that it’s “diversity”, is the most revolting corruption of the term diversity that I’ve seen in a long time.

    As for New Moon — wow, you have no clue what “my theory” is, or you wouldn’t quote that one at me.

    I’m delighted that the producers and director of that film actually tried to hire Native Americans. The Racebending folks have been exclaiming over the news for the past few days, as have other “people of color in science fiction/fantasy” communities I’m involved in. And that’s actually caused the frustration re “The Last Airbender”‘s racism to grow, because it highlights a couple of issues. First, that racially-sensitive casting can be done, and should be done where the source material demands it. Second, that the author of “Twilight” perpetuated some of the same foolishness that’s happening in “The Last Airbender” — her heroes are white, and only the antagonists/background characters are nonwhite. No one believes for a minute that the casting would’ve been as sensitive if the film’s two principals had been written as nonwhite. So “New Moon” is not without its problems in this respect. Like I said, it’s a problem that’s endemic in the entertainment industry as a whole.

    But since we’re talking about “The Last Airbender”‘s racism, let’s get back on topic. Since you keep going on and on about the commentary on the DVDs, tell me — did the show’s creators say that Aang, Sokka, and Katara’s cultures were derived from white America? If, as you suggest, that’s how it was written, then I’ll withdraw my objection.

  100. Frank says:

    To answer your question, no they never said it was based on white america, but it was never based on one particular culture. They pulled from so many different beliefs. Kataras hair style for instance, yes it was based on a Native American hairstyle, but they didnt specifically pick one group because it wasnt about this group. In terms of what is considered “white america” how about an industrial revolution and being a conquering nation forcing ideas on other cultures. Isnt that more of a Western Ideal?

    This show was about a melting pot of so many different ideas, cultures, and beliefs. Its ambigous, which to me says anyone can represent these ideas in movie.

    Maybe im biased because I have listened to the commentary, and they described these characters as regular people who do martial arts and have these ablities. Im seeing people, not racial lines.

    Everyone keeps saying there should be people of Asian decent in this film. Does being born in Thailand count?

  101. nojojojo says:


    You’re revealing a stunning amount of ignorance, Eurocentrism, and white privilege, the longer you talk. China had an industrial revolution too (lots of countries did, go figure), and I’m pretty sure Tibet regards them as a conquering nation. Which is fitting, considering the obvious parallels between the Airbenders and Tibetan culture.

    If Katara’s hairstyle is Native American, then why didn’t they hire a Native American actress (ideally Inuit), since their goal was to be true to the source material? The casting was supposed to be racially unspecified, right? So a Native American actress would do just as well as any other race. And sure, let’s consider an ethnically Thai actress too. In fact, let’s consider the whole human spectrum, since you say you just see people, not race. Globally speaking, whites make up only about 20% of the human species, so that should equate to 80% of the cast being PoC of some kind, right? If we’re truly being openminded here.

    Instead, of the four main characters, we have 75% white people. (And that’s only because the fans had a shitfit about Jesse McCartney, or it would’ve been 100%.) The lone brown person is playing the maniacal, homicidally violent villain. How did this happen, if the producers were like you and only saw “people, not racial lines”? Statistically speaking it’s a bit odd, don’t you think? It sure as hell doesn’t reflect any ambiguity regarding race. In fact it’s very specific — the people who cast this film think that white = goodness and nobility and universal appeal. And they think that PoC = murderers, maniacs, and monsters. Or at best, unimportant.

    Yeah, real melting pot there.

    I’m done. You need to unpack your privilege, Frank; until you do, you’re incapable of having an intelligent conversation about this or any other racial issue. Come back when you’ve educated yourself.

  102. Erikonil says:

    “Maybe im biased because I have listened to the commentary, and they described these characters as regular people who do martial arts and have these ablities. Im seeing people, not racial lines.”

    Regular people? So do you not think of Asian Americans as regular people? I to have listened to the commentary and read the book “Nicktoons!” where the creators state that this is a “fictional Asian world.” These characters are meant to be of Asian and Native decent. They are not one big group of people. Koreans, Chinese, Japanese, Tibetan…they are not interchangeable. They are individual people and Hollywood for the most part ignores that fact.

    When making the cartoon, Nick studios worked with both MANAA and the East West Players to do cultural consulting and to find Asian American actors. Both could have been used as consultants this time and Paramount chose not to.

    When working with an established property, you can’t do “color blind” casting. The characters are already established and there have already been parents who have had to explain to their kids why their favorite characters “look wrong.” Go tell a little Asian American kid that they can be swapped out for a white kid. See what reaction you get.

  103. Ben Aaronovitch says:

    I’m not really that surprised, I’ve worked in Film and Television since the late 1980s and the vast majority of the people I’ve worked for and with were racist, albeit ranging from the straight ‘black people can’t act’ pole to the ‘I’m not racist personally but the audience/sponsors/network [delete where applicable] won’t buy it…’school of rationalisation. The default position on any character is that they will be played by a white actor unless a specific racial stereotype is required – scary black man, expendable friend, magic black man/woman and my personal favourite ‘the affirmation negro’.

Comments are closed.