Derek Kirk Kim writes about his anger toward the casting choices of the main characters in The Last Airbender movie, which is based on the excellent Avatar: The Last Airbender cartoon, which is sort of an Asian fantasy story, on his blog:
This past Monday, on Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday, on the eve of Barack Obama's inauguration, I discovered that the casting of the four leading characters for the upcoming live-action movie, "The Last Airbender" (based on the TV show, “Avatar: The Last Airbender”) had gone entirely to white actors. I want—no, need—to say something about this.
I was speaking with Gene Yang (author of "American Born Chinese" and National Book Award nominee) about the casting and he said it best: "It's like a white Asian fetishist's wet dream. All the Asian culture they want, without any of the Asian people."
If Rathbone had gotten the role of "Shaft," and got a perm and a "tan" to play that character (and I don't mean in a self-conscious, subversive way like Robert Downey Jr. in "Tropic Thunder"), there would be a shit storm of outrage from all sectors of America, not just the African American community. It would be a headline across every newspaper, and I highly doubt that production would make it to filming. But when Joel Grey taped his eyes "slanty" and colored his skin to play a Korean man in "Remo Williams" (in 1985! we're not talking ancient history here), it went virtually unnoticed. How was that even allowed to happen? How is it continuing to happen, here in 2009, at the eve of Obama's inauguration (as I type this.) Why this double standard?
The actors are Jackson Rathbone (best known for being in Twillight), Jesse McCartney (best known for being a teeny-bopper heartthrob), Nicola Peltz (best known for, well, probably this), and Noah Ringer (best known for this).
A quote that I find interesting is:
Or let me draw a closer parallel—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.
It's interesting because it reminds me of the racial readjustment Ursula Le Guin's Earthsea books took on when SciFi made that miniseries a couple of years ago.
Sure, the people of Earthsea are more Caribbean, Indonesian, and Filipino, but it's still the same sort of thing.
And I don't see it changing anytime soon, even if a Mexican lesbian gets elected president during the next go around.
(Art by finni)