I first posted about my unhappiness with The Last Airbender film
back in February, and at that point I thought that would be the end of it. I would simply ignore the movie and go about my life. But as the release date has gotten closer, I've gotten more and more upset, to the point where I am literally sick to my stomach about this film.
Please do me one favor first-- please go and read ssj10
's excellent and heartfelt post on this subject
. I'll wait.
And now, here is what I have to say.
1. Avatar: The Last Airbender
, the original series upon which the movie is based, was explicitly and deliberately created as a story set in “an ancient, fantastical Asian environment, primarily Chinese,”
specifically as a response to all the European-based fantasy stories out there (think Lord of the Rings, etc). The creators have said "...we wanted to create a mythology that was based on Eastern culture, rather than Western culture."
The cultures of Avatar were all based on real-world Asian and Inuit cultures, including the food, the clothing, the tools, the martial arts, even accurate Chinese calligraphy. All of the characters were Asian/Inuit-- people of color. To quote ssj10
, who says it so much more beautifully than I:
"Here was a fantastical Asian world, full of well developed and delineated countries, each with a distinctive culture and a carefully developed mythology born from real world Asian traditions, art forms, myths and religions. Here was beautiful Hànzì adorning the walls of temples and restaurants. Here was the food I loved best from my childhood, eaten with chopsticks by the heroes of the show.
"And here were the Heroes: Brave, noble, beautiful, strong, and Asian."
2. When the filmmakers began to cast the movie, they deliberately set out to cast Caucasian actors in the four principal roles of Aang, Katara, Sokka, and Zuko. All of the casting notices read "Caucasian or any other ethnicity"
-- not "all ethnicities" or "Asian ethnicities." They specifically
wanted to cast the four leads with white actors. And they did so.
Then, before filming began, the actor playing Zuko, the primary villain in the first film, dropped out due to "scheduling conflicts." He was replaced with Dev Patel, who is ethnically Indian. After that, the rest of the villains in the film (all, like Zuko, part of the Fire Nation) were all cast, in the director's own words
, "from Indian/Persian to Mediterranean, all that group with all its darker colors including Italians." So the villains are all darker-skinned actors, while the three main heroes are white.
3. This is Hollywood whitewashing, the Hollywood glass ceiling, at its absolute worst. There was no reason, none at all, to whitewash the three main heroes. In fact, this was the perfect opportunity to cast a whole rainbow of young, talented actors. It's right there in the source material. 82% of lead roles in Hollywood go to white actors. Less than 2% of lead roles go to Asian actors and less than 1% go to Native American actors.
This film had every reason to be the antithesis of all that. Instead, it's business as usual, which I find deplorable.
I love Avatar: The Last Airbender
. I wanted so very badly to love its big-screen adaptation. It breaks my heart that I don't. But I cannot and will not financially support a movie that condones these practices. I'm going to see The Karate Kid instead. I'd love it if you joined me.