“The Last Airbender” (2010), which comes out July 2nd in North America, is a live-action Hollywood film by Paramount based on an animated American television show, “Avatar: The Last Airbender” (2005-2008). Although in the television show all the main characters were Asian or Inuit (Eskimo), in the film the three heroes are, yes, white.
That was no accident. Here is a casting call for a hero:
BOYS, AGE 12-15 – Caucasian or any other ethnicity. Athletic, graceful and intelligent. Martial arts or athletic ability a plus.
Meanwhile, when casting extras for the evil Fire Nation, they asked for those who were:
Near Eastern, Middle Eastern, Far Eastern, Asian, Mediterranean, Latino
Only one Fire Nation character is played by a white actor. All the rest are people of colour.
Colour-blind the casting was not.
And it gets worse:
There are blacks in the film. That sounds like a good thing but guess what: in the film they belong to a black-and-brown nation that is at the mercy of the Fire Nation. They are saved from genocide by the three white heroes. Hollywood never seems to tire of White Saviours saving Helpless Darkies.
But that is not all:
The director, M. Night Shyamalan, is himself an Asian American. He was born in India and (like John McWhorter) grew up in a well-to-do family in Philadelphia.
And probably worst of all:
It was one of the few American television shows that showed East Asians as people and not just so many Hollywood stereotypes. The stereotypes were there – martial arts, wise old men, etc – but there were enough other Asian characters that overall Asians come across as ordinary people.
Imagine if “The Cosby Show” was made into a Hollywood film and all the main characters were white, with blacks thrown in only as supporting characters. That is what is being done to the “The Last Airbender”.
The producers say there is plenty of “diversity”, that in fact it is more “diverse” than the television show. That is true at the body count level, but people of colour are given evil, weak or unimportant parts.
Roger Ebert says there are plenty of young Asian actors who could have played the lead characters.
Paramount cannot even claim that few would watch it if they put in Asian leads – the television show disproves that. On the contrary, they are turning off many fans of the show who protested against the casting decisions and are now telling everyone who will listen not to see the film.
Paramount seems to be thinking that more whites would be turned off by Asian leads than by its racist casting.
Jackson Rathbone, one of the Pretty White People who plays a hero, does not seem to think it is a big deal:
I think it’s one of those things where I pull my hair up, shave the sides, and I definitely need a tan. It’s one of those things where, hopefully, the audience will suspend disbelief a little bit.
– Abagond, 2010.