January 19th, 2009

Bright Eyes

From Paramount Pictures, let freedom ring...

If there's a day to think about social justice and racial fairness, this is it. This year, not only are we celebrating the life and work of Martin Luther King, Jr., but we are also anticipating tomorrow's inauguration of the first African-American president in United States history. It's good to bask in the glow of progress, to consider how much has changed for the better since the days of the Montgomery bus boycott. But it's also important to consider what still needs to be done to ensure that freedom rings from every mountainside, and from every corner of life—even one as trivial as our entertainment media.

So I think it appropriate to bring up a topic today that has been brewing in my mind the past month or so. Although this injustice pales in comparison to the injustices that King struggled against in his time—and pales in comparison to many injustices that take place today—I still think it's worth speaking out against.

Early last month there came some distressing news in the avatar_fans community, and the playground we know as "fandom" was dealt a harsh blow by "real life". The blog for Entertainment Weekly broke the news that four teens were either already signed or in negotiations for the starring roles in The Last Airbender, a live-action adaptation of Nickelodeon's hit animated show Avatar: The Last Airbender. Even though the fantasy settings of the animated show are clearly based on East Asian cultures (or in one case on Inuit culture), the four teens named in the EW report are all white.

Fans and non-fans alike were outraged at the news, and hundreds have so far taken part in a letter-writing campaign to let the producers know their disappointment. I count myself as one of those who is outraged. The decision to cast white actors in these roles is not only unjust, it is also foolish. It fails on three levels: aesthetically, commercially, and ethically. It simply does not make sense.

First, whitewashed casting is a poor aesthetic choice. Collapse )

Second, whitewashed casting is a poor commercial choice. Collapse )

Finally, whitewashed casting is a poor ethical choice. Collapse )

While there is little chance that the producers will change their minds in time to change the casting of The Last Airbender (though I confess I'm still holding out hope they'll hire an Asian actor to play Zuko instead of Jesse McCartney), protesting the casting is not a waste of time. The more attention we draw to this issue, the better chance there is that other studios will take notice and that future productions will be handled more sensibly. Whether or not you are a fan of the original series, I hope that you will join me in protesting this racist casting. Please visit aang_aint_white for more information on how you can help.


ETA: my letter to the producers