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White Always Right?

Avatar: The Last Airbender

Originally written sometime last week, this post suffers from forgot-about-it-itis:

It’s no exageration that I’m a huge fan of Nickelodeon’s recently finished animated series, Avatar: The Last Airbender. As one of the most original and well-animated shows to play on television in my memory, I’ll forever be impressed and amazed by the creative team behind it and their visual and story-telling prowess that brought the unique series to life. You can see some screenshots of the multiple characters and gorgeous background paintings thanks to a “visual essay” of the series here.

That said, casting news of its upcoming live-action movie has created more than a little stir, a ripple of disbelief, that reaches far beyond its loyal fanbase.  This of course comes from the fact that the entire cast of this live-action movie are caucasian. As a series starring pre-dominantly Asian characters in beautifully rendered Asian locales, this doesn’t only seem completely inaccurate but also unneccessary. Is it to say there aren’t any talented ethnic actors and actresses out there? Because goodness knows that isn’t true.

A lot of talk has spiraled around about what can, and should, be done about this and more than a handful are stepping up to bring what they feel is a serious issue to Hollywood’s attention. What impresses me most is that many hadn’t heard of Avatar until this issue arose, which goes to show that it makes issue past fan-outrage towards disregard of the source material.

One of the largest, and growing, actions to bring a new perspective to the big-wigs is Saving the World With Postage, which encourages people to  send letters about Avatar: The Last Airbender’s live action movie and its attached cast. It doesn’t take long to write a letter and slip it into a mailbox so I hope that any and all who see issue with this, take a couple minutes to write up and send their concerns. The LJ posting has an example letter, tips, addresses and many responses from those who’ve already sent in their envelopes, complete with photographs.

As a manga-blog, I’ve no doubt my visitors know of the upcoming Dragonball Evolution live-action film. There was a quite a stir during the original casting announcements that the lead character Goku would be played by Justin Chatwin instead of an Asian martial artist. Truth be told in this particular matter, Goku may not neccessary have been originally Asian persay, (being an alien and all) as Toriyama’s worlds are vibrantly populated with people of every race, nationality and species. But none-the-less the scrunity was there and perhaps with good reason as another example of a growing trend.

This also reminds a lot of the casting for the in-production adaption of the popular video game franchise, Prince of Persia. How I love those games and have since I was young. But why is the ‘Prince of Persia’ being played by Jake Gyllenhaal?

Recent confirmation of Cowboy Bebop’s Hollywood treatment has also sent worried ripples through its fan community. AnimeVice has recently posted excerpts from an interview with the movie’s director and it seems they’re already trying to nip some of the obvious concerns in the bud:

“As far as the cast goes, I can’t tell you who is going to play what, but I can’t imagine that we’re not going to have a totally multi-ethnic cast.”

I’ve read lots of arguments on both sides, ranging from the quick-to-points on racism to people saying that as a white-nation, we should be making ‘white movies’. What? North America is multi-cultural society and is it so bad to have our movies reflect this? Are people really so interested in seeing an entire white cast decked up in Eastern clothing and pretending to be another race for two hours? And no, I do not believe that every causcasian casting is a racist decision so please don’t misunderstand me. Acting is one thing and goodness knows some can do it brilliantly (thank you, Robert Downey Jr., for your Tropic Thunder role which brings some well-said lines and a needed dash of humour to issues like these), but there are some things that do not need to be forged, forced or fabricated.

When it comes to adaptations, I usually give the benefit of the doubt. Different mediums call for different approaches. You’re not going to have something that can be, will be or neccessarily needs to be, nearly identical to the source material because the source material already exists to fill that role! But what I do believe in is respect towards the original and sometimes, it just really doesn’t feel like it’s there.

I leave you with a quote from Simon at Icarus Publishing, who links to a worthwhile read on the matter and as usual entertains:

“But even without the spectre of latent racism, the studio casting choices have me worried.  How hokey is it to see a bunch of white people wearing ancient Asian garb?  How is anyone to take the movie seriously, if you’re constantly reminded of somebody’s cheesy home video from his/her vacation to Beijing  with every single frame?”

My apologies for such a mish-mashed rant. For now, though, I have a letter to write :)

About the Author:

Lissa Pattillo is the owner and editor of Residing in Halifax, Nova Scotia she takes great joy in collecting all manners of manga genres, regretting that there's never enough time in the day to review or share them all. Along with reviews, Lissa is responsible for all the news postings to the website and works full time as a web and graphic designer.

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