Archive for February, 2009

Patel Speaks

February 5, 2009

MTV with another scoop on The Last Airbender, this time sitting down with Dev Patel, recently cast as the Fire Nation’s banished Prince Zuko.

“It’s based on a Nickelodeon cartoon,” explained Patel, who replaced Jesse McCartney earlier this week as the character of Zuko, the 16-year-old exiled prince of Fire Nation who is eager to regain his honor. “There’s this character called Avatar [played by Noah Ringer] who can harness all these powers in a slightly different world, and they have different nations like the Firebenders — who can form fire and use it to their abilities — and there are Waterbenders and Earthbenders,” Patel explained.

“[Aang the Avatar] is the Airbender — he can harness air and all the other ones as well,” he added. “He’s a special being, and I’m part of that.”

“I play a character called Zuko who is the Prince of the Fire Nation, and it’s good because it’s a dark role. I’m not playing the hero, whereas in ‘Slumdog’ it was real character acting and performance-oriented. This is [as well], but it’s much more physical, with martial arts. I’m learning on the job, so this is a great new experience for me.”

When asked about the Jesse McCartney situation…

“I didn’t,” Patel said enthusiastically when asked whether he had “kicked out” the “Leavin’ ” singer. “I came on very late, so I didn’t hear about the Jesse McCartney thing. In all honesty, I swear.”


An Impassioned Plea

February 3, 2009

Derek Kirk Kim, a Korean-American cartoonist, recently wrote a particularly poignant piece on the controversy surrounding the “whitewashing” of the cast of The Last Airbender.

First he touched upon a bit of personal history…

When my brother and I were in high school, our favorite class was Drama. While we were rehearsing for the next day’s class or participating in a school play or dancing it up at the after party, I don’t think there was anything we liked more. During such times, it even surpassed our love of—dare I say it—comics. But we never even entertained the notion of actually pursuing it as a career. Not because we didn’t want to, but because we had too much pride to spend our entire lives pretending to be Long Duk Dong, or a Chinese food delivery boy with one line, or a Kato to some Green Hornet. Or even worse, having our hearts broken over and over going after roles that specifically call for Asian Americans like “Avatar, The Last Airbender” only to see them go to white actors. Back in my Drama days in high school, I used to dream of being white so I could pursue acting.

With discrimination like this “Avatar” casting continuing to happen uncontested in Hollywood, my future kids will nurse the same pitiful wish.

And it infuriates me.

A sad bit of truth there, and it’s always bugged me about Hollywood. He also speaks on Avatar’s inseparable connection to Asian and Inuit culture.

It’s wholly and inarguably built around Asian (and Inuit) culture. Everything from to the costume designs, to the written language, to the landscapes, to martial arts, to philosophy, to spirituality, to eating utensils!—it’s all an evocative, but thinly veiled, re-imagining of ancient Asia. (In one episode, a region is shown where everyone is garbed in Korean hanboks—traditional Korean clothing—the design of which wasn’t even altered at all.) It would take a willful disregard of the show’s intentions and origins to think this wouldn’t extend to the race of the characters as well. You certainly don’t see any blonde people running around in “Avatar.” (I’m not saying that would have necessarily been a bad thing, I’m just stating the facts of the show and the world in which it is set.)

And a bit of foreshadowing…

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.

How offensive, insulting, and disrespectful would that be toward Africans and African Americans? How much more offensive would it be if only the heroes were white and all the villians and background characters were African American? (I wince in fear thinking about “The Last Airbender” suffering from the latter dynamic—which it probably will.)

It would seem, given the recent recasting of the main villain, that this fear has unfortunately come to fruition.

African Americans kids can finally, realistically dream of being president one day. Can’t Asian American kids—perhaps my kids—at least dream of being something as relatively insignificant as central characters in some escapist Hollywood movie where everything is stolen from their heritage?

Can’t they be a part of America too?

To read the entire article, please visit Mr. Kim’s blog here.

Sokka You Lucky Dog!

February 2, 2009

Variety reports that Jessica Jade Andres has been cast as Sokka’s Kyoshi warrior love interest, Suki!

McCartney Banished, Dev Patel is Prince Zuko!

February 2, 2009

In a rather unexpected turn of events, Variety reports that Jesse McCartney has pulled out of M. Night Shyamalan’s The Last Airbender due to scheduling conflicts with his musical career. What a twist!

“Jesse had tour dates that conflicted with a boot camp I always hold on my films, and where the actors here have to train for martial arts,” Shyamalan said.

Stepping into the role of the banished Prince Zuko is Taekwondo blackbelt and Slumdog Millionaire star Dev Patel! Shyamalan on choosing Patel to take over the role…

Patel was “already one of the guys I was interested in. Then I saw ‘Slumdog Millionaire,’ and the kid just grew in my eyes,” he said.

On a related note, Jackson Rathbone has worked out his scheduling conflicts with the Twilight sequel also filming later this year, and will be playing Sokka.

Jesse McCartney Speaks Out…Sorta

February 1, 2009

Once again, MTV caught up with one of the stars of The Last Airbender; this time they spoke with the live action Prince Zuko, Jesse McCartney.

First he touched upon the whitewashing controversy, his training, how he first discovered Avatar, and his meeting with director M. Night Shyamalan…

“I heard a lot about this online,” McCartney said, referring to fans’ criticism. “There’s a lot of hard-core fans out there [who] probably know more about it … I’m still learning. This is M. Night’s vision and this is what he wants. To all the fans, I can tell you I’m putting my best foot forward.”

“I’ve been in kung-fu training for the last month and half-learning all the moves. I’m looking forward to it.”

“I heard about the series from my little brother who’s an avid ‘Avatar’ fan,” he explained. “I heard about the project, and that Night was directing it. He flew me out to Philly to read with him. I worked with him a lot on the character. He called me on my phone and was like, ‘I want you to play this character.’ And we took it from there.”

He then spoke on co-star Jackson Rathbone…

“He was there for the reading and he and I have been in training together. We’re flying in a few weeks to start production and then to Greenland to start filming. He’s a super nice guy. We’ve been getting along great.”

Again, more generic talk about the film from one of its stars. Hopefully as we get closer to filming, we’ll begin to get some info with a little more meat.