Archive for the ‘Editorials’ Category

Last Airbender Film Takes Manhattan

April 5, 2010

March 10 – Morning

Start spreadin’ the news. I’m leaving today! Upon waking the morning of my departure, it was hard not to conjure up visions of little green monsters singing the classic Liza Minnelli tune as they looked forward to a night of painting the Big Apple red. To say I was excited would have been a gross understatement. What I had initiated with my friends at Paramount back in July ’09 was finally coming to fruition: an interview with The Last Airbender director M. Night Shyamalan. I had spent the better part of a week taking questions from my readers and fellow Avatar fans, or ‘Avatards.’ I am not exactly clear which fandom owns that name anymore, as it would seem fans of James Cameron’s Money Printer have appropriated the title for themselves much the same way Cameron did the title of the film. I digress. Procrastinator  that I am, I realized I had very little time to make my final preparations for the trip. So the next several hours were spent picking up my clothes from the cleaners, deciding on a tie to wear, buying a new tooth brush, returning some videotapes, learning I would not be required to wear a tie, scribbling down twenty of your best questions, feeding the cat, packing my overnight bag, and feeling down about not being able to wear the awesome tie I bought.
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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.