Archive for the ‘Whitewash Controversy’ Category

Prince of Racebending

May 27, 2010

The Associated Press has run a new article spotlighting the supposed whitewashing of both The Last Airbender and Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time. Michael Le of Racebending.com naturally wasn’t silent on the matter.

“To take this incredibly loved children’s series, and really distort not only the ethnicity of the individual characters but the message of acceptance and cultural diversity that the original series advocated, is a huge blow.”

However, Paramount was quick to come to M. Night Shyamalan’s defense.

“Night’s vision of ‘The Last Airbender’ includes a large and ethnically diverse cast that represents cultures from around the world.”

We shall see if the fans and general public will accept these casting changes once The Last Airbender arrives in theaters July 2.

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Marshall Weighs in on Racebending

April 8, 2010

Jordan Hoffman with UGO.com was contacted recently by The Last Airbender producer Frank Marshall, to clarify the insensitive casting calls, and the race of the characters in general.

“agree[s] that this casting notice was poorly worded and offensive. However, it was not written nor distributed by the production, or the studio, but by a local extra casting entity that did not consult with either. “Ultimately, we all take responsibility for not doing a more thorough job monitoring these frequently used third-party agents and Paramount has since been in regular dialogue with Asian American advocacy groups including the Japanese American Citizens League and the Media Action Network for Asian Americans to ensure that such a mistake does not happen in the future.”

Marshall also produced the original casting breakdowns as they were first made available.

Marshall Claims No Discrimination

April 20, 2009

The Last Airbender Producer, Frank Marshall, in an effort to quell the continuing charges of whitewashing the cast, had this to say on his Twitter.

The casting is complete and we did not discriminate against anyone. I am done talking about it.

Well there you have it.

The Search for Mongolian Extras

March 5, 2009

Casting director DeeDee Ricketts is on the move again, this time in Northern Virginia, as she searches for potential citizens of the Earth Kingdom!

“We’ll make you look like a warrior,” the casting director with dirty-blond curls tells the boy. She holds up a camera and says, “Now don’t smile.”

“Smile!” calls the boy’s father, who was born in Ulan Bator.

“No, he shouldn’t smile,” a casting assistant tells him. “They don’t like people to smile because it’s not how you really look.”

And what do Earth Kingdom citizens look like?

Like they’re from Mongolia. Or Cambodia or Laos. Something like that. Exotically Asian, at least. Like they could be an extra in a movie that’s based on a series that’s inspired by many Eastern traditions, from Japanese anime and Tibetan Buddhism to kung fu cinema and yoga. “Night doesn’t know what it is he wants, but he’ll know it when he sees it,” says DeeDee Ricketts, the casting director.

Ricketts also responds to the allegations of whitewashing the main cast.

“When you take a beloved story that has a fan base, you’ll never be able to make everyone happy,” says Ricketts, the casting director, who was not involved with the casting of principal roles. “There’s been some talk that we’re casting authentic Asians as a response to the backlash, which is totally wrong because our world is multi-ethnic and the ‘Avatar’ world will be multi-ethnic.'”

It’s also interesting to see the Post also got reactions from some of the actors at the casting call on the controversy.

“Yeah, I read about the controversy,” says Melanie Thong, 24, of Annandale. “I mean, Jesse McCartney? If it’s an Asian movie, you should have an Asian cast.”

“If you watch the show, all of them are our skin color,” says Liso Neou, 23, of Tysons.

“You can’t even name five Asian actors,” says Thong, rhetorically.

“Chow Yun-Fat . . . Jackie Chan . . . Jet Li . . . ” says Neou, and stops.

“Kids need to know there’s more diverse actors out there,” Thong says, her point made.

For more, visit the Washington Post.

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.

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.

Open Casting Call in Philly!!

January 24, 2009

So you think you have what it takes to be a part of the lovely scenery in The Last Airbender? Well folks, if you’re not white, here’s your chance!

Aspiring actors on campus will have a chance to show off their Hollywood skills this weekend.

Tomorrow there will be a general open casting call for extras in the latest M. Night Shyamalan movie, The Last Airbender.

Shyamalan, a Philadelphia native, has directed a number of box-office hits, including The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable and The Happening.

His newest movie will be a live-action version of the Nickelodeon fantasy TV show Avatar. The casting call will be held at Wachovia Spectrum’s Bullies Restaurant, located at 3601 S. Broad Street, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Deedee Rickets, the casting director for the film, said she is looking to cast men and women ages 18 to 65 and children ages six to 15. Casting officials are seeking candidates with military or martial arts experience, athletes, gymnasts and people of various races and cultures.

“We want you to dress in traditional cultural ethnic attire,” she said. “If you’re Korean, wear a kimono. If you’re from Belgium, wear lederhosen.”

Another way to stand out is to demonstrate skills such as basket weaving, hair braiding, making clay pots, puppeteering, knitting, looming – “any artisan craft,” Rickets said.

She said the set and cast will reflect the alternate world of the film, and not the streets of Philadelphia.

People auditioning do not need to bring pictures or resumes because pictures will be taken at the casting call. Those unable to attend can e-mail lastairbendercasting@gmail.com.

An additional casting call will take place on Feb. 7, but details have not yet been determined.

Once Rickets sees all of the pictures, she will make a collage to present to Shyamalan. There are also possible upgrades for speaking parts or other roles “outside the realm of extras.”

All positions are paid, and experienced extras will receive higher payment.

Positions range in time commitment – shooting begins in mid-March and ends in July. A role could involve being on set for three weeks, then having a break, and then resuming for another three weeks. Alternatively, one could be on set for just a few days.

And then there are the perks of being on the set of a major film – the cast includes Jesse McCartney and Twilight’s Jack Rathbone. The movie is slated to come out in the summer of 2010.

The lead role is being played by up-and-comer Noah Ringer.

Recently, Rickets has worked on the sets of Tropic Thunder and Charlie Wilson’s War.

“All are encouraged to come out and see what’s going on,” Rackets said.

So kimono’s are traditional Korean attire, huh? Mmmkay, it seems like they’re trying to treat an infected laceration with a band-aid now. The outcry over the “whitewashing” of the main cast has clearly reached the ears of the casting director and Mr. Shyamalan. Though I fear it might be too little, too late as far as those offended are concerned. I admit that it’s going to be a little awkward to see a white Gaang mixing it up with the rest of the ethnically diversified population, who won’t be white.

Rathbone Hopes to Show Range

January 17, 2009

MTV spoke with Jackson Rathbone about The Last Airbender in a new interview.

On the audition…

“It was great. They flew us all out to Philly,” Rathbone remembered of his audition. “I got to meet the other castmembers that they hired on. I got to read with them, even. It was a blast. It was a great chance to get a free trip to Philly and get a chance to meet M. Night. He’s an incredibly nice guy, and I think we hit it off pretty well, and now I get to play Sokka.”

On Avatar: The Last Airbender…

“It’s a fantastic show,” Rathbone said of the Nickelodeon animated series. “I’ve always loved that kind of deep, mythical fantasy. It’s got a lot about the four elements: water, fire, earth, wind. It’s just really cool. It’s a really interesting series and such a cool character. I’ve always liked the show, and I thought it would be fun.

On his hopes…

“For me, it’s a great chance to show my range a little bit more,” Rathbone added, comparing Sokka to his “Twilight” character. “It’s a chance to do something a little funnier. Something less serious than Jasper.”

On the whitewash controversy…

“I think it’s one of those things where I pull my hair up, shave the sides, and I definitely need a tan,” he said of the transformation he’ll go through to look more like Sokka. “It’s one of those things where, hopefully, the audience will suspend disbelief a little bit.”

On M. Night Shyamalan…

“I think ‘Airbender’ has a lot of suspenseful twists as a TV show, but I think it’s something he’s really looking forward to, for expanding his own horizons,” Rathbone said. “He has kids. How many films has he made that his kids would be able to watch? So I think it’s really great that he’s making a family film. I have a sister; it’s exciting to make a film that my whole family can enjoy.”

For the full article and to view a video interview with Jackson Rathbone, click the link above.

Saving the World with Postage?

December 14, 2008

Okay, so not everyone is exactly thrilled with Mr. Shyamalan’s casting decisions thus far. While this Avatar fan is far more concerned with whether or not these young people can act their way out of a wet paper bag, it seems that a group of fans led by aang_aint_white are mobilizing a letter writing campaign to the powers that be at Paramount Pictures voicing their opposition to the “whitewashed” cast. They have provided an example letter, tips for letter writing, and the address that the letters should be mailed to.

Will you take up the call to save the world…with postage?