Sunday, February 1, 2009

Troublesome Night

Talking about discrimination, here's another controversy currently blowing up online, and I thought I'd better get on it too.

Everyone, from Asians to non-Asians, are up in arms against the all-white casting of M. Night Shyamalan's live-action version of Avatar: The Last Airbender. It's indeed frustrating and demeaning that a series known for being completely immersed in, and inspired by, Asian and Inuit cultures will be adapted into a movie populated by a main cast of Caucasians.

I'm not an avid follower of the series, but I've seen a few episodes of it on some lazy weekend mornings. It's impressive indeed, to say the least, not only because it's a rare moment where an American animated series (and one for kids) is wholly based on ethnic minority cultures, but also because from what I've seen, it's not one of those shows built from a white obsession with Asian exotica. At no time did I feel I was being Hong Kong Phooey-ed.

And then this happens.

Of course, this kind of discriminatory, racist practice isn't new. It's been around for ages. From the old "black-and-white minstrel shows" to Sir Alec Guinness putting on tan make-up to play an Indian man in A Passage To India. There are lots more examples of this kind of thing, from racist stereotypes to discrimination against Asian actors. But this time, Paramount, whose behind the Avatar movie, is dealing with a huge existing fanbase, and that's what's getting them into hot water, I guess. Plus, of course, this is the age of the Internet. Nothing gets by without close scrutiny by the online community.

This is not just something that can be construed as a subconscious decision by the studio, because it's blatant even to the extent of interviews given by the chosen actors. As one of them said to MTV:

"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."

It's a real WTF moment. In this day and age. But I don't think I would want to put any part of the blame on Shyamalan. He's always had Asian actors in his movies, including himself, even though the leads are always non-Asian. But seeing as how his recent track record has been dismal, he probably doesn't have much say or choice in all this. (Although some might want to use his alleged rant against Brazilian crew members as proof of otherwise.)

I won't say more, but I'll just point you to some websites and blogs that have written about the controversies. There are online petitions and letter-writing campaigns in which you can take part. Otherwise, write about the issue and publicise it on your blog or website. Spread it far and wide.

Check out:

COPYRIGHT POLICY: It's simple: Steal my stuff and I'll kick you in the nuts