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[personal profile] katakokk
♫ So, in light of the fact that The Last Airbender is being release tomorrow, I've decided to clarify exactly why the movie is full of racefail, why I find it offensive, and why I will still being going to see it so I can make a complete judgement on it (which, yes, I know, defeats the purpose of boycotting the movie for its racefail, but I feel that one should reserve complete judgement - humans judge, it's a fact of life - until seeing the complete package).

♫ To be honest, this spawned from the fact that, on a whim, I decided to look up early reviews on TLA. And instead of just being incoherently angry, I'm going to try and write this out properly.


When you bring up The Last Airbender with casual viewers of the cartoon or just everyday people, they generally don't understand why the movie is a flaming example of racefail. And these people aren't always of Caucasian descent, either! Just last week I was talking to some fellow volunteers at the hospital where I volunteer three times a week, and a Hispanic kid couldn't see why I was so generally pissed off about the movie.

The thing is, the cartoon is based off of Asian and Inuit culture. The Inuit inspiration is very direct and very obvious in its manifestation: the Northern and Southern Water Tribes. While I'm pretty sure that Inuits never built entire cities out of ice and snow the way the Northern Water Tribe did, the clothing, shelter, and general culture, however, are inspired if not directly borrowed from Inuit culture.

With "Asian" influence, it gets a bit trickier to identify what culture influenced what, partially because of cultural similarity within regions in Asia, and partially because it's not nearly as clean-cut as the Water Tribes. It can be said, though, that the "Asian" influence in Avatar: the Last Airbender is primarily East and South Asian in nature. The Airbenders, it has been repeatedly stated, are based off Tibetan Buddhist monks, while the Avatar (which, along with gurus and chakra, is a Hindu concept) is a little like the Dali Lama. The Earth Kingdom is generally said to be based off China, which is not entirely true, as exhibited by Song and her family, who live in a house with what appears like Japanese-style paper doors and wear hanbok, the traditional Korean dress for women (as opposed to kimono, which is Japanese). However, at the same time, the Earth King is reminiscent of Qing Dynasty Chinese Emperors, the Earth Kingdom palace strongly resembles the Forbidden City, while the clothing style show a marked similarity to Chinese styles, most notably of the Qing Dynasty (though Toph's dress in 2.06 "The Blind Bandit" is actually more Tang Dynasty). With the Fire Nation, the culture shows more Japanese influence. The emphasis of machinary and heavy industry is similar to industrial Japan (as no other Asian country industrialized nearly as rapidly or succesfully as Japan did until after World War II). It is more difficult to name any direct influence in clothing style, though the buildings in the capital have roofs much in the style of Asian pagodas. Also, the concept behind Agni Kai, ritual dueling to defend one's honor, is prevalent in many cultures, but the name "Agni" (a Hindu god) exhibits obvious Asian influence.

So, I've made it pretty clear about the level of Asian and Inuit influence in Avatar: the Last Airbender. The creators of the show even went so far as to incorporate Chinese script and have also stated that the art style is influenced by Japanese anime.

Then, news came that there were plans for a live action movie. I was kind of excited, but kind of apprehensive. Obviously, changes would have to be made, because not everything translates well from cartoon to live action (namely, slapstick comedy). However, when initial casting news was released, backlash against this movie began.

The initial main cast was much the same as it is now, with the exception of Jesse McCartney as Zuko rather than Dev Patel. Some of the backlash was completely unrelated to racefail: people questioned the acting ability of Jesse McCartney and didn't know what to think of the relative unknowns, Noah Ringer and Nicola Peltz, simply because no one had really heard about them before. It was glaringly obvious that they were all white, effectively ruining the chances of Asian and Inuit actors of starring in a high-budget Hollywood movie, but if they really were the best choices for the part, I wouldn't have complained too much. Racism is not as overt as it was fifty years ago, but it still exists, and the entertainment industry is just that, an industry, so if whitewashing Avatar: the Last Airbender will do the best in the box office (hopefully without sacrificing too much acting ability), then that's that. We're nowhere near a perfectly tolerant world yet.

In my opinion, if the creative decision had been to completely whitewash the entire cast, it wouldn't have been nearly as offensive as the current casting. Sure, it would have been kind of odd seeing Caucasian actors dressed up in Inuit and Asian clothing, eating with chopsticks, reading from scrolls of Chinese, etc. It would still have been offensive, that's for sure. And, as an aspiring actress, I would personally have found it rather depressing. If it had happened to be Caucasian actors who best fit the roles, and then the rest of the cast (background characters, extras, etc.) had been made white as well for uniformity, it wouldn't have been that bad.

But what M. Night Shyamalan calls "diversity" and "inclusivity," I call marginalizing.

When scheduling conflicts occurred, Jesse McCartney was replaced by Dev Patel as Zuko. While some people felt relieved that we at least had a good actor in the role of Zuko, many thought he fit the role of Sokka better (I among them, because this guy is goofy!). However, this news was soon followed by casting news regarding Iroh, Admiral Zhao, etc. All of the actors where either of South Asian or Middle Eastern descent. And that's my beef with TLA. The protagonists are white. The villains are of a darker skin tone. While Shyamalan tries to justify this by saying that Zuko becomes a protagonist later on, that he himself is Indian, that other people in the Fire Nation had to be similar to Dev in heritage once he was cast, all of these points are just weak protests against pretty obvious racism.

First of all, Zuko himself becomes a protagonist, but the rest of the Fire Nation is still South Asian or Middle Eastern, and the country as a whole is the antagonist in the cartoon series (with the Fire Lord in particular). This implies that people of color are the enemy, that they are evil, etc.

So, M. Night Shyamalan is Indian. So what? That doesn't stop you, as a person who has lived the vast majority of their life in America, from subconsciously buying into the ideology that white people are better and all that shit. I'm Chinese, I'm a minority, and when I was little, I wanted to be blonde like Barbie, because blonde, in some twisted form of logic, was supposedly better. See?

And the last point is just complete and utter crap. This promotional picture completely shoots down that point. Sokka and Katara, portrayed by Jackson Rathbone and Nicola Peltz respectively, are quite obviously white. The other members of their tribe, the extras, are pretty obviously Asian and/or Inuit. So, no. Just no. It's like how Goku's grandfather is Asian in the Dragonball Z live action movie, while Goku is Caucasian. IT DOES NOT MAKE SENSE.

The casting in this movie marginalizes Asians and Inuits. The casting director, in what I see as an attempt to appease fans, said that they were indeed looking for ethnic actors. But only as extras. I feel that I do not need to make my point any clearer.



Author's Note: I apologize in advance if anyone feels that my support for my Asian influence in A:tLA is more thorough than my support for Inuit influence. As an Asian American, the level of influence of Asian culture is more apparent to me. Also, I feel that the Inuit influence was more directly obvious, while the Asian influence was more confusing to those not as familiar with Asian cultures.
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