Racebending: Guy Aoki on "The Last Airbender" Casting Controversy

Racebending: Guy Aoki on “The Last Airbender” Casting Controversy

One of the organizers of the boycott of “The Last Airbender” takes M Night Shyamalan and Paramount to task for casting Asian roles with caucasian actors.

The Last Airbender? Hopefully.

By now I’m sure you’ve heard about the controversy over the casting of the new M. Night Shyamalan movie, The Last Airbender. Critics contended that Paramount went out of its way to cast white actors in roles that were clearly portrayed as Asian in the TV show Avatar: The Last Airbender. Naturally, Overthinking It’s Only Minority (not to mention Asian) Writer, Lee, was tuned into the controversy like Aang was tuned in with the elements.

Rather than bring you my own analysis (which would have required me to actually watch what is by all accounts a filmic abomination), I turned to a professional instead: Guy Aoki, the Founding President of the Media Action Network for Asian Americans and, along with Mike Le & Marissa Le of the website racebending.com, one of the driving forces behind this boycott. Fresh off organizing a protest agains the movie in Los Angeles, he graciously agreed to answer some questions about the issues behind this campaign and the issues of race and ethnicity in pop culture writ large.

Enjoy, and keep the discussion going in the comments.

[Note: for background on the issue, be sure to check out the FAQ on the racebending.com site.]

Be honest: were you a little glad when you saw how bad the reviews were for the movie?

Of course!  I mean, even if critics said this was an Oscar-worthy film, that wouldn’t have changed our opinion of the casting issue, but since we want this movie to do so poorly there’s not a second or third film, it helps that critics universally hate it.  And we very quickly got the notion that audiences felt the same way—one of the protestors caught it at a midnight show and he and half the theater asked for their money back and got it!  CinemaScore gave it a C—first day movie goers didn’t like it either, so they’re not apt to see it again and will not recommend it to their friends.

Given the universally negative reviews, the movie did better than expected at the box office. What will your reaction be if the movie becomes financially successful enough to warrant a sequel?

  1. The Hollywood Reporter has always noted that it’s very hard to predict how well family films will do.  They thought Karate Kid would make between $25-$30 million and it made $56 million, so I feared this might be the case with TLA.  However, they have a long ways to go before this film is profitable:  It cost $150 million to make and another $130 million to market.  And I’d predict a 70% drop for the second weekend.  They opened the movie one day early to artificially inflate their numbers on top of a holiday weekend, so $53 million for four days is not impressive. [TLA brought in $16 million in its second weekend, a 59% drop from its opening. -Ed]
  2. According to Flixter, which THR uses, interest in seeing the film was flat a week before its release and actually FELL the week leading to its release.  THR said the campaign against it hurt it, and I know the racebending.com community has done a great job in really spreading the word about their anger over this film.  They and MANAA also targeted film critics across the country to inform them of the controversy so they would mention it in their reviews, many did, and many agreed with us including Roger Ebert (though he said so before we even told him about it).
  3. If there’s a second film:  We have to discuss this in a group meeting, but one suggestion is that we ask Paramount to at least use a better director since the second movie would focus more on the Earth nation which IS populated by Asian people.  Perhaps getting an AA director would at least make these actors look good since the critics agree M Night did a terrible job writing and directing this project.

How did you get involved in the cause of Asian American media advocacy? I feel like many Asian Americans either choose not to make a big stink out of portrayals of Asian Americans in the media or keep a stiff upper lip about it rather than speak out. Did you have a moment when you said, “enough is enough, I need to do something about this!”?

"One lady with barely any teeth called us 'Japs' and said we deserved to be put in internment camps. That was the last straw."

For me, it was in the middle of 1991.  The news media began doing a series of stories leading up to the 50th anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor which was six months away.  They weren’t shining any new light on anything (e.g. did FDR know about the attack and let it happen so the U.S. would enter WW II, etc.), just sticking mikes into old people’s faces asking, “How did you feel when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor?”  How do you THINK they felt?  One lady with barely any teeth called us “Japs” and said we deserved to be put in internment camps.  That was the last straw.

At the time, I was part of NCRR (National Coalition for Redress and Reparations) which lobbied congress in 1987 to pass the redress bill.  I was one of its 15 leaders who led teams that met with Congressmen.  I decided I was going to form a media watchdog group so we’d never again be unprepared to respond to this kind of irresponsible journalism.  George Johnston and I put out heads together, worked out the details, and we had our first MANAA general meeting in April of 1992.

And in December of 1991 I worked with NCRR, who re-united members of the 100th/442nd Regimental Combat Team–the 522nd, more specifically–who were the first to rescue Jewish people form Dachau.  A Polish woman spoke about how she was blind-folded and about to be shot by German soldiers when the Japanese American soldiers arrived and saved her.  It was our way of reminding people what the U.S. did to us yet we still fought for it.

Is there truth to the stereotype of the silent Asian American minority that doesn’t complain in situations when other ethnic groups with more organization or political clout would complain?

Sure, and that’s the reason Hollywood—either subconsciously or consciously—keeps white-washing projects and inflicting stereotypes upon us:  They don’t believe we’ll do anything about it.  We’re too comfortable because, unlike other minority groups, we do pretty well.  It takes a lot to get people out of their chair to protest something.  Other ethnic groups already feel disenfranchised on several more levels, so when another offense happens, they’re quicker to show their outrage and take to the streets.

Do you agree that there’s a fine line between hyper-sensitivity (“I see racism everywhere!”) and bold, fearless media advocacy? If so, how do you draw that line? If not, why?

Sure.  We have to be selective. We don’t go after everything.  As far as films go, one of the factors we consider is, how well is it expected to do?  If we think it’s going to flop anyway, we don’t need to draw more attention to it.  However, when you had that scene in The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard last year which was so offensive, we had to say something even though it wasn’t that big a hit.

In an interview, director M. Night Shyamalan defended the casting of the movie by saying:

I’m pissed that anybody would say anything other than “bravo” when looking at Airbender as a culturally diverse movie.. To say that when we make Airbender, which is the most culturally diverse tentpole movie of all time, about the most culturally diverse subject of all time, you look at the movie poster that has Noah and Dev back to back and my name on it… It saddens me that there has to be a tiny group of people who have an agenda. It’s one of the great assets of the movie.”

How do you respond to that? Do you think Shyamalan actually believes these things, is ignorant of the way Paramount went about casting the roles, or perhaps a combination of both?

"M Night has truly lost it, both as a creative person and as a human being who can reason with reality."

M Night has truly lost it, both as a creative person and as a human being who can reason with reality.  I know his movie took place in a fantasy world, but I’d like to know what fantasy world HE’S living in!  Fact:  Most of the Asian people you saw in his movie were extras who didn’t speak.  Except for a few Earth Nation people and another guy who ends up betraying Aang, every Asian person who spoke was part of the evil Fire Nation.  Even the critics acknowledged that.  Harold & Kumar, Star Trek, Up, and Mission: Impossible III were all more culturally diverse than TLA.

Also, how can he say he went about casting this color blind when the casting notice stated a specific preference for white people?  Otherwise, you’d say “submit all ethnicities.”  Paramount President Adam Goodman told me that was a mistake but it came from local casting directors.  Wrong.  I have the smoking gun:  It came from Gail Levin who works on the lot at Paramount.  Either people lied to Adam (he became President in June of last year) or he’s lying to me.  Frank Marshall, one of the producers, is definitely lying.  In order to defend against this accusation, he gave ugo.com the September 2008 notice which didn’t specific race, very conveniently not sending the July 2008 one which did.

What do you think it will take for Hollywood to make substantive changes in its practices? Will they inevitably respond to shifting demographics, or are there more deep-rooted prejudices against casting non-white actors in major roles that also needs to be overcome?

Since Hollywood imitates success, it would help to have a movie which stars an Asian American that really takes off and appeals to everyone.  That would help unhinge the racist assumptions of studios that white people won’t pay money to see Asian people.  Hell, Jackie Chan movies have been #1 even though he can barely speak English!  Think how much money people would pay to see a kick-ass Asian AMERICAN man who can!

Those deep-rooted prejudices remain, however, and that’s why we’ll always be in an uphill battle for opportunities:  We have to prove ourselves that much more than white people.  There is such a thing as white privilege.  Look at Alex O’Loughlin:  He starred in two CBS series, two years in a row, which were cancelled:  Moonlight and Three Rivers.  Yet the same network lets him star in the upcoming remake of Hawaii Five-0 as the new Steve MacGarrett!  And he has absolutely no charisma!

This is more relevant to pop culture outside of the fantasy realm that “The Last Airbender” inhabits, but I think it’s worth asking. In reference to Secret Identities, an anthology of Asian-American superhero comics, I wrote that:

[The authors] revealed a paradoxical “have your (rice) cake and eat it too” mentality that Asian-Americans have been struggling with for years… Basically, Asian-Americans want to be seen as a minority group that needs special consideration, while at the same time we don’t want to be seen as a whiny self-victimizing “other” minority group that needs special consideration. We cry foul when white actors get cast in non-white roles… but when Asian actors do show up on screen, we don’t want them to be overtly defined by their ethnicity. We want a comics anthology dedicated to Asian American superheroes , but we don’t want their Asian-ness to dominate the stories. In our family lives, we want to preserve things like food, language, and customs that set us apart from the mainstream, but we also want our kids to get into Harvard, Yale, and Princeton, those bastions of the white American establishment.

Do you agree that there’s this tension within Asian-American culture? What’s “better”: a character in a fictional work that “happens” to be Asian (e.g. Russell from Pixar’s UP), or an explicitly Asian character whose Asian-ness is essential to his identity (e.g. Mr. Miyagi from the original Karate Kid movie)?

We need to have both:  those which demonstrate we’re just regular people who happen to be Asian American.  Then we need those which delve into what it means to be Asian American.  That’s why, despite the fact that Mr. Miyagi was a stereotyped character, he still had the best scene any AA ever played in the history of cinema when he was drunk and revealed his past—and the past of Japanese Americans who were interned during World War II.  That’s why he got his Oscar nomination.  I still cry when I see that scene.  Bless you, Pat.

Guy, thanks so much for taking the time to answers these questions.

Readers, it’s your turn: what’s your take on the “race-bending” controversy? Has M Night Shyamalan lost it? Are there any examples of positive cross-racial casting? Should Lee be cast as the next Spider-Man? Sound off in the comments!

49 Comments on “Racebending: Guy Aoki on “The Last Airbender” Casting Controversy”

  1. Timothy J Swann #

    Spider-Lee! Great interview, an important issue, and one that we know OTI will not let by without appropriate comment.


  2. cat #

    The casting choice was something that bothered me but not something I would actively protest. I never intended to see the film anyway and the film had already been made so it wasn’t as though beyond a boycott, anything could be done to prevent other people from seeing it. That being said, I’ve certainly been vocal among my circle of friends about my opposition to choices like this in major films.

    Something that especially rankles about casting white actors in these roles is that from what I can tell, not having seen the film or show, these characters seem to strike a balance between being Asian characters and characters who exist outside of their situation and have other qualities apart from their Asianness.

    It’s been great to see more instances of Asian actors in films in recent years but it bothers me that Zhang Ziyi only gets a call when they NEED an Asian actress for Memoirs of a Geisha or a similar film. I think there should come a time when you can put out a casting call to “submit all ethnicities” and every one who shows up has an equal opportunity based solely on their abilities.

    When you’re not making a film where the physical traits/ethnicity of the character are vital or iconic, it shouldn’t matter what ethnicity the actor is. Most romantic comedies, action films, essentially most films that aren’t period pieces could star Asian American actors without any problems and shouldn’t cause complaint.

    I’m still holding out hope that an Asian actress will win the Oscar in my lifetime.

    There’s already a next Spiderman, unless you mean the next, next Spiderman, but I’d fully support you in a Terminator film if they decide to make one to erase that last one from existence.


  3. Sam #

    I’m sorry, but I really think that this is being blown out of proportion. These characters really don’t appear all that Asian to me in the cartoon. Is it assumed that they are because it’s drawn in an anime-like style? If so, isn’t that just as stereotypical? And this is a fantasy world anyway, so anything goes, right? Just because these made-up cultures are similar to real world Asian cultures, they have to be Asian? I’ve seen the movie, and it is a total piece of garbage, and I’m not a fan of the cartoon, so I’m not blindly defending it, but I will defend artistic license (meaning the artistic license of the creators of Avatar, not the film makers). I also question MANAA’s selective protesting. If you stand for a principle, you must always stand for it. You cannot pick and choose like they themselves say they do. I understand if they miss a movie that is not big enough to be noticed by them, but how a movie (or any work of art/entertainment for that matter) is reviewed or expected to do at the box office should not dictate the attention it receives from their organization. To me, that says that the principle is ill-defined and poorly conceived.


  4. Danny #


    The art style of the cartoon leaves physical features ambiguous, as does Anime. The way viewers determine the race of the characters in both Anime and in cartoons is through external markers, which in the case of Avatar were Asian as well as Inuit culture and mannerisms. It’s wrong to assume that just because this is a fantasy world that the rules don’t apply. Writers and audiences live in this world, and so obviously a fantasy world, to have any believability, will reflect this world in some way. It’s not like fantasy worlds are created in vacuums.

    If you want to defend the artistic license of the creators, I would understand that you would want Asian-American and Inuit actors. The creators hired cultural consultants, a Chinese calligrapher, as well as a professional teacher of Chinese martial arts in order to accurately portray a pan-Asian and Inuit world. They did a lot of research. I hardly doubt they would have done all of that without a single thought as to the racial make-up of their characters.

    And it’s not that as a result of the culture that the characters have to be Asian or Inuit; it is that they should be. Hollywood has a history of marginalizing and ignoring minority actors while appropriating their heritage, often inaccurately. This is unfair. This film was a huge opportunity for Paramount to start changing this history, but it ended up supporting it.

    MANAA has a tricky line to toe. Many people don’t realize this, but White people have the privilege of complaining about or pointing out racial issues without being seen as whining, oversensitive, or nepotist toward their own race. White people can also successfully choose to ignore racial issues in their daily lives. Minorities don’t have such privileges. This is what Aoki was trying to address here, I believe. It’s certainly more expected for an organization such as this to point out every racial imbalance, but to do so would hurt the public’s perception (read: White majority’s perception) of MANAA. If MANAA is seen as whiny and over-sensitive, no one will give their views a second thought, so MANAA has to pick its battles carefully.


  5. Sam #


    The nature of cartooning to leave features ambiguous is to allow the audience to supplant themselves in the main characters’ role. The younger the audience, the more ambiguous the character’s appearance (see Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics). Animation has the luxury of being ambiguous and appealing to every race, as the ambiguity of these characters would allow their audience to see them as whatever race they are. However, if a cartoon has a primarily white audience, you cast the film to reflect that. I would not be surprised to learn that Paramount held panels and focus groups asking children and fans of the show to describe the color of Aang’s skin before moving ahead with casting. Certainly every fantasy work needs some basis in reality, but racial accuracy will do nothing but alienate the majority of the audience of this film, who likely perceive the characters to be white.

    If the creator’s had gone to Chinese calligraphy consultants and Chinese martial arts teachers to help them accurately portray China, I would understand. But there is no China in the world of Avatar: TLA.

    Anyone with a stance similar to MANAA’s has a tricky tightrope to walk, but compromising your principles and inconsistently applying them is not a part of that walk. If black Americans had “picked their battles” in the sixties during the Civil Rights Movement, they would have been far less successful.


  6. Sam #


    Also, “toe the line” doesn’t mean what you think it means.


  7. Gab #

    The reason this is perceived as “wrong” or whatever is because the cultures and characters in the series are very much based on Asian and inuit cultures of the real world- it is setting- and character- DEFINING. Plopping white people in the movie paints over those characteristics with the brush of the white majority. Even when Shymalan says it’s the “most ethnically diverse movie of all time”, he’s still missing the mark, for in actuality, the show isn’t all that diverse- which makes SENSE. I’m not smart enough to tell exactly what’s what on the series, but I *did* pick up on the fact that the Air Nation seemed like it was inspired by its own Asian culture, as was the Fire Nation and the Earth Kingdom- like how Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, Korean, etc. each have their own histories and cultures distinct from one another, I do believe there were specific real-world nations as basis for the distinct ones in the show. But Shymalan changes inuits into Europeans, Asian nomads essentially into mutts, and Asian nobles into Middle-Eastern ones. He changed 3/4 of them completely, and the last 1/4 is a hodgepodge of any Asian background, not one specific, which still goes against the grain of the show. The shifting around or the races is unsettling to me: Just because, for example, Indians and Persians are a minority doesn’t mean they should be playing characters that are more Chinese or Korean than Middle-Eastern- that’s an EXTREME case of the, “Any Asian can play any Asian,” mentality, extremely Orientalist. And I find the idea that the characters were originally animated, so they can be anything!!! misses the point because again, there was definitely “Asian-ness” and “inuit-ness” deeply ingrained within the characters in the series. Changing their race takes it away.

    Sigh/huff/headdesk. I could go on, but I’m cutting it off now, before I start rambling and pissing people off.

    But I myself an kind of miffed, not only on principle, but because I do love the series so much, and the movie is so utterly fail- not just in the race thing, but as a movie. I haven’t seen it and am afraid to.


  8. L33tminion #


    These characters really don’t appear all that Asian to me in the cartoon

    Looking at the character images above, I wonder what would it take for a cartoon character to appear Asian to you?

    And the setting didn’t clue you in? It’s Asian like Tolkien’s Middle Earth is European, “everywhere is Asia” is practically the conceit of the setting.

    racial accuracy will do nothing but alienate the majority of the audience of this film, who likely perceive the characters to be white

    The racism of the audience is a fait acompli, the studio has no choice but to go along with it? I suppose I give the movie watching public a bit more credit, I’d suggest that, imagined focus groups aside, you’re just generalizing from yourself. But if the film’s intended audience is as you suggest, that makes me all the more glad that a good movie wasn’t wasted on them.


  9. Danny #


    “However, if a cartoon has a primarily white audience, you cast the film to reflect that. […] Certainly every fantasy work needs some basis in reality, but racial accuracy will do nothing but alienate the majority of the audience of this film, who likely perceive the characters to be white.”

    The ambiguity hardly means that White is the default, even if White is the majority. If America prides itself in being a nation that is non-homogenous and multicultural, how is it okay to completely disregard every single piece of cultural identifier in the source material?
    And I doubt that White audiences would be alienated by such casting. Films like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon have done immensely well in America, as well as films with non-human leads. There is also the fact that there is no dearth of representation for White Americans in the media. “Losing” these roles wouldn’t decrease the number of roles that are available to White actors by much, but they would increase the visibility of minorities.

    “If the creator’s had gone to Chinese calligraphy consultants and Chinese martial arts teachers to help them accurately portray China, I would understand. But there is no China in the world of Avatar: TLA.”

    But it is clear and has been stated by the creators that this is a pan-Asian/Inuit fantasy world. I don’t understand how one can willfully divorce a colored people from their culture. To do so would be shameful cultural appropriation, and it’s something marginalized minorities in Hollywood have had to deal with for ages. It’s not right that a property based so heavily off of Asian and Inuit cultures is whitewashed, and the minorities whose heritage these are are exiled to unnamed supporting roles, waiting for the now White heroes to inspire and save them. Especially when minority actors such as these usually can’t get “normal” roles and are typecast as asexual martial arts masters, sexy femme fatales, angry Native American tribal member… etc.

    “Anyone with a stance similar to MANAA’s has a tricky tightrope to walk, but compromising your principles and inconsistently applying them is not a part of that walk.”

    I’m not saying that I agree with MANAA’s approach, but Asian-American activism is a different beast than Black activism, imo, because the Asian-American experience is not one Black Americans will necessarily live out. As a result, it may require a unique approach.


  10. Brimstone #

    I’ve been watching the series. The Water Tribes are culturally Inuit. The Air Nomads are… Tibetan? maybe. I’m not sure. the Fire Nation is basically Imperial Japan. the swamp people are American rednecks

    i’m oversimplifying but it’s there


  11. AnotherDave #

    Asian voice actors in the cartoon: Mako, Dante Bosco(?)

    Controversy: nil.

    Just saying.


  12. StartlePixie #

    *Contains spoilers*

    I agree with Brimstone. And for people who haven’t seen the series: you should see season 3 to understand what Fire Nation is all about. They are not that “EVIL”. And *spoiler alert* Prince Zuko is not bad. He is the one who will assist the Avatar to defeat his idiot of a father and his sister. So, no. And, actually, when Zuko’s hair grows, he looks quite white… What disturbs me more is the casting for Katara and Sokka. THIS is truly bad casting… Anyway… I’m not really planning to spend money on this piece of crap…

    *End of spoilers*

    And speaking from personal experience, I do feel for the Asian Americans. Having been born with a cleft lip and palate, it strange to see you condition being used in such films as The Hills Have eyes to represent the socially excluded and disturbed serial killers and rapists. It’s just sad…


  13. wendyd #

    “racial accuracy will do nothing but alienate the majority of the audience of this film, who likely perceive the characters to be white.”

    As a white person, this is the thinking that ticks me off the most, the idea that white people are somehow incapable of responding to other races and cultures in the heroic role. It’s like Hollywood is so afraid to lose a $$ that they refuse to cast good actors in good movies, regardless of race or setting.


  14. Sam #


    So 9 year old white kids who enjoy the show are inherently racist? And I’m a 9 year old racist white kid? That’s what you are translating my statements as saying, which is incorrect. I am merely stating HOW CARTOONING WORKS. And I personally don’t see Tolkien’s Middle Earth as inherently European. It’s a made-up fantasy world. Of course there are influences in both, but those influences are simply easier to use since America doesn’t have much of a pre-industrial history that would lend itself to a fantasy story. Europe and Asia have that romanticized history in spades, so it’s just easier to use them as your basis. That’s primarily why I tend towards futuristic science-fiction over the fantasy stories that have a basis in cultures more technologically and politically primitive than ours. For example, Star Wars, while choc-full of genre tropes and cliches, is based in an entirely imaginary world. But I digress.


    You confuse the audience with the intended audience. The intended audience are children, who probably have never seen Crouching Tiger. The resultant audience is those children and their parents, and possibly a few curious fantasy/martial arts/SFX nuts. Sure the parents may have enjoyed CTHD, but the movie does not rely on their opinion of the movie or it’s racial accuracy. It relies on their children’s.


  15. Danny #


    Mako did point out the lack of Asian-American voice actors on the show, and the creators helped to allevaite that situation in later seasons. Also, your comment insinuates that only White people can speak English like Americans, and that is simply untrue.


    Yes, Zuko and Iroh become good during season 3, and the Fire Nation is really just out of balance due to its genocidal leader, but that isn’t revealed until Season 3. The entire First Season, as well as the events of the film, show no such depth. They are still indisputably the antagonists at this point in the story. You’re derailing the argument by bringing up something that hasn’t happened in the film series yet.

    And have you heard anything anyone else has said about the art style of the cartoon? It’s ambiguous and simple. How anyone can definitively say that that’s a White person onscreen or an Asian from drawn physical attributes is beyond me. There’s nothing to reference the style to in order for determining race except the obvious cultural indicators.


    How do you not see the European heritage behind Tolkien’s works? The themes of the story may be universal, but I fail to see how one can completely ignore the source of the heritage in Tolkien or Avatar. To so would be disrespecting the spirit of the work and ignoring contexts.

    To discuss your argument about the children, this was a valuable opportunity to teach all kids that White isnt the default. Because, frankly, it isn’t when you deal with ambiguities. It also would send the message of respecting the inherent diversities of other cultures, of people who aren’t White. Colored children would finally have big-screen heroes (who don’t speak stilted English) to look up to, something White children have no dearth of in tiday’s media. This film failed in all of those respects, while the show didn’t. In the movie, White is the default race if the race isn’t explicit physically. Asian and Inuit culture is now some hodgepodge, half-assed mockery complete with Chinese-style gibberish writing. And minority children, the kids whom America prizes as the faces of its diversity, are forced to continue living in a world where their heritages look better with White people. White kids weren’t going to lose anything had this movie been cast thoughtfully. They, as well as minority children, would have gained an invaluable tool to teach them about respecting other races. But the movie failed at that, and I will not stand for something that so epically failed the spirit of its souce material.


  16. cat #

    This conversation is going into a strange area that I’m not entirely comfortable with. It’s veering away from the OTI end of the spectrum and more towards the 4channic discourse.

    @Sam Honestly, I’m not qualified to argue the finer points of the purposeful rendering of ambiguous features in animation. I will say though, that with any character it’s about creating a well-rounded individual that an audience member can identify with on some level. It’s about personality and plot and experience. You go on a journey with a character and you empathize with that character. I don’t think ambiguity is about substituting your race in for the character’s race so much as it’s about race not being an important factor (unless it somehow plays a role in the actual storyline).

    “However, if a cartoon has a primarily white audience, you cast the film to reflect that.”
    Why? This is the very problem people are protesting. Assume for a second that Batman has a primarily Japanese or Indian or Israeli audience. Would you cast the film to reflect that? If films with primarily Caucasian leads can appeal to people from non-Caucasian backgrounds, why should white audiences have a problem with Asian leads?

    In response to what you said to Danny: He wasn’t saying that you need to see CTHD to appreciate a film with Asian leads or one that is racially accurate. It was simply evidence that such films can be successful in the US. There’s no reason why children would have prejudices that their parents don’t. A film intended for children with Asian leads that made $120,620,254 in the US? Mulan.


  17. Sam #

    I’m not saying that I ignore any European influences in Tolkien’s work. I am saying that when I read the words of his characters, I don’t hear Irish or Welsh or German accents, and I don’t imagine them eating haggis or bratwurst.

    I think I need to remove myself from this discussion, because I feel that my original intent has been obscured by my need to debate ad nauseum. Before I abandon this comment thread, allow me to reiterate my position for posterity.

    1. It is not the job of a big movie studio or writer/director to educate children in the realities of racial diversity, or to even depict it realistically.

    2. It IS the job of MANAA to stand for what they believe in, regardless of the anticipated success or popularity the artistic work in question.

    3. I AGREE that it is unfair to portray Asian characters as caucasian.

    4. I do not hold it against the studio for casting actors that their target audience can identify with.

    And one additional point. Isn’t it possible that CTHD and Mulan did well in the U.S. IN SPITE of their Asian leads, and not BECAUSE of their Asian leads? I say this merely to provide an alternative explanation, and not to express my own opinion. Obviously, it is morally wrong for that to be the case, but it DOES HAPPEN! Do not let idealism cloud your view of the real world that we live in. That is, the one where children cannot fling fire and water around with their minds and dance moves.


  18. Danny #


    1. You’re right; it’s not their job. However, that will not stop me from refusing to pay to see something that I believe perpetuates the marginalization of minorities in Hollywood, nor does that stop me from trying to convince others who feel the same way to condemn the company for their stupid, stupid decisions, which will have effects on our kids. Is it terrible of me to ask for three colored heroes for the colored children in this country? Is it wrong of me to knock some White people off their pedestal of privilege so that they learn that heroes, regardless of race, can have a compelling, human story? This is certainly not being shown with the current state of media. 

    4. I and many others WILL hold this against them because it is a case of cultural appropriation. The heritages of minorities is used for shameless profit while the minorities themselves are shoved into the background. And as you said in your closing paragraph, films can do well in spite of minority leads, who you keep saying that White audiences are alienated by. There was absolutely no reason why Paramount should have felt the need to whitewash these obviously minority characters. 

    In my opinion, people’s reluctance to realize that fantasy worlds are never completely removed from the circumstances of this one is clouding their judgement in the matter. 


  19. stokes #

    “It is not the job of a big movie studio or writer/director to educate children in the realities of racial diversity, or to even depict it realistically.”

    This got me to thinking.

    Point one: Obviously the job of a big movie studio is to make financially successful movies. And much as we like to talk about art, that’s the writer/director’s job too (in as much as that is what the studio is paying them to do).

    Point two: If enough people refuse to pay for movies that do not depict racial diversity, then these movies will not be financially successful.

    If boycotts like this are successful, then depicting racial diversity will BECOME a part of the studios and writer/director’s jobs. Right?


  20. Eli #

    As with anything to do with race and cultural identity, I recognize that this is a pretty complex issue, and one that I have almost no hope of understanding (Caucasian male), but the way I see it, the issue here is one of intent (which frustratingly, can probably never be definitively ascertained). As far as I can simplify, there are two ways to look at this.

    One, whoever was responsible for the decision to cast Noah Ringer did so because they believed it was faithful to the source material for whatever reason (even if it something so simple as, “in the series, Aang appears white”).

    Two, whoever decided to cast Noah Ringer did so in an attempt to pander to a demographic that has a lesser likelihood of seeing a film with a non-Caucasian lead, and therefore make more money than otherwise might be possible.

    In my view, the first is forgivable. It is justifiable by ignorance (not to the complexities of race, but merely to the source material, two entirely different issues). However, if the second is true (which I highly suspect, but no one has any particular way to prove) then I believe this casting choice to be unforgivable. Marginalizing a race or nation of people for the sake of profit is despicable.

    I have no desire to see this film, at all. It is easy to see that this film is a disgrace to its source material, and Manoj Nelliyattu Shyamalan, the man who credits himself as M. Night Shyamalan should know better.


  21. sarielthrawn #

    Call me old fashioned, but I’m thinking that the issue here is that the studio system in Hollywood is still a largely conservative institution. The mainstream part of the moive industry is very strongly risk-averse and dominated by old white men. You only have to look at the history of the Oscars as evidence for this.

    They cast white people because it’s safer in terms of box office draw. Ethnic people will still go watch white people in movies but racist white people might not be so open minded. Whether this view is based on reality is up for argument (personally I think people are more open minded then the ‘establishment’ gives them credit for). This is just another story that appears to have been whitewashed to try and appeal to the widest demographic possible. The fact that it sucks so hard only magnifies the racism in the casting.

    If this movie had been good and made a truck load of money would these issues have been ignored or quickly forgotten? Would this have been one of the ones that MANAA had chosen not to fight so as not to appear to be against something that is loved by millions? What’s the point of boycotting a movie that no-one was going to see anyway?

    Personally I think if you are taking a stand on an issue then take a stand regardless of the fallout. As someone once said you don’t just fight the fights you can win, you fight the fights that need fighting.


  22. Ezra #

    Gosh. Russell in Up is supposed to be Asian? I did not get that at all. I thought of him more as a Humpty Dumpty-shaped mass of “undefined protoplasm.”


  23. Valatan #

    Just pointing out that the crux of this authenticitiy argument is based around the creation of a white person blending “Inuit and Asian cultures”, as cited by several of the angriest people on this thread.

    In what way is that possibly less racist than the actual film? That concept is pure exoticism, especially when it is constantly referred to, in this thread and elsewhere, as ‘Asian’ and not any particular Asian culture, and then blended with something completely different from that by a white American. Those choices are because they are things that would ping as ‘different’ to an American audience. There is a reason that it was that and not, say, Swedish and Mexican cultures.

    Why aren’t Asian American associations boycotting the cartoon? The cartoon is more of a random cultural blender than the movie. Hell, why this and not the Karate Kid remake? Especially when the interchangabelity of Asian people and cultures has been one of the key ways in which racism against Asian people has occurred.


  24. Valatan #

    Also, the only Asian voice actors in the original cartoon are the same characters that are cast by Asians in the movie.

    Here is what Zach Tyler looks like, by the way.

    Why none of this rage at the cartoon?


  25. Darin #

    I am sorry I’m late to the conversation.

    There have been numerous adaptations. Romeo and Juliet has been redone so many times with different looks/directorial approaches. West Side Story was Puerto Ricans vs. Whites, with expert production run during a culturally relevant time of year. Did they white-wash TLA? yes. Do they get the critical acclaim of West Side Story? no.

    I think the racially insensitive casting is atrocious probably for a different reason than others. It’s because it was done to pander to the studios and the little kids whose parents would be footing the bill instead of to make a point. I can’t imagine a good reason to white-wash a story. Even though I can’t imagine a good reason, one might exist; it just doesn’t exist in TLA.

    @lee: great interview, if OTI does do other breakaways from OTI, please make sure they keep up the standard.


  26. Vid #

    Personaly, I don’t have a problem with racist casting. white people can’t help it if we’re better.


  27. Danny #


    The cartoon was created by two White American men who hired and kept on staff a cultural consultant who evaluated scripts for accuracy and authenticity, a professional Chinese martial arts instructor to help model martial arts forms and skirmishes, a Chinese calligrapher to write out all text seen on the series in proper Chinese, and a Korean animation studio that helped with character design (costuming, etc.). The creators also did plenty of research in Asia on their own when plotting the settings of the story. 

    While what I write may talk about the blending of Asian and Inuit cultures, this is simply shorthand and a simplification of what the show actually accomplished. The same applies for just calling Avatar “Asian.” The creators have asserted many times that this is a pan-Asian fantasy world, and by ‘blending,’ I mean that many of the unique cultures of Asia and the Inuit coexist in the Avatar world, not that they are thrown together haphazardly as you suggest. The aspects of Inuit culture are confined to the Water Tribes, while several villages in the Earth Kingdom have Korean influences and the Air Nomads resemble Tibetan monks. They even went out of their way to depict different groups of refugees in the Earth Kingdom capital city with different cultural costumes, highlighting that they were refugees and the city’s culture wasn’t theirs. 

    The creators spent a lot of time and effort avoiding cultural appropriation by consulting professionals and advisors, as well as respectfully depicting many Asian and Inuit cultures with accuracy. It was not, as you say, “a random cultural blender.”

    The Last Airbender, on the other hand, by many accounts was. The authentic Chinese was replaced by a gibberish fantasy language that still sort of resembled the language, yet the names were corrected to sound more like Asian languages. The clothes worn by the female characters were worn in a funeral style (the cartoon did not mess this part up). Decisions like these, as well as the casting of the named heroes with White actors, serve to support the claim that the movie has failed to replicate the spirit and intent of the original work. These decisions fly in the face of all the work the creators put into doing a pan-Asian and Inuit world right. 

    I’ve said this before, but the lack of Asian-American voice actors is less troubling than live-action casting. Asian-Americans and Inuits can and do speak fluent American English. Voice-acting is less of a visual medium, as well as less explicitly tied to race, than acting is.

    I believe the voice director dealt with this when it was pointed out. More Asian-American voice actors were recruited in later seasons; see IMDB. 


  28. Valatan #

    Those are all dramatically better examples than the OP, the racebending faq or most of this thread. Thank you.


  29. kittiquin #

    I’m not sure if somebody else has said this because I don’t have time to read all the comments, but I just wanted to add that I think another reason Asian people rarely protest Hollywood depictions is that they can always turn to Asian films instead. I suppose this probably changes once you’re a few generations gone, but most of my friends came here (Australia) in the last 10-20 years, and still prefer music and movies from the place they grew up. A few were born in Australia, and still watch a lot of movies from Asia. And seeing as Korea, China, and Japan have pretty awesome filmmaking traditions, they aren’t going to feel like they’ve lost anything for it.

    TO be honest, most Korean movies I’ve seen have seen have been head and shoulders above anything from Hollywood.


  30. lee OTI Staff #


    Thanks for contributing to such a lively and thoughtful discussion. It’s hard to find such an example of civilized, non-4channic discourse when it comes to discussing race and ethnicity on the internet.

    @kittiquin: I’ve watched my fair share of Korean movies. Your positive assessment of Korean cinema is likely due to selection bias; that is, when you watch a Korean movie, it’s probably on high recommendation, and you probably haven’t watched too many of them, especially compared to the numerous Hollywood movies you’ve likely seen. That is to say, for every “Old Boy” or “The Host,” there are four or five schlocky romantic comedies that make “She’s Out Of My League” look like works of Kubrick-esque genius.


  31. kittiquin #

    @lee you’re right, I’ve only seen Korean films my friends recommended (maybe 20 of them) which has skewed my average. But those 20 were still better than anything Hollywood-made I’ve seen in that time, so I’m standing behind my argument.

    My point was that if you’re Korean can watch the schlocky romantic comedies from Korea and not have to deal with the misrepresentation or lack of representation in something from America. I can’t even think of an American romantic comedy with asian characters. Rob Schneider in yellowface in “I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry”? (Let us all shudder quietly and move on.)


  32. M.Night Uses Reverse Psychology #

    The actual genders and races of what the elements represent are in Rodney St.Michael’s book, Sync My World: Thief’s Honor GA SK. (myconnected.webs.com)

    Air = Yellow “race” = Males = Scholars.

    Water = Small Browns = Females = Shamans.

    Earth = Blacks = Lesbian = Social Ubuntu Business Class.

    Fire = Whites = Gays = Military, Militant Business Class.

    Ether or Metal = Big Browns = Bisexuals = Working Class, Bi-military
    (females & bis go together like Katara & Sokka or brown females and males).

    Therefore Aang should be Chinese.

    Katara should be a Malay like a Filipina.

    The Earth Kingdom should be African.

    Zuko should be White like Hitler, Alexander the Gay or Gen. Arthur McArthur.

    The Fire Nation’s army should be like the fiery Sacred Band of Thebes (an ancient elite gay army that Don’t-Ask-Don’t-Tell troops would be envious of) or the Sturmabteilung, the much-feared homosexual stormtroopers of Hitler.

    And the Slumdog Millionaire (casted as Zuko) should be Sokka.

    This film is just as messed up as the movie Angels and Demons. The branding of the priests were incorrect.

    But anyway, from the guy who gave you the Sixth Sense, which did not portray childhood schizophrenia accurately or anywhere near the real world, what do you expect?

    Bisexuals love horror and terror. They also scam people, just like the Wizard of Oz. The old Oz film which is also about the Elements is understandably all-white because they were ignorant back then. People have higher standards now, and realism is a must.

    But M.Night, the Wizard of South Asia also has lessons for everyone after conning them:

    1) Clearly, when people don’t play roles that fit them, everything is messed up. (e.g. “male” clergy in what should be a female realm, forbidding gays in the military which is their territory)

    2) Whites are not fit to play the leading roles of Air and Water in the world scene. Leave that to the ASEAN+3 (China, Japan, Korea and South East Asia).

    3) Arabs are not necessarily the greatest evil in the world. Occasionally, they float like Ether to the ranks of Water. It is fiery whites that fit the role of Lucifer or Satan.

    4) By acquiring objective reviews from leading critics, they have agreed themselves that these are all factual objective realities.

    Thus, the Wizard, even if he is a con man, is also an accidental pseudo teacher. Partly, it’s called sunyata or “emptiness.”


  33. Danny #

    @ M. Night Uses Reverse Psychology

    I’ve seen what I think is this exact post on a different article regarding the controversy of The Last Airbender.

    I do not understand what you are saying at all. Skimming through your blog and looking at summaries of the books you name hasn’t made your intent any clearer. Nothing you say is actually connected to Avatar or The Last Airbender. It’s nonsensical.

    Why are you bringing this up, and why should we believe or even care about St. Michael’s book in context of institutional racism, cultural appropriation, and minority representation in Hollywood and this film?


  34. kittiquin #

    @ M. Night Uses Reverse Psychology

    “Bisexuals love horror and terror”. What?


  35. Tadpole #

    All I see here is a bunch of people that need to shut up and get over it. The movie wasn’t terrible, the actors did a good job, and who cares about what race is what and whose skin was what color??? The only people who are making this about race are all of you and people like you, which is the way it usually is…kids do not notice this type of thing! They learn to notice it when their parents and other “adults” around them start bitching about it and decide they need something to be offended about something and need something to protest. I don’t care what color the actors are that were cast, my kids didn’t care…they just wanted to see one of their favorite shows in live action on the big screen…and they were delighted! Why??? Because it’s fun, as it was intended to be. People with all their bitching and moaning about race, and life’s not fair take away all the magic and fun out of the entire movie going experience and try to ruin it for everyone else. So you disagree with the casting choice? Good for you! So don’t go to the movie and don’t let your children see it…but drop it already! Frankly, I am sick and tired of hearing about it! And guess what? I’m not the only one…


  36. Tadpole #

    Oh and one more thing…when I look at the characters in the cartoon, I see kids…not color or race or ethnicity…and my children view it the same way. Katara and her brother Sokka were olive complected at best, with brown hair and blue eyes…Inuit?? Not last time I checked. Perhaps a mix? So why can’t white people play those characters? Obviously there were some white folks in the mix in the cartoon. Or are we to believe that white people are extinct? Well that’s not right either. My children are half white and can identify with Katara and Sokka by their complexion and light colored eyes and hair…and by the fact that they are HUMAN and CHILDREN. The boy in the movie, Noah Ringer, who plays Aang looks like Aang from the cartoon! And guess what? He’s an authentic martial arts expert…but he’s white…ooo that can’t be right. Can it? You are all taking this way too seriously and have succeeded at ruining the viewing experience for those whose opinions should matter more than anyone else…the children of America. Way to go…


  37. Gab #

    @cat: 4channic discourse? What? (Premptive apology- I’m about to feed into it)

    @M. Night Uses Reverse Psychology: If you’re being satirical, it didn’t work on me- what you said offended me, and that blog (yes, I looked it up) was a practice in every possible and negative “ism” related to bigotry of some kind out there- and it appalled me so much my hands started shaking before I was done reading the most recent entry. Unfortunately, neither your post or the blog presented any way for me to believe there was a joke to “get” in reading (especially the blog, since while there was prolific use of quotation marks around some of the offensive words, indicating a difference of opinion, there was also a prolific amount of offensive material without them). So if you were trying to be bitingly funny, all you did was take a chunk out of my jugular and make me angry not at society, but you and that Michaels fellow.

    And if you’re serious, I’m sorry you are filled with such hate that you’d actually agree with such misanthropic, ignorant assertions that are loosely based on misused hodgepodges of history, Freudian psychology, and religion (among other things). I only hope you become more enlightened to reality someday.

    @Tadpole: Look at the name of the site, man. The whole point of the site is to go beyond face value of pop culture stuff. Or have a look at the “1000 Reasons Why We Overthink” piece. Yeah, at face value, _The Last Airbender_ *is* a fun kids’ movie (or at least attempted to be one). But what next? The “next” is where this site comes in. And it’s not like anyone here is saying kids are stupid or don’t deserve escapism the way adults get it all the time with their movies- but keep in mind it’s ADULTS making the decisions about the product, not kids. The kids- audience and actor alike- don’t need to be criticized, but the adults? Absolutely. In front of the kids? Perhaps not, but that’s a decision for each parent to make, over whether they want to use this as an opportunity to educate their kids about cultural insensitivity and orientalism or whatever themes they may have extrapolated from the movie.


  38. Tadpole #

    @Gab…Automatically assuming I’m a man is sexism…perhaps you need to get off your pedestal of self-righteousness and take a step back into reality. But thank you for pointing out that there are children involved in the production of this film…it’s a pity that folks are blinded by hatred and just go swinging at anything in the dark unconcerned with who or what they may in in their rage.


  39. Tadpole #

    ***it’s a pity that folks are blinded by hatred and just go swinging at anything in the dark, unconcerned with who or what they may hit in their rage.***

    Computer’s on the blink…-_-


  40. mlawski OTI Staff #

    Hey. Everybody. Chill out for a sec.

    If we want to have a conversation, we need to listen to each other and not tell one side or the other to shut up.

    Let’s look at some facts. The fact is, children absolutely notice race and gender when they watch movies and TV. So do adults. And even if they don’t notice it consciously, it has an effect. Check it:


    Although, seriously, do I really need to cite articles to prove that what you watch on TV and in the movies may affect your views of the world?

    As for Asians specifically, they are extremely underrepresented in the American media, and it things may be getting worse. Between 1999 and 2003, the number of Asian characters on TV dropped by 50%. Of the Asian characters still on TV, more than 40% were considered “tertiary” characters–characters with so little screentime the researchers couldn’t even call them secondary characters. In 2003, there were almost no characters on TV that were Asian children. This study lists them as 0% of child characters: http://www.childrennow.org/uploads/documents/fall_colors_2003.pdf

    Why does this all matter? Isn’t racism over? I don’t think I can say it any better than Tim Wise:

    And as far as the idea that racism doesn’t apply to Asian Americans is concerned:

    Those of you who are sick of hearing us all “bitch” about racism in the media and want us to shut up already, I implore you to step back and take a look at your privilege. Why are you so bothered by this conversation?


  41. cat #

    @Gab I’m not going to call anyone out but in the middle of the debate, offhand comments were thrown out that betrayed sentiments that I found objectionable.

    @mlawski Thank you for intervening.

    No, you didn’t need to cite those articles but some providing interesting reading material.

    “Four-fifths of children think it is important to see people of their own race on television. Yet they look largely in vain for Asian and Latino characters.”

    “Young people also complain that programs segregate races into all- white or all-black casts. Explaining that they have friends of all races, they want programs reflecting that diversity.”

    “Children, Salisbury adds, “have told us clearly that they want the media to embrace them all, to love them all, to leave no one out.”

    “Underscoring the importance of change, Gordon Berry, a professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, says, “Children are out there looking at everything that is being aired. The more they live in the world of TV, the more they believe that TV is the way the world is. TV teaches every time it’s on.”

    In case anyone is about to tell me I’m quoting from a 1998 article, try and think of at least 10-20 Asian American actors in film or tv with roles that are more than secondary or tertiary.

    As to the Tim Wise post, it’s horrid to read it. I kept expecting it to stop at some point but it just kept piling up and there’s no other way to say it…it made me sad. Sad at the way the world is and how little time we take to acknowledge it. Sad that more people don’t discuss it, and when they do people criticize them for over-emphasing the issue. So in the end, thank you for that link, too.


  42. brandi #

    @Tadpole, Gab wasn’t assuming you were a man. She was saying, man like dude, whatever doesn’t matter. Of course you find nothing wrong with it.


  43. Danny #

    @ Tadpole

    Do not dismiss us. Whether you realize it or not, this country is NOT done dealing with race. And people like me are going to keep shouting it at you, regardless of whether you’re tired of it or uncomfortable about the topic. Minorities have to live this inequality every single day; you have absolutely no right to tell any of us to just shut up because you’re tired of it.

    If conservative pundits get to scream about reverse racism all day, then I get to point out my views on racism. And unlike those pundits, I’m in a forum, so I am open to criticism and debate. So I ask, Tadpole, what new insights on your side of the argument can you bring to the table that have not been brought up before?

    – When do you suppose kids start noticing racial differences and being affected by media, if not at the age that they would view this movie?

    – We’re expressing our disappointment at the producers of this film for their choices and their refusal to address the issue adequately with concerned groups. As you are doing here with those against the casting.

    – The issue of the ambiguity of the art style of the cartoon and conclusions drawn from external, cultural identifiers has been discussed multiple times in this thread. What do you have to say about it, when I point out that you can’t tell from the physical features alone what race these characters are, since there is no reference to compare to? And that simply because the features are ambiguous does not mean White can be the default race?

    – Is it shocking that there is a property on American TV that does not have White people in it? Why is it not right that “White people are extinct,” especially when the cartoon made no indication of that?

    – What do you think of an explanation of disrespectful cultural appropriation and marginalization of minorities in Hollywood in response to “So why can’t white people play these characters?”

    All of your points have been responded to in the thread; I’ll be happy to explain in further detail if you still don’t understand.

    @ mlawski

    I’m going to echo cat and thank you, mlawski, for showing me that post.

    It’s frustrating, or infuriating, even, to see people who bring the charges of “reverse racism” when confronting groups like the NAACP or Racebending. They think that because groups like these focus a great deal on race that the groups themselves are racist, when that is simply not the case.

    Taking this film controversy for example, some of those against the Racebending community say that Racebenders are the ones who are racist, because they want to exclude all White actors and put in Asian and Inuit actors. What those against the casting try to explain is that that is a half-truth, but this is lost on those individuals. I can only hope that they actually go through the material that you link and realize that all of our cries of racist implications are in context of the still-existing inequalities between minority and White populations in America.

    Those conservative pundits who scream and shout that reverse racism is rampant because of Obama and that they have a right to spew racially-charged rhetoric are misguided. They, despite the evidence, simply don’t see that White people in America still have privileges that minorities can never access. They “call us out” on bringing up topics on the basis of race, effectively ignoring centuries of history and society that placed importance on race. They prize colorblindness and cite MLK, refusing to see that White people and minorities have inherently unequal standings in society. Acting as if everyone were already on equal standing, i.e. colorblindness, is actually ignoring disparities that still work against minorities and support White privilege.

    Why don’t some White people realize this? It’s because they don’t have to see it. They don’t have to live their lives being told that they’re not the normal race, the default. And we’re the racist ones when we point out our life experiences? Really?


  44. Tadpole #

    @Danny…I do not need another person to tell me about being the minority. I am not White. But I am also not bitter, do not feel I am owed anything, and will raise my children with the belief that they can achieve any goal as long as they want it badly enough and they work hard to get to the end result. And I believe that it is not an impossible goal for anyone, regardless of their heritage, to achieve. This whole racebending thing is petty and hateful. It’s just as sickening as listening to the “White majority” spew racist filth about minorities. We are all humans and as long as we continue to sink to this level, nothing in society will ever change…


  45. Danny #


    “But I am also not bitter, do not feel I am owed anything, and will raise my children with the belief that they can achieve any goal as long as they want it badly enough and they work hard to get to the end result. And I believe that it is not an impossible goal for anyone, regardless of their heritage, to achieve.”

    I believe this is where we disagree. Yes, anyone can achieve great things when they set their mind to it. I believe, though, that there is structural racism working against hard-working minorities in America. This structural racism is subtle and insidious, and works to keep minorities from achieving their true potential simply because they are different. This racism keeps minorities in a position where they are inherently unequal to Whites in society, no matter what people say to the contrary.

    If you don’t believe me, please read this blog post that mlawski linked to as well as the studies and statistics that are linked to on that page:

    The casting of this film with White actors in a story that is so obviously influenced in every single way by Asian and Inuit cultures is a form of this racism, especially when you take into account historical and recent Hollywood practices of marginalizing minorities and appropriating their cultures and stories.

    How is the Racebending movement petty and hateful?

    Or am I being petty and hateful? Is it because I am putting people into categories of race rather than being colorblind? Centuries of human history have made race an important part of the human story; my simply talking about it doesn’t make me racist. Nothing will ever change for the better if we don’t talk about the problems that are still inextricably tied to race.

    It still stands that you haven’t given me a response for any of the five objections from your posts that I refuted or inquired about.

    If you want me to stop my “bitching and moaning about race” and to “drop it already,” you’ll have to explain to me why my claims are illegitimate, instead of just telling me that you are “sick and tired of hearing about it” and that you’re “not the only one;” and that I’m ruining the children’s cultural-appropriated fun.


  46. Gab #

    @Tadpole and brandi: Yeah, I meant “man” to come across in the way brandi suggested, a laid-back sort-of way. Tadpole, I wanted to say something much like Mlawski’s first sentence, but I usually come across as condescending when doing so, so I tried to convey it otherwise. And I guess using a gendered word like that may work in person, but online didn’t work very well because of lack of tone. Because while I don’t agree with your sentiment (that people upset by the casting are overreacting), I agree with one of the places it seems to come from, and that is the well-being of the children the movie is geared toward. And I think you picked up on that, so while I won’t apologize for my opinion, I’ll apologize for my word choice.

    And I’ll take a different track and say that while I *wish* the world could be as you see it, colorblind and thus equal to everyone; and that I commend you for trying to teach your kids it is so because we all want that for ourselves and the next generation; my heart breaks because that’s not the case. If it were so, the discussion wouldn’t be happening. I absolutely want to be able to tell the kids I’ll someday have that the world *will* accept them, no matter what they look like or where they come from, but at the moment, it’s not possible. I think the best is to be optimistic, but realistic: I wouldn’t discourage a strive for greatness, but I also wouldn’t sugar-coat the road ahead, either. I’m a minority, too, and I also don’t feel like I’m personally owed anything- but at the same time, I don’t turn a blind eye to the hurdles in my past, nor do I tell myself there are none in my future. I don’t automatically blame every obstacle I face on discrimination, but I don’t automatically rule it out, either, because I feel doing so ignores the problem(s) and thus allows them to perpetuate. “Inaction is tacit consent.” And understanding where I come from helps me understand where I’m headed- and, indeed, has helped me navigate myself around those hurdles and handle them much better than if I had approached them blindly. And even if you personally, even as a minority, have never experienced or seen discrimination or racism in any way whatsoever (which I find hard to believe, and not because of you, but society- it’s everywhere, this cannot be stressed enough), this doesn’t mean others haven’t- they have, so pretending it doesn’t exist at all is willfully ignoring the sad reality of the culture in which we live. It hurts, but I just can’t do that- not deliberately, anyway.

    @cat: I was being sarcastic when not in parentheses. I agreed it was getting there, which was why I preemptively apologized to you for what I was about to do, address some sentiments that made me particularly upset and thus led me to engage further in the 4channic discourse. Once again, the lack of tone failed me. Sigh.


  47. Tadpole #

    @Gab…I would never expect someone to apologize for their opinion, we are all entitled to our own, and I merely pointed out the “man” thing to make a point. As for “sugar-coating the road ahead” that is far from the case. I let my children know full well how tough life can be…and yes, how unfair. Even if I didn’t tell them, they see it with their own eyes. But as children they are so accepting and look at the world with eyes full of wonder. We should all take stock in that instead of pointing fingers and arguing. I believe that all of our struggles in life make us better and stronger people. I’m sure you can attest to the fact that this is true. I know I have certainly grown and come to appreciate life all the more so for the many obstacles I have had to overcome. And I will continue to grow, and my children will be strong, capable, and accepting people when they reach adulthood. That is my faith. I will never blame another’s ignorance or expect anything from anyone without working for it. Try being a single mother of three young children AND a minority and you will understand where I am coming from. All this racebending stuff is moot when you look at the big picture. Maybe my visions of the world are not based in “reality” but what would the world be if no one ever dared to dream?


  48. Danny #


    I get that there may be “bigger things,” to worry about, but this controversy concerns equality in society. I hardly believe that I can ensure future generations of an equal or more equal playing field if I let even little things like this go. They are a symptom of society’s willingness to steal a minority’s culture and story while leaving the people that come with that story the leftover scraps, telling them that they should be happy for even that. It shows that today’s society feels White people are better at telling a minority story than a minority is, and it is odds like this, where White people are somehow better at things simply because they are the majority, that I am fighting against. Odds like these are almost impossible for minorities to overcome because they are bigoted and illogical. They don’t belong in a society that says it values diversity and equality for all people. 
    And so I ask again, please, don’t simply disregard us. This is more than just a bad movie. 


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