Friday, July 2, 2010

The Last Airbender: Why I'm Boycotting (And Why You Should Too)

I'm not going to write something all that eloquent, because I'm terribly jet-lagged and very tired, but I figure I should send this out into cyberspace while it still has as a chance of influencing your decisions.

I implore you not to go and see Paramount's new film, The Last Airbender, this weekend in theaters. In fact, I would encourage you not to go see it at all. The reason? Racebending.

If you want a really detailed explanation and analysis of what Racebending is and why it sucks, head over to and take a read or watch some of their informational videos. Here, I'll limit my explanation to to the following:

In the casting and production of The Last Airbender, Paramount has displayed a level of racism that I, for some unknown reason, had come to not expect from Hollywood (silly me!). For those of you who know about the original Nickelodeon cartoon, Avatar: The Last Airbender, the source material for Paramount's new film is an American-made anime-style cartoon which features an entirely Asian/Inuit cast of characters. However, in the translation of this TV series to the silver screen, Paramount has made the inspired decision to replace all of the Asian heros with Caucasian ones, going so far as to ask specifically for white actors in their casting calls for the lead roles.

In addition to this, both actors and members of the casting crew have produced various quotational gems that amount to nothing more or less than a suggestion and expectation of brownface (see Wikipedia for more information). Here's a delightful bit from Deedee Ricketts, the film's casting director:

"If you're Korean, come in a kimono. If you're from Belgium wear lederhosen. Even if you came with a scarf today, put it over your head so you'll look like a Ukrainian villager or whatever."

Cute, right?

The best part is that there's more. Not only did Paramount decide to just ignore the fact that the show's heroes are Asian, but they decided to color code things for us a little bit in case we didn't get the fact that they were being just a wee bit racist. Which, of course, is why just about all of the actors playing the antagonists are South Asian, aka "brown". Thanks, Paramount for solidifying for us once and for all that white = good and brown = bad.

So that's racebending for you. I can't imagine that the decision was made for any other reason than for a perceived monetary benefit, since I don't imagine Paramount having a KKK-type agenda (though I could be wrong). And maybe that's what makes it worse. See, "Avatar" as shown on Nickelodeon is one of the only existing American cartoons that actually has Asian heroes. For just about the first time, Asian kids have self-reliant, able protagonists who look like them.

To a lot of people this might not seem like a big deal, but allow me to remind you of the fervor that surrounded the creation of Disney's first black princess, Tiana. If having a Disney character to aspire to was so important to black youth, is it at all difficult to imagine that the same might be true for Asian kids? Don't they deserve to know that you can be Asian and still save the world--that being a hero doesn't necessitate Caucasian descent? This, I think, is what boils my blood the most about Paramount's adaptation--the fact that it strips "Avatar" of what makes it special to so many of its fans around the world. It tells Asian kids that they aren't worthy of telling their own story--that someone pretending to look like them can tell it better than they can. And that's a sad thing.

This is an annoyingly long note, so if you read it all the way through I offer you serious props and thanks. I suggest you look critically at this issue instead of brushing it aside as a trivial matter of pop-culture. I encourage you to maybe even do a little research of your own. Most of all, though, I really hope you and your friends will take this into consideration when making the decision of which movie to go see at the theater this weekend and in the future. Since protests and letter-writing campaigns have clearly failed, Paramount will have to face a monetary blow if it is to learn a lesson from this experience at all, and only a failure at the box office will do.

If nothing else, be comforted by this: according to Rotten Tomatoes, this movie seriously blows.