Avatar: The Last Airbender is being turned into a live-action movie by Paramount Pictures. That sounds like such a great thing for fans of the show and fans of great cartoons. The original series is superior to almost all other U.S. based animation and was written without treating its viewers as if they had no attention span. It was impressive and entertaining on every level. A live-action movie could be fantastic! Let's all support this movie!!!
Unfortunately, I can't support it.
This show takes place in a decidedly Asian setting; the characters and culture are obviously a fiction derived from Inuit culture and Asian history.
Jackson Rathbone, Nicola Peltz and Jesse McCartney have been offered the roles of Aang, Sokka, Katara and Zuko respectively.
Derek Kirk Kim has written an excellent commentary/reaction to the casting of the movie and does a far more eloquent job of describing the series. Here is an excerpt (click here for all of it).
Before I go any further, it behooves me to spill some information on "Avatar, the Last Airbender" for those people who have no idea what it is. 1) It's the greatest, most ambitious animated action adventure TV series ever hatched in the U.S. A cartoon series for kids in which one epic story actually spans 3 entire seasons. A kid's show in which the characters actually grow and change and evolve! A cartoon which actually respects a kid's intelligence and vast imagination. Imagine that! 2) 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.)
Not an Asian actor among them; don't worry though, they have a handle on it...
When Rathbone was asked about his suitability for the role he answered...
"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."
So he's going to get a tan!! Let's not risk a movie on non-white performers when we can just do it in yellow-face!! Are you telling me that there are no Asian actors that could fill these roles? You can be sure that they will fill the movie with Asian actors for all the smaller parts and extras... that will show audiences they are sensitive to the criticism!
Director, M.Night Shyamalan should be more tuned to such criticism and picked a cast with more diversity. Critics are saying that it is all about making a movie that will make the most money and that it is simply business. I am sure that has more to do with it than outright racism on the part of those involved, but there safe choices have cost them my business.
Jesse McCartney has since pulled out due to scheduling problems and has been replaced with Dev Patel. I am very happy to see a non-Caucasian in a leading role and I am a fan of Patel; but it really doesn't change things. Actually, it makes things worse in the sense that it now will have our white heroes battling the evil ethnic guy!
I know this casting change will not be enough to get me to go see the film.
If you want to make your disappointment known, Derek Kirk Kim suggest contacting those involved...
Letters of complaint should be sent here:
Mr Mark Bakshi
President Features Production
5555 Melrose Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90038-3197
Kathleen Kennedy and Frank Marshall
619 Arizona Avenue, Fl. 2
Santa Monica, California 90401