Via the facebook group for the racebending of Avatar I find this USA Today article in my inbox this morning. The “First Look” at the cast for the upcoming Last Airbender movie.
The article, for the non-link followers, features pictures of Prince Zuko and Aang. This, admittedly, is the first time I have seen any picture of the 12 year old Tae Kwon Do black belt who is playing Aang. M. Night and Deedee Rickets had no trouble casting an unknown faced white kid for Aang. Too bad they couldn’t have spread that around a bit and give some yet unknown Asian actors a shot.
It is interesting, and by “interesting” I mean, infuriating, is the captions on the pictures and the wording. Ringer, playing Aang is described as having the “Good Guy” look, while Dev Patel (a recent change from Jesse McCartney, also demonstrating that one Asian person is clearly interchangeable w/ ALL Asian people, since the Fire Nation is drawn on Japanese influence) is described using the “Bad Guy” look. Patel is the only main character who isn’t white, and, at least for two of three books of the series, is the Bad Guy. It just floors me that people still find nothing wrong w/ whitewashing an entire cast, except for those depicting a Nation who is “waging a ruthless and oppressive war” .
As I have mentioned before it would have been nice if M. Night would have bothered to try to replicate the alternate Asian universe that was unique and special about Avatar. After fans lashed out, outraged at the whitewashing of this production, Patel was cast in place of McCartney. In a movie comprised of entirely white people Patel gets to be the Evil Brown Guy bullying the blue eyed white kids.*
Let’s look at the other cast members recently announced:
Brown? Check. Playing Bad Guy? Check.
Cliff Curtis is to play “ruthless” Fire Lord Ozai (originally voiced by Mark Hamill, totally off topic).
Brown? Check. Playing Bad Guy? Check.
Shaun Toub has been cast to play wise Uncle Iroh, who attempts to guide Zuko through his life after his father has disowned him. Uncle Iroh, the Dragon of the West, is one of my favorite characters, and was originally voiced by Mako until his passing, and then voiced by Greg Baldwin. The episode that was dedicated to Mako after his passing “The Tales of Ba Sing Se” has a short story “The Tale of Iroh”. I have mixed feelings on this casting, not knowing much about Toub apart from his ethnicity and that he played the guy who helps Tony Stark escape while getting himself killed in Iron Man. He might be the only non-white person cast who isn’t cast as a Bad Guy, b/c Iroh is best described as an “anti-hero” in the first book, and turns out to be a protagonist in the second and third books.
There are several other actors listed at IMDB that I know little about and haven’t found much, except that the actress who will play Suki has been on Gossip Girl, and show I have never seen (and don’t care to).
Every time news about this movie comes out I get more and more upset, and more and more certain that I will not be seeing this movie. Combined w/ Deedee Rickets insensitive remarks about casting and wanting all Koreans to show up in kimonos, I am pretty sure that this movie is going to totally be made of fail. I wish those behind the film would have gone to the trouble that Nickelodeon did and hired Asian cultural and historical experts to make sure they got shit right. Wev.
If you are of the mind to write to USA today and discuss the wording of “Good Guy Look” and “Bad Guy Look” it would best be sent to letters@USAtoday.com
*Zuko becomes a protagonist and Aang’s firebending master in the third book. I understand that Zuko isn’t the definitive Bad Guy in the end, but a reformed character foil for Aang in the cartoon. The problem is that this isn’t revealed until much later. Zuko spends the first two books of the cartoon actively pursuing the Avatar, and thus viewers unfamiliar w/ the cartoon will see an Evil brown guy chasing and hoping to capture and destroy a young White kid (even though Aang was supposed to be similar to Tibetan monks, a story not unintentionally hinting at the story of the Dalai Lama). Also, the major players of the Fire Nation in the movie versioin, those who are bent on carrying out this war, are all brown, who have already wiped out the Water Tribes, who are played by mostly caucasian actors.