Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Whitewashing "The Last Airbender"


Follow me for a second down the corridor of kiddie films and race relations...

A few months back, when Avatar was about to drop, I offered to take my four-year-old brother to see it. He was all hype, until he saw the trailer. "That's not avatar," he told me. I tried to correct the little know-it-all, until he was proven right: Avatar was also a cartoon on Nickelodeon that featured some east Asian kids in an alternate universe struggling through the prototypical battle of good and evil. Of course, I watched a few episodes and thought it was a decent show, especially because it was in the anime tradition, but actually an original show produced and developed by Nickelodeon here in the states. Here's a clip of the show below:



The show was an immense success, which naturally lead to a movie being made, produced by 20th Century Fox and directed by M. Night Shyamalan and with a release date of July 2nd, a major box office weekend. Here's the trailer for the film:


Did you catch that? Somehow the main characters of the story went from being obviously Asian to being... white. What? 



I personally was appalled when I saw that, and wasn't really sure if anyone else caught the offense. Luckily someone did. Racebending.com is a website that has basically been around since the movie started casting, fighting to have the filmmakers stick to the racial make-up of the original cartoon. Naturally, Hollywood didn't care. Now they are calling for people to boycott the film.

M. Night Shyamalan claims that the film (which will be a trilogy) is "the most culturally diverse tent-pole in history" which is both extreme hyperbole and patently false (I'm doing to go ahead and pitch Star Wars for it's alien populations). I'm not sure if kids will care about the difference (but savvy fans usually have a keen eye for detail), nor if it will actually affect the movie's box office, but I think it's just another display of Hollywood clutching to played out cliches to make the good guys light and the bad guys dark. ESPECIALLY when the extremely popular cartoon, on which it was based, didn't subscribe to these lazy stereotypes at all.

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