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10 March 2010 @ 07:47 am
The Whitewashing of Avatar: The Last Airbender  
Now, I'm not really part of this fandom (yet). I've only watched the first disk of season 1 and although I enjoyed it and plan to watch more I'm not camped out at the library waiting for the next disk to come in either. I was familiar enough with it that when my friends mentioned the new Avatar movie at dinner a few months ago I thought for a couple of confused minutes that they were talking about the Airbender movie not the James Cameron thing.

But this isn't about fandoms, this is about hurting kids, some of whom don't have a lot to be happy about. This is about blatant racism of the type that damages souls far more than the odd ugly word on the play ground. This is about taking a wildly popular TV show that not only has children of color in it but features them as the heroes and making a second rate Hollywood movie adaptation with an almost all white cast.

Why would they do that? Why would they take away positive role models from kids who don't get to see a whole lot of heroes like them in popular media? Why would they in effect tell kids "Hey, sorry, but your kind isn't good enough"? 

They say that they simply wanted to find the best actors for the roles regardless of color.

But early reports from test screening say that can't be true because some of the child actors cast give performances at about the level you'd expect from a middle-school play. The girl playing Katara is said to be especially bad.

Apologists for the movie say that it is a proven fact that movies staring white people do better at the box office because people want a main character they can identify with.

This is total and complete excrement because for years the top grossing box office star IN THE WORLD has been Jackie Chan and it's not like his movies have exactly tanked here in the US. And why would you  want to narrow your focus to one country in what is now an international market? It also implies that white people are the only ones who go to movies and that white people, as a class, are all too racist to ever be able to enjoy a movie with non-white main characters. So sad about Precious tanking at the box office. It didn't? Oh. Without cheating and looking things up I seem to recall Ghandi, How Stella Got her Grove Back, Mississipi Marsala, and The Color Purple doing pretty well too. But then those are serious adult movies so maybe it's only white children who are racist idiots? Hmmm, but then wouldn't the Avatar TV series have done badly with those same white kids? 

Producers say that they had to replace the Chinese writing used in the animated series with meaningless scribbles created by a graphic designer because .... well, I'm not really sure anyone's managed to get a direct quote on this actually.

Whatever their reason a lot of non-Asian kids loved the show and one of the elements that they liked was the cool Asian cultural stuff. Do any of my older readers remember when Kung Fu was super ultra cool because of the same thing?* So, lets strip out as much of that as we can because non-Asian kids won't "get" it really does not hold up. Those white kids who watched the show BECAUSE of the cultural elements  will probably be disappointed by this movie but will move on to the next mind candy, no real harm done.

The other kids, the ones who get to see movie after movie in which the non-white characters are the bad guys or else are cardboard stereotypes much worse than the crows in Disney's Dumbo that get so much criticism from the PC crowd, are being pretty explicitly told by the film makers that their heroes have been taken away and replaced with more acceptable white characters because they aren't good enough, they don't matter, and nobody wants to see their kind anyway. That is the sort of soul deep damage  that sticks with a person.

Please don't spend your money to support this. Go pick up the DVDs of the original television series and watch that instead. Not only will you be making a political statement you'll have more fun. The only good thing I've heard so far about the movie is that the special effects are good and you can always watch the other Avatar movie for that*.

in the meantime go to Racebending.com for more information including some striking side by side comparisons between the TV series and the movie.


* Edit to add: I meant ot point out that it had whitewashing too but at least it popularized things Asian and it WAS several decades ago but I got distracted and didn't think about it again until Ren pointed it out below.

** Also, I have not seen James Cameron's Avatar but Christina points out that it is racist too so never mind that. How about going to see the really excellent special effects AND great story with a mixed race  kid in a major supporting heroic role and just see Coraline again? 

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Abraxasdr_abraxas on March 10th, 2010 02:18 pm (UTC)
well even Kung Fu was whitewashed - it should have been Bruce Lee (gods, how awesome that would have been - not that Carradine was less awesome mind you but Lee was a god compared to mortal men)

this Avatar movie is a total waste of potential on every single level.

it could have stood out with its visual style - the animated series is quite distinctive that way, indeed, all aspects of its visual style - depicting the 4 nations - was very well thoughtout.

the movie looks like a clone of Harry Potter.

I don't much mind the kid playing Aang but there's no excuse with what they did with Katara and Sokka. there just isn't any excuse at all. I don't know what the numbers are w.r.t. Native actors in Hollywood but I know the situation is very different in Canada. an international search for talent is not unheard of, either, as I recall there was a search like that back when they were looking for Superman in the 70's. if they really wanted Native actors they could have found them.

then there's the mess with Dev Patel. that is not Zuko. OMG that is not Zuko. Iroh may be the only part of the cast that's OK.

and am I the only one noticing that there's no Momo anywhere?
ranuelranuel on March 10th, 2010 02:24 pm (UTC)
True abut Kung Fu. I was in a hurry (still ended up late for work) and missed the opportunity to point that out.

I know that there are some very talented Native actors working. I've featured two of them in Monday Beefcake even.
Abraxasdr_abraxas on March 10th, 2010 02:33 pm (UTC)
heh heh I've got my own series of native and asian adonises that I may or may not unveil to the pubic. of course I would have such a collection.
ranuel: Sinfest Beefcakeranuel on March 10th, 2010 02:36 pm (UTC)
Ooooh, now you're gonna have to share with the rest of the clase, you tease!
(Deleted comment)
ranuelranuel on March 10th, 2010 03:25 pm (UTC)
Re: Sadly, the *other* Avatar...
Yuck, I haven't seen Cameron's movie so I knew it wasn't a good movie but really the more I hear the lower my expectations of it.
Magic Kaito: Avatar/TDS- Killed the moonkaitodoushi on March 10th, 2010 11:47 pm (UTC)
Yeah, I'm a fan of the cartoon and I've been getting information about the racism in the casting for quite a while now. Honestly, what bothers me the most is that they made Sokka and Katara white. Just... no.

Jesse McCartney was originally slated to play Zuko, too, but he had to back out so now it's become the three white heros saving one group of minorities from the other. That's just as bad as the initial complete whitewashing in my opinion. With the way this movie looks about all they had to rely on for money was their fans and they've made a ton of us not want to go see it =/
ranuel: Cleo & Aspranuel on March 11th, 2010 01:47 am (UTC)
I'd like to know how people in the entertainment industry figure that it's good sense to purchase the movie rights to a highly popular TV show (built in pre-advertising, established fanbase) and do everything they can to piss off and drive away the fans of that show.

It happens pretty regularly so someone somewhere must be telling them it's a sound strategy.