racebending.com
we saw wut u did thar, paramount
Rough Draft of Racebending Article for School Newspaper 
8th-Oct-2009 09:02 am

Colorblind (and Only Seeing White)

By Reuben Baron

 

 

            There’s been much debate on the news about if we’re living in a “post-racial society.” The main issue of contention has if the angry protests of the Obama administration have to do with race. Passing under the radar is an issue that’s soon going to be on everyone’s radar: next year’s summer blockbusters. The entertainment industry has always been problematic in their treatment of race, from the heyday of blackface and yellowface to denying Bruce Lee a starring role in Kung Fu, a show of his creation, and replacing him with white actor David Carradine to the computer-animated minstrel acts of Jar Jar Binks, Mudflap, and Skids to last year’s 21, in which the true story of a mostly Asian-American group of MIT students was cast with almost all white actors. Two of next summer’s biggest films, The Last Airbender and The Prince of Persia, continue the tradition of denying actors of color roles written for them. If Hollywood is anything to go by, and if the masses still buy tickets to these films despite many reasons not to, then it can be safely said that the “post-racial society” is nothing but a myth.

            The Nickelodeon cartoon series Avatar: The Last Airbender won high acclaim, including an Emmy and a Peabody, for its detailed, well-researched fantasy world based on Asian and Native American mythology. The live-action movie adaptation titled The Last Airbender (Avatar has been reserved as the title of a very different and quite awesome-looking James Cameron sci-fi extravaganza) looks to betray the very qualities that made the cartoon so successful. The hero, Aang, a character from a culture clearly based on Tibetan Buddhism, is being played by a white kid named Noah Ringer, while the characters of Katara and Sokka, from the dark-skinned Inuit-influenced Water Tribe, have also been cast with white actors, Nicola Peltz and Jackson Rathbone (who based on his presence in Twilight and S. Darko, Donnie Darko’s pointless sequel, seems to be a curse on any film set he sets foot upon).

Initially the main antagonist Zuko was going to be played by Jesse McCartney, but in an attempt to quiet complaints about the whitewashed casting, Paramount recast the role with Dev Patel of Slumdog Millionaire fame and similarly cast the remaining imperialist Fire Nation characters with assorted people of color (except for the most powerful and one of the few heroic Fire Nation citizens, Avatar Roku, who’s been cast with a white actor). So now the film has been changed into a story where heroic white people fight evil, dark-skinned, mostly Middle-Eastern people. The Last Airbender’s casting is not just racist but potentially sexist if the rumors of Avatar Kyoshi being turned into a man are true. It looks like a horrible adaptation, with the TV series’ accurate calligraphy and martial arts replaced with jibberish writing and fight choreography by the guy who did Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of Crystal Skull, and given the failing recent track record of director M. Night Shyamalan (ironically one of the few big-name Asian-American directors in Hollywood but also apparently quite desperate for an easily marketable hit), it’s very likely to be a bad movie.

            (Really major irony: one of the casting directors for Airbender, DeeDee Rickets, also was a casting director for Tropic Thunder, a movie making fun of Hollywood racism.)

            It probably was inevitable Airbender would get screwed up, given the low track record of live-action movies based on cartoons. The only genre with a worse record is live-action movies based on videogames, which the Prince of Persia movie happens to be. Disney actually held a poll a few years back to see whom fans would want to play the titular Prince. The winner by a wide margin was David K. Zandi, an actor who also happens to be actual Persian royalty. So who is cast in the end for the role? Jake Gyllenhall. White actress Gemma Arteron is playing the Princess of India in the movie. There’s one piece of ethnically accurate casting among the leads: Ben Kingsley as the evil Nizam. A shame the only major roles he can get these days are villains in videogame movies.

            Defenders of the studios say that they don’t care about race regarding casting. This is a lie; the casting call for the four main roles in The Last Airbender specified a preference for Caucasians (see http://www.racebending.com/v2/why-does-racebending-com-exist/the-language-of-casting). Defenders also say they’re just picking the best actors. This is wrong too: Shyamalan in an interview said himself they didn’t pick Noah Ringer for his acting skills. He also stated Dev Patel was the best actor for Zuko, but if that was the case why was Jesse McCartney initially cast? With those arguments invalidated, the casting is clearly shown to be problematic.

            It’s too late to change the casting for either of these two movies. A boycott, however, will hopefully send a message and save people a good $22.

Comments 
8th-Oct-2009 03:29 pm (UTC)
Well, if you're wanting any suggestions, I'd remove the more opinionated line about the James Cameron flick: "awesome-looking". It's a bit distracting. So is the part about "S. Darko". There's too much opinion there; or at least, opinion that movies away from the subject.

Also, the Fire Nation was not only "imperialist", but also "genocidal". That's a fact that might look good in the article.

Is this an opinion piece about the controversy, or is it suppose to be informative? The problem with it being your opinion, is that you have to explain things before you give you opinion; mostly bcz of the subject you are dealing with. If it's only an informative article, you can spend more of the readers time with soled information and less opinion that might scare them off. ...but that's just my opinion.
8th-Oct-2009 06:34 pm (UTC) - *picks up editor pen*
no, I'm dittoing this. If you're doing an article, all of the following lines have to go:

"awesome-looking"

"who based on his...sets foot upon"

"not just racist but...man are true,"

everything after "looks like a horrible adaptation" with the exception of the bit about calligraphy, as that's important

"really major"

"would get screwed up"--I would find a way to word that more carefully, such as "it seems inevitable that TLA would be treated carelessly, given..." (although actually what TV shows turned into movies are you thinking about? Firefly got Serenity, and Star Trek has about a 50% good-bad ratio)

"With those arguments invalidated, the casting is clearly shown to be problematic." eeeeeeeeeeeh. that's more scholarly-paper talk than journalistic speak, and furthermore it again veers into opinionland.

also you should clear up the antecedent for "they don't care about race" by changing "they" to "the studios"--I thought you were referring to the defenders. Also, the word "lie" is really, really strong--and since it's the defenders saying these things, I would call it a "misconception" (versus the studios out-and-out lying to our faces).

I would also recommend spending another line or two about boycotting--because it's not just saving us $22 (...high figure?), but keeping the studios from getting it.

.../editor mode
8th-Oct-2009 08:11 pm (UTC) - Re: *picks up editor pen*
It's an Op/Ed piece rater than a news piece, but I will fix up some of the language issues.

"(although actually what TV shows turned into movies are you thinking about? Firefly got Serenity, and Star Trek has about a 50% good-bad ratio)"

I'm said cartoons turned into live-action movies. A lot of live-action shows have gotten fine live-action adaptations, and some animated movies based on cartoons have been good, but one just needs to look at The Flintstones, Scooby Doo, Alvin and the Chipmunks, etc. to see that cartoons haven't generally been turned into good live-action movies. The only one which I've seen and liked was Speed Racer, and since most people hated that movie and it's debatable if it even counts as a cartoon adaptation since the cartoon itself came from a manga, then I think the point stands clear.

$22 actually is actually accurate, since movie tickets these days at their worst cost a full $11 and I'm discussing two movies, so yeah.
8th-Oct-2009 09:12 pm (UTC) - Re: *picks up editor pen*
I would argue (friendly-like) about the relative quality of those cartoon shows versus Avatar to those shows to begin with...they're also different kinds of shows from Avatar, generally lacking a cohesive plot. But generally I see your point.

*winces* it's only $9 in my area. I would clarify to say "a boycott of BOTH these movies" though. :-)
9th-Oct-2009 12:55 am (UTC) - Re: *picks up editor pen*
I'd agree with you on that, but they're still awful movies regardless. Avatar is obviously a much better fit for a live-action movie, but it's an understandable point.

You're lucky. It's $8 for matinees at almost all theaters and $9-$10 dollars at most of the arthouses/smaller theaters, but the big AMC and Showcase multiplexes have gotten scarily pricy around here.
9th-Oct-2009 04:45 pm (UTC) - Re: *picks up editor pen*
Maybe a better comparison would be G-Savior, the live-action Gundam movie? XD
8th-Oct-2009 04:20 pm (UTC)
Can you put this under a cut?
8th-Oct-2009 08:13 pm (UTC)
Done.
8th-Oct-2009 08:22 pm (UTC)
Thank you and good luck!
8th-Oct-2009 04:22 pm (UTC)
The first sentence, second paragraph. The show was based on Asian and Native American (I'd probably just use the word Inuit here) cultures, (not just mythology).
8th-Oct-2009 06:45 pm (UTC)
I agree with most of what's been said above, you are assuming that the reader knows a lot about entertainment and controversies in the entertainment industry. One phrase that I noticed specifically was the computer-animated minstrel acts of Jar Jar Binks, Mudflap, and Skids.

You might want to clarify that Jar Jar Binks was in Star Wars, and which Star Wars movie it was in, and that Mudflap and Skids were robots from the new blockbuster movie Transformers II. That way even if your audience has no idea who they are, they can culturally locate them.
8th-Oct-2009 07:40 pm (UTC)
Really, once you add the corrections the others mentioned it looks good to me. ^^ But how about a few quotes? For example, Rathbone's "get a tan" statement. Or maybe point out Rickett's attire blunders during the casting calls. ("Big African thing" comes to mind.)
8th-Oct-2009 07:56 pm (UTC)
Anonymous
Gone anon to avoid even potentially revealing my source, but: I'll say that the original script pretty clearly describes Kiyoshi as a woman, so I'd leave the issue of sexism out unless another source comes forth more clearly stating there's been a change.
8th-Oct-2009 09:15 pm (UTC)
This is good news. Thanks!
9th-Oct-2009 08:36 am (UTC)
I would agree with the others regarding omitting the mention of James Cameron's Avatar and how awesome looking it is.

I actually heard some people suspecting it of being an effects heavy film with the story suffering.

I'd also mention foot in mouth Rathbone's "I'll just get a tan" comment.

Sifu Kisu insisting on the cast learning one year of Wushu, so they instead hired the fight choreographer who had no knowledge of Chinese Martial arts.

Gemma Arterton is a quintessential English Rose and to cast her as an Indian Princess is jarring. Freida Pinto from Slumdog Millionaire would have been better. Another reason would have been riding on Slumdog's coat tails.

If not, they could have picked up the phone and called any Bollywood Studio and hired an English Speaking Indian actress.
Ashwarya Rai would have been another great choice.

Best of Luck,
Obi


Edited at 2009-10-09 08:37 am (UTC)
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