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we saw wut u did thar, paramount
The Last Airbender: who is to blame? 
5th-Jul-2010 08:30 am
atla: waterbend
Across the board, critics and fans have been wholesale panning M Night Shyamalan for the fail of The Last Airbender. On top of that, Shyamalan has had to face the 'race issue' question in interview after interview and - as we've seen in recent posts to this comm - that he just keep regurgitating the same excuses, and digging himself deeper.

As a director and a writer - yes, Shyamalan has failed. The man has a film-maker ego typical to many film-makers (think Bay, Schumacher, Cameron...). But what about the issues racebending.com has had with this movie since 2008: the casting discrimination? What about the racial problems in the film - which Shyamalan has also taken full credit for? Is he really 100% to blame for EVERYTHING that happened since the casting was released?

The more the media and fans focus their ire on Shyamalan and Shyamalan alone, the more people lose focus of the reason behind it all: institutionalized (or systemic) racism.




It's almost comical, in a way, how easy it was to create a scapegoat in Shyamalan. He's happily taking credit for everything: he wrote the script, he scouted the sets, he cast the film, he produced it, he directed it; apparently, he did everything in TLA except act.

But Shyamalan's decisions and actions were not created in a vacuum. In fact, his perceptions of what 'diversity' means was not created in a vacuum either. Contrary to what he keeps insisting, he did not cast or create The Last Airbender all on his own. But with the critical failure of the movie, it's become quite convenient that he is so willfully and constantly stating this - and it's really convenient to blame him.

But convenient for whom?

After The Last Airbender, Shyamalan's career and reputation are likely on the line. Yes, he has been slagged countless times for his past movies; but for the first time, his incompetence leads to the much public/media questioning his racial identity and integrity. So what about Paramount Pictures and Frank Marshall? Why are they completely exonerated, simply by not being present in any of this backlash? So far we've heard barely anything from the producers or the studio. As far as Shyamalan's interviews are concerned, he paints Paramount Pictures and the producers as hapless, harmless operators of good faith who placed all of their trust in him. So the studio and producers will point only to Shyamalan and say "place the blame on him. Don't look at us."

After all the backlash, after all of the reviews slamming of Shyamalan and the bitter fan's glee in seeing him go down in flames - the media will eventually judge that TLA's discriminatory casting policies is NOT a case of racism or white supremacy, it's just 'typical PoC prejudice' against each other. What they'll see are East Asian Americans (that's us...according to the media) slamming South Asians (Shyamalan), and vice versa*. People will congratulate themselves for concluding that 'well, everyone's a little racist!' and then move on to the next white-washed Hollywood film with eager anticipation.

The producers, Paramount Pictures - heck, Hollywood itself - will get away scot free. They currently feel no inclination or media pressure to address their own contributions in perpetuating (and publicly defending) institutionalised racism in Hollywood. "See?" they will say, "It was a PoC who did it! Fight amongst yourselves! Blame him, not us! We're just naive innocents in all of this. Sort this out yourselves; us people in power have NOTHING to do with yours or Shyamalan's racism issues."

The failures of this movie do not rest on the shoulders of one person alone. It is a product of systemic racism in the entertainment machine of Hollywood as well as within audiences. And continuing to fight systemic racism in the media is what we at racebending.com must continue to stand for.


* despite our publicized statistics that show otherwise, the media equates racebending.com with 'Asian-American activists'. In the US/Canada, 'Asian' is interpreted as 'East Asian'. As for Shyamalan, as a singular Indian-American director in the largely white world of Hollywood, many people have used his words as an assumptive, generalized representation of Indian/South Asian prejudice.
Comments 
5th-Jul-2010 03:47 pm (UTC)
*applauds you once more* The illustration is so much spot on!

As I already said in your blog, it amazes me how eager Shyamalan is to kill off his own career instead of just trying to understand - FOR ONCE! - what is actually going on here. He doesn't get it at all.

Anyway, I really hope the recent articles on the controversy are gaining a bit more momentum. I have the feeling that now after the movie is out and everyone can see the race!fail with all its Unfortunate Implications people are having an easier time to look at the big picture. But maybe that's just me... :/
5th-Jul-2010 04:02 pm (UTC)
I've been (very slowly) learning that art can be just as evocative as words! \o/

He really doesn't get it. The dude is so deluded it makes me both angry and sad.

After that Boston.com article, I have some hope! But I definitely agree that we have to keep the conversation going, or else the easy out (aka blame Shyamalan) will be the path most people take.

5th-Jul-2010 03:52 pm (UTC)
Thank you for this.

So what about Paramount Pictures and Frank Marshall? Why are they completely exonerated, simply by not being present in any of this backlash?

My sister and I were talking about this yesterday. About how we've got no interviews with FM and the other producers, about how no interview mentions our issues with the casting calls and the call sheets, about how POC involved with this movie are the only ones asked about the racebending (save Rathbone early on, when they weren't as worried about us).

What they'll see are Asian Americans (that's us...according to the media) slamming South Asians (Shyamalan), and vice versa*.

Should there be an "East" before "Asian Americans" in that sentence, maybe?
5th-Jul-2010 04:05 pm (UTC)
about how POC involved with this movie are the only ones asked about the racebending

Exactly, right? This is so frustratingly typical - they have these PoC actors boxed into a corner of 'tell us what we want to hear - your career is on the line'. And not asking the white actors any opinion (beyond Rathbone's early flub) is essentially saying - YET AGAIN - that racism is not relevant for white people.

And thank you for pointing that out - duly edited. <3 <3
5th-Jul-2010 04:14 pm (UTC)
also, just saw this on MSNBC, an article on the weekend take:

http://www.cnn.com/2010/SHOWBIZ/Movies/07/02/box.office.eclipse.ew/index.html?hpt=Sbin

note the paragraph:

Also hoping to take advantage of the holiday frame is M. Night Shyamalan's "The Last Airbender." The film, based on the popular Nickelodeon series, has received dismal reviews. Paramount is just hoping that the series' fanbase will come out in support of the film.

Of course, it's not helping much that Paramount made the controversial choice to cast a several Caucasian actors as characters that were of Asian descent in the series. Still, the movie grossed $3 million on Wednesday night and could reach $50 million by the end of Monday. The studio did a last-minute 3-D conversion of the footage, a technique that nowadays is being seen as cheap attempt to draw in more eyeballs. Whether or not it works remains to be seen.


Emphasis mine. The article goes out of its way to put the blame on the studio for the production choices, rather than the director.

Again, some will see it. We just have to point to it.
5th-Jul-2010 04:19 pm (UTC)
Oooh thanks for the link.

Again, some will see it. We just have to point to it.

This, exactly. If we can maintain our stance on TLA and its implications, I hope news coverage will reflect this...when the casting controversy is actually mentioned.
5th-Jul-2010 04:28 pm (UTC)
I admit to have setting more blame on Shyamalan for this in a couple conversations I've had with people elsewhere than I should have. Looking back I cringe at it because it perpetuated what you said in this post.

I'm linking this in a round-up post.
5th-Jul-2010 04:34 pm (UTC)
I'm guilty of it as well, myself. In the case of this movie, we are frustrated fans firstly - and seeing interview after interview of Shyamalan's ridiculous canned-text 'arguments' defending racebending was more than enough to incite my rage at him! But yeah - he's not singular in being an idiot about casting or racism - which I only realized after putting his individual interviews into the greater perspective.

<3!
5th-Jul-2010 04:53 pm (UTC)
Can I link and repost your comic in my gaming blog?
5th-Jul-2010 05:06 pm (UTC)
Most definitely, and thank you!
5th-Jul-2010 05:15 pm (UTC)
This illustration is brilliant.

What they'll see are East Asian Americans (that's us...according to the media) slamming South Asians (Shyamalan), and vice versa

This is absolutely true! Whenever I explain about the whitewashing aspects of the film, the most common response I get is "well Night Shyamalan is Indian, not white". They seem to forget that he's not funding the movie out of his own pockets, or using his own personal studio and equipment, etc etc.
5th-Jul-2010 06:26 pm (UTC)
Thank you! Analogy credit goes to tielan; it was too perfect not to draw. :D

They seem to forget that he's not funding the movie out of his own pockets, or using his own personal studio and equipment, etc etc.

Exactly right? Who approves his decisions? Isn't that what producers (like Marshall and Kennedy) are hired for?
5th-Jul-2010 05:48 pm (UTC)
Thanks for writing this.
5th-Jul-2010 06:34 pm (UTC)
Thank you for reading. <3
5th-Jul-2010 06:08 pm (UTC)
Everyone's said it already, but that illustration is spot-on.
5th-Jul-2010 06:28 pm (UTC)
Glad you think so, thanks! It's sometimes easier for me to put into art what I can't say with words. :)
5th-Jul-2010 06:16 pm (UTC)
Yeah, you've pretty much nailed why the scapegoating of Shyamalan has irritated me. This was intended to be a tentpole movie. There were a lot of people involved on every single level.

The critical failure of this film has made for some delicious schadenfreude. But at the same time I'm feeling cynical about it all. Something that's annoying the fuck out of me is all the reviews that have variations on the phrase "racist casting is the least of this movie's problems." Like the reviewers are hurrying to assure their readers that their criticism doesn't come from a "Oh no! Too PC!" reading of the movie. Yes, the script, acting, pacing problems, shoddy 3-d work are all worth mentioning but why should the protesting about casting be dismissed so easily?
5th-Jul-2010 06:31 pm (UTC)
Yes, the script, acting, pacing problems, shoddy 3-d work are all worth mentioning but why should the protesting about casting be dismissed so easily?

This is an extremely salient point as well. I felt the same way you did about reviews and their balance between:
a) being able to talk about the racebending issues, since now that everyone knows the movie is universally bad it's 'safer' to acknowledge it
b) fearful of being dismissed as 'too PC' by saying that this movie has been problematic from the start by a problem that trumps all the other: racism.

It's like they want to acknowledge it, but even reviewers have to still pander to the people who think that even the mere mention of racism is the same as being 'PC police'. Gyah.

Edited at 2010-07-05 06:35 pm (UTC)
(Deleted comment)
5th-Jul-2010 06:34 pm (UTC)
The only real solution is to comment on reviews and educate more people about institutionalized racism, the process of making a movie, etc.

Exactly. I say this in my last statement of this write-up, because I want the conversation about institutionalized racism to continue somewhere so it doesn't leave the minds of the general movie-going public in the wake of how fun it is to mock Shyamalan. I mean, there is no better place online than racebending.com to keep the conversation of systemic racism in Hollywood ongoing and visible.
5th-Jul-2010 06:47 pm (UTC)
Great article and very true!

It's funny how Marshall pretty much stopped talking about the casting controversy and Shyamalan is asked the same question in every interview.
5th-Jul-2010 06:58 pm (UTC)
It's funny how Marshall pretty much stopped talking about the casting controversy and Shyamalan is asked the same question in every interview.

Seriously. And I mean, why WOULD Marshall say anything when Shyamalan propels himself to the front-lines and proclaims that as an Indian-American he can't possibly ever cast anything in a discriminatory fashion ever?!? That's much more juicy news for media than to take the time to think 'hmmm, but what about this less-famous Producer, what does he say about this?' and research further. It's classic fall-guy tactics.

I'm really glad for articles like the Boston Globe one recently posted, that says Paramount Pictures</a> cast the movie, and not just Shyamalan.
5th-Jul-2010 07:08 pm (UTC)
This is excellent! Thanks for writing it. I'm wondering if we should have a version of it or other on the website...
5th-Jul-2010 07:12 pm (UTC)
Oh yay!

I was considering doing a write-up for the website, but I'll first have get all the citations (ie the articles and interviews) that I've alluded to, but which tbh I've taken for granted that racebending members already know about. :D
5th-Jul-2010 07:32 pm (UTC)
I hope you don't if I post your illustration in my Tumblr, it's perfect! Thank you. And ohh, I can't wait to see how this will all turn out.
5th-Jul-2010 08:20 pm (UTC)
Oh not at all, thank you for reposting! I'm happy to have the illo get circulation. \o/
(Deleted comment)
5th-Jul-2010 09:07 pm (UTC)
Agreed very much! The way racebending.com is perceived makes my teeth grind.
5th-Jul-2010 09:06 pm (UTC)
Oh, for God's sake. I'm white, and I support racebending.com hardcore. Like MLK said, the destinies of all races are linked. And I don't think Paramount Pictures has gone totally unblamed-- we've bashed them quite a few times-- but we definitely need to look more at the institutionalized aspect.
5th-Jul-2010 09:34 pm (UTC)
And I don't think Paramount Pictures has gone totally unblamed-- we've bashed them quite a few times-- but we definitely need to look more at the institutionalized aspect.

Oh! This commentary was directed towards the random fan and movie critic, not specifically at racebending.com supporters. Not in the least. I'm quite proud that our discussions have consistently peeked behind the the movie industry's smoke-and-mirrors and located fault where it truly lies. It's a discussion we must continue to be vocal about, so others outside of anti-racism education/advocacy don't forget.

(sorry for all the edits! *facepalm*)

Edited at 2010-07-05 09:40 pm (UTC)
5th-Jul-2010 09:51 pm (UTC)
Thanks for writing this, and for your awesome editorial comment.


I um, think it would be awesome if you wrote and illustrate some kind of Racism 101 primer for kids/newbs! or something!!
5th-Jul-2010 10:33 pm (UTC)
Thanks!



(HAHAH omg don't tempt me to try and exercise my creativity. I'm so much better at being lazy artist! XD)
5th-Jul-2010 10:30 pm (UTC)
For me anyways, I tend to put most of the "blame" on MNS bcz, wile Hollywood is so predictably not going to change, MNS had that ability to make that change; he even brags about his powers of "control" wile defending his actions/choices.

He alone could have taken that first step in something that the studios would not have done; or 'could' not have done, by the nature of the system. So what I guess I'm saying is, MNS is guilty for failure to act –something I myself do not normally throw around accusations of. I do it here bcz the casting of this film should have been more than obvious!
5th-Jul-2010 10:41 pm (UTC)
Interesting perspective!

I think what you're saying can still coincide with the point I'm making - that is to say, it's not a simple as 'it's all his fault, end of story', but rather Shyamalan and his failure to act is indeed part and parcel of systemic racism. I feel Shyamalan is a perfect product of systemic racism. Why did he fail to act? How can he justify that being an Indian-American director allows him to cast white leads? What exactly is his definition of 'diversity'? etc.

And I'm always a little suspicious about studios supposedly giving carte blanche to a director/writer. Most directors and writers face constant pressures by studios and producers to continually make their movies more 'marketable' (meaning: cater to the lowest common denominator). It's the reason why many directors - even very successful ones, like Spielberg - form their own production companies. I find it really difficult to believe that a director who has consistently failed in his recent film history would be allowed make all of his choices on his own, with absolutely no pressure to conform by the studio/producers.

I don't doubt that Shyamalan might likely be completely oblivious to the fact that A:TLA was an Asian/Inuit based world - but again, I question WHY someone would be that oblivious, when he sees his own skin colour in the mirror every day.

Edited at 2010-07-05 10:42 pm (UTC)
6th-Jul-2010 02:50 am (UTC)
Yes, thank you. Why he might be willing to accept blame, he did not operate in a vacuum. He deserves his share of blame, but others must accept equal blame. For example, how much of his changes were done to please people such as Frank Marshall, subconsciously?

What's really upsetting me is that I've seen people take this as an excuse to trash Shyamalan's own background. I'm still seeing red over a comment on one of the reviews of TLA that compared the film, in a denigrating fashion, to Bollywood films and blamed that on Shyamalan. Ugh. His mistakes do not make it okay to perpretrate racist comments against him.

I am pleased with the movie being taken down, and Shyamalan's defenses being dissected. However, I will never be okay with people trashing the Indian people or an entire artform produced by India because of his actions. Especially since they are not his actions alone. And he's Indian-American, which is an important thing to remember. It's obvious he's American, since he's bought into a lot of specifically American psuedo-defenses against racism. And how do other Indian-Americans feel about the casting of the evil Fire Nation? He might be okay with it, but are they okay with, yet again, the villains being dark-skinned and members of their ethnic group?
6th-Jul-2010 12:02 pm (UTC)
Discussed it online with some Indians from India.

They tend not to think much of it, since they do have Bollywood, which is a bigger film maker compared to Hollywood.

The ones outside the country do have different opinions.

As it has been pointed out, films outside American are not so "Eurocentric" and they see Hollywood films as different to their local fare. I suppose, the systemic racism is not so blatant.

I do know that many Asians do not know of the existence of Asian-Americans, as the case of one British girl I know who went to Laos to teach English. She was a second generation Brit, from a Malay-Chinese family and her students could not believe that she could teach english, even though born in Britain and preferred an Italian teacher who studied english for two years.




7th-Jul-2010 06:52 pm (UTC)
I personally gave Shyamalan sufficient benefit of the doubt from the beginning, but he kept failing me. The way I figures it, if he's willing to take the fall, then by all means let him. M Night's a big boy. He can take responsibility for his own words.

Paramount is too big an organization to attribute unconscious racist beliefs to everybody. Just because institutional racism exists and needs awareness brought upon doesn't earn M Night any sympathy in my book.
7th-Jul-2010 09:38 pm (UTC) - Boycott (I wish I had)
I wish I'd investigated the racebending sooner. As a white person, I was angry about the whitewashing as well. I wish I'd known about the boycott. I could have helped a good cause and saved myself from the colossal disappointment that was this travesty.

Hollywood's racism against Asian Americans has been upsetting to me for a while. Why don't we ever see a romantic comedy with an Asian American in a lead role? Why don't we ever see an Asian American who isn't a math genius or a kung fu guru? Why can't we see a movie with an Asian American just being a normal protagonist? That's bad enough, but to take roles specifically designed for Asian Americans away from them? It's awful.

I think Shyamalan is to a great degree to blame, but I want to know who in the studio I can e-mail a protest to, both about the blatant racism, and the overall dismal quality of the film. Shyamalan and Paramount should not be given a chance to do a sequel. This movie was horrific.
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