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Racefail Casting as covered by the Washington Post! 
2nd-Mar-2009 11:10 am
boulderangry
Whoa. The Boulder learned this morning that The Washington Post wrote an article on the casting of The Last Airbender: "For Asian faces, M. Night Shyamalan comes to Virginia." Article talks about us! And also quotes Guy Aoki, President of MANAA!

For those of you without a Washington Post login, The Boulder has ~*REPRODUCED*~ the article in full under the rockalanche lj-cut:



In Va., Casting About For Mongolian Actors
By Dan Zak
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, March 2, 2009; C01

Hollywood searching for Mongolians in Northern Virginia . . .

An odd premise, but it explains why a casting director is draping a beige smock over a cute Mongolian American boy in an apartment building in Rosslyn.

"We'll make you look like a warrior," the casting director with dirty-blond curls tells the boy. She holds up a camera and says, "Now don't smile."

"Smile!" calls the boy's father, who was born in Ulan Bator.

"No, he shouldn't smile," a casting assistant tells him. "They don't like people to smile because it's not how you really look."

On Saturday, a casting team was bouncing around Arlington -- home to several thousand Mongolians -- seeking potential members of the Earth Kingdom, a tribe in the animated TV series "Avatar: The Last Airbender," which director M. Night Shyamalan (known for gotcha-ending thrillers like "The Sixth Sense") is turning into a live-action film.

What do members of the Earth Kingdom look like? Like they're from Mongolia. Or Cambodia or Laos. Something like that. Exotically Asian, at least. Like they could be an extra in a movie that's based on a series that's inspired by many Eastern traditions, from Japanese anime and Tibetan Buddhism to kung fu cinema and yoga.

"Night doesn't know what it is he wants, but he'll know it when he sees it," says DeeDee Ricketts, the casting director. At the least, it's a chance for locals to get on the set of a major motion picture. But this is Shyamalan, so there's a twist.

In December, the lead "Airbender" characters of Zuko, Aang and Sokka were filled by a trio of young white males: pop singer Jesse McCartney, newcomer Noah Ringer (a karate whiz from Texas) and "Twilight" star Jackson Rathbone.

Those character names again: Zuko, Aang and Sokka. Played by a Jesse, a Noah and a Jackson.

"I think it's one of those things where I pull my hair up, shave the sides, and I definitely need a tan," Rathbone told MTV.com, presumably just before his publicist sat him down for a chat about political correctness. "It's one of those things where, hopefully, the audience will suspend disbelief a little bit."

But the only thing some fans will suspend are their plans to see the movie when it opens in summer 2010. Forums online including LiveJournal have spearheaded letter-writing campaigns to object to the casting. More than 2,000 people have joined a Facebook group titled "Save the 'Avatar: The Last Airbender' Movie from an All-White Cast."

McCartney jumped ship last month -- "scheduling conflicts with his music tour" -- and was replaced by "Slumdog Millionaire" star Dev Patel, a Brit of Indian heritage.

The fan base kept simmering. The switch of just one cast member "reeks of tokenism," wrote the proprietor of aang-aint-white.livejournal.com. Online news stories and blogs have been clogged with comments accusing the production of dismissing the series's Asian aesthetics.

Three weeks ago, the prominent Los Angeles-based theater organization East West Players wrote a letter to an "Airbender" producer to express dismay over the casting call for the four principal roles (which sought actors of "Caucasian or any other ethnicity"). The Media Action Network for Asian Americans (MANAA) wrote a similar letter lamenting the loss of a "historic opportunity to give Asian American actors a chance to shine in a big-budget film franchise."

"As far as I know, three of the four leads are still white," says MANAA's founding president, Guy Aoki, over the weekend. "And the Dev Patel character starts off being a bad guy. The three white people are heroes. It's confusing to us. They're supposed to be leading a band of Asian- or Inuit-looking people."

Aoki says he talked with Paramount's VP of communications, who said she would relay concerns to Shyamalan, but the studio has issued no response. Paramount declined to comment for this article and declined on behalf of Shyamalan.

"When you take a beloved story that has a fan base, you'll never be able to make everyone happy," says Ricketts, the casting director, who was not involved with the casting of principal roles. "There's been some talk that we're casting authentic Asians as a response to the backlash, which is totally wrong because our world is multi-ethnic and the 'Avatar' world will be multi-ethnic.'"

In January, someone in the Web movement designed T-shirts to sell online. One shirt reads, across the chest, "Asian People: Heroes not Extras."

* * *

Back in the multi-purpose room of the River Place apartments, a couple dozen Mongolian Americans trickle in, get their photos taken, fill out blue information cards.

"What's my 'special skills'?" asks Chinguun Ganbold, 7, pen in hand.

"Hmm, 'playing video games,' " says his mother, Fairfax resident Oyun-Erdene Bold, on hand to translate during the open call. After an hour, Bold mentions that it's Tsagaan Sar, the Mongolian lunar new year, and much of the community is setting up for the festival at the Wilson School, which is also home to the Mongolian School of the National Capital Area on Saturdays.

So the crew relocates down the street around noon. They set up camp in a classroom -- point-and-shoot camera, blue information cards, culturally ambiguous costumes -- just as school lets out.

"The movie people are here!" yells one boy, and a bunch of excited 11-year-olds lines up to fill out cards and look sternly at the camera.

"What does 'ethnicity' mean?" asks another boy.

"Asian," says Bold.

"If you're Mongolian, put 'Mongolian,' " Ricketts says.

Down the hall, the small gym is canopied with red streamers to suggest a yurt, the circular domed shelter common in inner Asia. The community elders are taking their seats at a table on the raised stage. Later, 16 towering Mongolian American wrestlers spar like warriors in the middle of the gym floor, butting heads, clawing at each other's skin, hurling themselves toward the hard ground. The crowd whoops.

It's nice that the casting team can experience authentic Mongolian culture here, says Fairfax resident Iveelt Tsog, an organizer from the Mongolian Community Association of Greater Washington. "I guess the community is interested in any film where Mongolia will be featured," he says.

Truth is, the cultures in "The Last Airbender" are fictionalized composites. Mongolians may be featured, but only in the background.

The casting crew leaves through the side door and heads for another call, this one for Cambodian and Laotian Americans at the Rosslyn Spectrum Theater. Around 3:30 p.m., a quintet of friends wait to be draped in a smock (brown-colored this time) and photographed. They're here partly for kicks, partly because it was noteworthy to get a film-related call for Cambodian Americans.

"Other than through Angelina Jolie, you don't hear about them," says Socheat Hul, 28, of Leesburg, referencing Jolie's adopted Cambodian son.

Do they know anything about the movie?

"Yeah, I read about the controversy," says Melanie Thong, 24, of Annandale. "I mean, Jesse McCartney? If it's an Asian movie, you should have an Asian cast."

"If you watch the show, all of them are our skin color," says Liso Neou, 23, of Tysons.

"You can't even name five Asian actors," says Thong, rhetorically.

"Chow Yun-Fat . . . Jackie Chan . . . Jet Li . . . " says Neou, and stops.

"Kids need to know there's more diverse actors out there," Thong says, her point made.

The friends reach the front of the line and stifle smiles as they take turns posing for the camera. "Here, this will erase any trace of Virginia," says the casting director, wrapping Neou in the brown smock.

-----------------



...yeah. Where to begin. Where to begin.

Well, the good news is that the Washington Post is the 5th most popular newspaper in the United States, so this is a huge deal. Our cause has been featured in the San Francisco Chronicle and Entertainment Weekly, but the Post is a more mainstream paper and this may lead to more news coverage as the protest rages on.

"There's been some talk that we're casting authentic Asians as a response to the backlash, which is totally wrong because our world is multi-ethnic and the 'Avatar' world will be multi-ethnic.'"--DeeDee Rickets, casting director

"Authentic Asians"?! The Boulder would like to know what you have to do in order to be considered an authentic Asian? Is this an implicit acknowledgment that the production cast and the movie will feature "inauthentic Asians"?

The Boulder does agree, though, that the real world is multi-ethnic the same way this casting is multi-ethnic. White people always get precedence and first dibs to play Asians; always get to play the hero--that's authenticity for you!

"Authentic Asians"--whoever that may be--are clearly not being allowed to play the heroes of this story. They're been relegated to the background.

There's been a lot of argument over whether or not M. Night was involved in making casting decisions. In the article, Rickets says he did: "Night doesn't know what it is he wants, but he'll know it when he sees it." The Boulder is really starting to wonder if he is truly an innocent player in all of this.

Rather than dropping the film (if they think M. Night or an Asian American cast would be unmarketable), or casting it correctly, Paramount is trying to profit off of their own racist casting practices.

Rickets says: "When you take a beloved story that has a fan base, you'll never be able to make everyone happy."

How exactly does she expect anyone to be happy about the history of Hollywood discrimination The Last Airbender continues to perpetuate and represent? The animated series was lauded for it's culturally sensitive and nuanced depictions of an Asian fantasy world. Thanks for ruining the reputation of the original show, Paramount.


Edit: And um, Multi Ethnic? The Boulder would like to know how Noah Ringer + Jackson Rathbone + Nicola Peltz + Jesse McCartney = Multi-Ethnic? Unless that means 3 white heroes + 1 brown villain = multi-ethnic. The Boulder is not sure that word means what you think it means, lady.
Comments 
2nd-Mar-2009 08:28 pm (UTC)
Psst-your html is borked. The last section is all in italics.

I really hate that old, "Everyone will never be happy, so we don't have to care if people are upset by things! Being angry over race is totally the same as complaining about minor details!"
2nd-Mar-2009 08:34 pm (UTC)

"When you take a beloved story that has a fan base, you'll never be able to make everyone happy," says Ricketts, the casting director, who was not involved with the casting of principal roles.


Yeah, but the point is that no one's happy :\

So who was involved with the principal role castings?

2nd-Mar-2009 08:41 pm (UTC)
In January, someone in the Web movement designed T-shirts to sell online. One shirt reads, across the chest, "Asian People: Heroes not Extras."

Anyone have a link?
2nd-Mar-2009 08:58 pm (UTC)
The zazzle store is here:
http://www.zazzle.com/glockgal

But I also uploaded a bunch of high-res images for anyone to take and use for free! The 'Heroes not Extras' is part of the list of free images.
http://glockgal.livejournal.com/387931.html

XD

2nd-Mar-2009 09:04 pm (UTC)
The publicity is truly excellent, but I wish they would have ended with less of a...positive light on the casting? They made it seem like Ricketts was making things all better, when that's clearly not the case.
Still, to get a spotlight on the issue at all is good. :-/
2nd-Mar-2009 09:04 pm (UTC)
"When you take a beloved story that has a fan base, you'll never be able to make everyone happy."

So being angry about BLATANT RACISM is a bunch of fans unhappy?! BULLSHIT. SOMEONE HOLD ME BACK OR I MAY END UP MARCHING TO WHEREVER THE FUCK RICKETS IS SO I CAN CHOP HER FUCKING HEAD OFF.

In other news, I was interviewed for this article this past Friday! I wasn't quoted, but the writer did say that he got a better feel for the campaign from talking to me. :3
2nd-Mar-2009 09:20 pm (UTC)
Sorry, but rather than hold you back, I think I'm going to whistle and pretend I don't notice, and just let you go get her. :-/
That's great that you helped the writer out! I wish I could get the word out better where I live, but I live in a little town full of retirees who probably wouldn't be able to hear me well, much less support. :-/
2nd-Mar-2009 09:30 pm (UTC)
I'm really glad for the publicity. But it's the people who keep commenting in their attempt to act as a defense that I'm most upset with. This quote, "If it's an Asian movie, you should have an Asian cast," is what i keep hearing from both fans of the show and those who hardly know anything. I'm just so pissed at everyone dealing with the casting for this movie. Just...ugh.
2nd-Mar-2009 10:09 pm (UTC)
See, the fact that I'm hearing that from non-fans is saying A LOT about this whole debacle. If someone who's never even SEEN the show can tell the CASTING is fail, you know you've screwed up.
(Deleted comment)
2nd-Mar-2009 09:58 pm (UTC)
*points to the currently whooping 56 commented article right below this one*
(Deleted comment)
(Deleted comment)
2nd-Mar-2009 10:46 pm (UTC)
DeeDee Rickets is a she-ghoul. There I said it.

What's really sad is that a lot of the Asian people interviewed accept the casting as a rich opportunity to display their cultures, either not knowing or simply accepting the obviously racist reasons behidn it. It's kind of like a "Yeah, we know, but oh well what can you do?" mentality. As though this is the only thing they can hope for, so they might as well take what they can. How horrible is that people whose cultures were the main inspiration for the show, who should rightly see themselves as the main players of this epic adventure have been reduced to accepting the half-eaten scraps thrown under the table?

This nonsense has to stop. It really, really has to. I'm glad the Post is in on this (was it featured on the actual newspaper or is it an online article? And what section was it in?)
3rd-Mar-2009 12:06 am (UTC)
I don't want to stereotype but the article really makes it sound like they were seeking out more recent immigrants from poorer and more marginalized Asian ethnic groups. These groups are way less likely to make a big deal about casting like this than well-established Asian American communities like the Japanese and Chinese American communities that have been around for generations. Newer immigrants are not as aware of the history of yellowface. And their communities are so desperate for representation, to them, any representation is better than none at all.
(Deleted comment)
2nd-Mar-2009 10:47 pm (UTC)
I was interviewed with the guy who wrote this over the phone and gave him more info about the protests. Too bad none of what I said or my name was used but eh, having my name in print once is already enough.

Yes, I am glad about the exposure also. We were told by many people that "right now, people are going to have a hard time seeing this but once production starts and people SEE this mess...your going to have a lot of people on your side!" :)
2nd-Mar-2009 11:43 pm (UTC)
... It's not really how asians look, huh.

I actually think that this makes Night sound innocent of the casting choices... It makes him sound like he was open to all ethnicities...

All I want to do, is find the casting directors, and leave their personal information for the general public....
3rd-Mar-2009 01:40 am (UTC)
It makes it sound like he doesn't have a clear vision. Like he's making it up as he goes. Rather than just following the source material!
2nd-Mar-2009 11:52 pm (UTC) - I need an angry icon but I don't have one so this will do. My comment is KINDA long. Pt 1

"Night doesn't know what it is he wants, but he'll know it when he sees it," says DeeDee Ricketts, the casting director. At the least, it's a chance for locals to get on the set of a major motion picture. But this is Shyamalan, so there's a twist.


WTF? Um, M. Night DOESN'T know what he wants? Yet in interviews BEFORE the movie started to go into production and HELL THE FREAKING AVATAR DVD he talks about the show and he talks about what he wants out of actors? ARE YOU FUCKING OUT OF YOUR MIND?

newcomer Noah Ringer (a karate whiz from Texas) Now, if that's the reason why they came to Texas, I can SORT of see their logic because some of best Tae Kwon Do fighters that participated in the past Olympics came from the Houston area (where I live), so I can kinda see why but ugh WHY THE VAGUENESS?

YAY GUY AOKI!!! *Dance!* If this doesn't intimidate Paramount, what will?

"When you take a beloved story that has a fan base, you'll never be able to make everyone happy," says Ricketts, the casting director, who was not involved with the casting of principal roles. "There's been some talk that we're casting authentic Asians as a response to the backlash, which is totally wrong because our world is multi-ethnic and the 'Avatar' world will be multi-ethnic.'"

Uh, this person has no idea, do they? Especially when they just DISREGARDED the fanbase just like that? That fanbase not only includes little kids BUT THEIR ADULTS TOO AND ESPECIALLY PEOPLE OF COLOR. Hell, fanbase is what drives SOME people to WATCH movies! All those comic book movies, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, HELL FREAKING TWILIGHT, even though I personally don't like it. Hell, look what happens when you not only pay ATTENTION to fanbase but try so hard to make a movie REALLY good to make those fans happy? LORD OF THE RINGS ANYONE? TONS AND TONS OF OSCARS? Helllllllllllllllllo??

In January, someone in the Web movement designed T-shirts to sell online. One shirt reads, across the chest, "Asian People: Heroes not Extras."

Hell yeah. I'd LOVE to see an asian in a lead role that isn't something "martial arts" related. You see very few of those roles.

It's nice that the casting team can experience authentic Mongolian culture here, says Fairfax resident Iveelt Tsog, an organizer from the Mongolian Community Association of Greater Washington. "I guess the community is interested in any film where Mongolia will be featured," he says.

Truth is, the cultures in "The Last Airbender" are fictionalized composites. Mongolians may be featured, but only in the background.


My God, that's one to "trick" the community into being sympathetic to their cause. It's like "Let's get Mongolians who have no idea we're going to ask them to show for our film so when they hear the backlash that's going to come out of The Washington Post, they'll be on our side!". That's what it seems like to me. And you're stringing along perfectly INNOCENT people into it.

That smock definitely screams either a stereotypical Native American/Mongolian outfit even though it is supposed to be kinda "neutral". Oh these people don't know what they're doing.

I definitely love those people at the end -- it's SO true, there are more diverse characters out there for a show that's Asian inspired, so why not HAVE THEM? Gah, yet if the same thing happened the Lord of the Rings, a SHIT load of people would've whooped some ass.
2nd-Mar-2009 11:52 pm (UTC) - Part 2 of my comment -- Paramount has been racist for a LONG time...
Just to quote you: Rather than dropping the film (if they think M. Night or an Asian American cast would be unmarketable), or casting it correctly, Paramount is trying to profit off of their own racist casting practices.

I actually made a comment on aang_aint_white actually yesterday or the day before yesterday but I found out this is NOT THE FIRST TIME Paramount has had movies with not only racial slant BUT has movies with something either racialised or they was a racial controversy. I really need to do more research on it, but I DID find info that "Rules of Engagement" (2000) that the Arab-American and some other "Middle Eastern" had a HUGE fuss about this movie and they even had some political organizations go and protest and even go into the papers but Paramount REFUSED to acquise and let the film released to the public. And yes, they DENIED THEM. THE POLITICAL ORGANIZATIONS. However, there's a chance that the political organization did not have as much clout as EWA or MANAA.

Also, I have also read (and I am in a Minority Studies class right now, and I tell you, some of the REEKS of the theories I've been discussing in class) that some of the producers of Benjamin Button are ON THE AVATAR FILM and not only that, Benjamin Button had ignored some REALLY racialised stereotypes that would've been EXTREMELY hard to ignore during that time period -- the woman who is Benjamin Button's mother (black) is married to a white man yet the WHITE MAN does not get any BACKLASH for it? Or the 1 drop rule in various states (if you want the facts, 22 out of 50 states) had a 1 drop rule, where depending on state to state in the USA, you were considered black from either being something like 1/8th to 1/64th. Yes you read that right, 1/64th.

That and Paramount is with Viacom and I associate those with Viacom as TOTALLY DUMB. Ugh.

Yes, I'll have to do some research -- and yes, I did find that racism in movies in relation to Paramount has been at least til the 60s. I think that says something. I might have to do extra research on this Ricketts person, *gag*.
3rd-Mar-2009 12:00 am (UTC) - Re: Part 2 of my comment -- Paramount has been racist for a LONG time...
Ugh, of all times to FAIL Firefox, you have to do it while I was in the middle of typing a response to this racism?

A correction to my comment -- it's not racial stereotypes as much as a racial attitude that was prevalent during that time period of American history -- everyone knows how obvious racism was back then and how much of it was a CULTURAL norm to the point that was what "everyone acted like" and if you didn't you were considered weird, a freak, ostracized, etc etc. Even if Benjamin Button is white, his father would've been harassed or abused or attacked or possibly killed for mating with a black woman and that black woman would not have able to make it alive, whether it's abuse, harassment, rape, murder, or anything. And to deny the past and the affects it has caused and to just go "swiping it under the rug" and saying "Oh we're trying to be multi-ethnic" or anything is DENYING the reality of racism and what it has done in this country.
3rd-Mar-2009 05:43 am (UTC)
I'm quite pleased with the article, anyway. The Washington Post is big times.
3rd-Mar-2009 05:44 am (UTC)
Is there anyway to reach this Rickets woman in a peaceful setting? Everything that comes out of her mouth makes me cringe.

But yay, Washington Post! We need more!
4th-Mar-2009 04:32 am (UTC)
I found some info on her agency and a website for her agency!! It's in the comment below yours :D
4th-Mar-2009 04:33 am (UTC) - Contact info for DeeDee Ricketts!
Because this was all online found through google-fu-ing, apparently this lady does a LOT of extras casting but from her IMDB profile she has done some other types of casting as well.

But here:
DEEDEE RICKETTS CASTING
8205 SANTA MONICA BLVD., SUITE1-229
WEST HOLLYWOOD, CA 90046
REGISTRATION LINE: Online Only
COMPANY CONTANT: DEEDEE & STACY
WEBSITE: www.ddcasting.com
4th-Mar-2009 04:38 am (UTC) - Re: Contact info for DeeDee Ricketts!
Oh, and I got to say, some of the info on her website is SO laughable! Is this another attempt at Paramount to say, "Hey, we got some casting company that caters to ethnic peoples?!" Ugh, just read this:

From here: http://ddcasting.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=1&Itemid=1
WE consider it an integral part of the artform to help create the right ‘look’ for a production. We approach each production as a collaborator, and have cultivated a feel for what is called for by the production team. We strive to serve up what is required and present what can be seemingly unattainable – what ever the project needs may be.

DD CASTING makes the extra effort to find the real deal for each specialty role that bridges the gap between production designs and ‘looks’ with the reality of faces that help create real atmosphere, not ‘actory’ background.

Check out the AFFRICAN IMIGRANTS we found for TEARS OF THE SUN, the Afghan Village with real AFGHANS we discovered for CHARLIE WILSON’S WAR or the LA GANG MEMBERS who made TRAINING DAY sizzle. Finding real people, who add the nuances that make any scene more believable, is what we strive for.


Then why the hell aren't you seeing the blatant racism in the project in the first place? If you know the controversy, why the hell? Is it for money? Is it because the economy is shot to hell that any job even if it compromises with your "company's" goals can be COMPROMISED?

Ugh. Sickening.
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