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we saw wut u did thar, paramount
Roger Ebert Strikes Again! 
10th-Jun-2010 11:30 am
In his June 9th Answer Man column, Roger Ebert answers another question about Airbender.

Q. A friend and I got in a discussion over whether it is racist to have race be a criteria while casting a role. My friend was of the opinion that the best actor should get the role. I felt that if the part was written for, say, a young African-American male, the audition pool should be limited to young African-American males. This discussion specifically focused on the movie “The Last Airbender,” which is based on an American-made animated show called “Avatar: The Last Airbender.”

Two of the characters in the show were not white, yet their movie counterparts will be white. I felt that the movie casting choice was not true to the source material while my friend thought the casting choice (from a racial perspective) was irrelevant. Is casting white actors into non-white roles a form of racism/whitewashing? Would the opposite also be racist? Or should the best actor, regardless of race or any other physical consideration, be chosen?
Colleen Stone, Woodbury, Minn.

A. It was racist in the days when minority actors just plain couldn’t get work in anything but stereotyped roles. The situation has improved. If I’d been making “The Last Airbender,” I would probably have decided the story was so well- known to my core audience that it would be a distraction to cast those roles with white actors. I’m guessing, but I suspect the American group most under-represented in modern Hollywood is young Asian-American males.

Click here to read Racebending.com's commentary and some more stats about Asian American actors.

Ebert had previously answered a question about The Last Airbender in December 2009, where he called the casting decisions "wrong."
10th-Jun-2010 06:57 pm (UTC)
"Two of the characters in the show were not white, yet their movie counterparts will be white."

Only two?
10th-Jun-2010 07:02 pm (UTC)
From my experience, there are people who are willing to accept a white Aang, but not white Sokka and Katara. The visible codes of skin tone (Aang is light-skinned in the cartoon; while Sokka and Katara are clearly brown-skinned) primarily shapes their perceptions, is my guess.
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10th-Jun-2010 07:28 pm (UTC)
I have to say I was taken aback a little at first at the comment, "It was racist in the days when minority actors just plain couldn’t get work in anything but stereotyped roles. The situation has improved." Then I took another look at the word "improved." Doesn't say "solved" or "no longer applies" it just says "improved." Which, while good, is not acceptable as an end result, only as a mile marker for "still room for further improvement."

Then there's the line "I’m guessing, but I suspect the American group most under-represented in modern Hollywood is young Asian-American males." I am guessing that Mr. Ebert's guess is right on the money. Literally.
10th-Jun-2010 07:30 pm (UTC)
I think Native American actors (particularly Inuit actors!) are even worse off. I can't think of any famous Native American actors except for maybe Wes Studi (Taylor Lautner and Johnny Depp are different, they "crossover") in a big film lately.

1 out of 4 Alaskans is Alaskan Native, so we have this entire state in the US with an Inuit population and they're rarely, if ever, represented. =/
10th-Jun-2010 08:56 pm (UTC)
I wonder how many people who insist "the best actor should always get the role" would've been okay with an 50-year old female actor playing Aang, even if she was light-years ahead of her acting than Ringer.

The part people always leave out from "the best actor should always get the role" is "the best actor for the part". A male is not the best actor for a female character, a septuagenarian is not the best actor for a teenage character, and a white person is not the best actor for an Asian character. This is not complicated.
10th-Jun-2010 08:57 pm (UTC)
But but...Meryl Streep would make a great Aang! And I've always wanted the best actor to play Katara, which is why they need to cast Tom Hanks.
11th-Jun-2010 12:00 am (UTC)
I got into this same argument with a 'friend' on Facebook.

Basically he said he didn't find a problem with it and that it is racist to deny somebody a role because they aren't a certain ethnicity. To which I respond with a 'how is it racist to want an asian to play an asian?'.

He threw in political correctness and 'best actors for the part'.

But don't worry, he appreciates the Asian aspects of the show. He just apparently missed the memo that the characters were being depicted as Asian. Besides, it's just a cartoon.

People make me so angry sometimes.
11th-Jun-2010 12:04 am (UTC)
it is racist to deny somebody a role because they aren't a certain ethnicity.

He's right. It is racist to deny someone a role because they aren't a certain ethnicity.

But that's exactly what is happening to Asian American actors in Hollywood right now, on a daily basis. They are often not even cast in roles to play Asian characters--white actors are given preference for white roles and many Asian roles, it seems. So where does that leave Asian American actors?

And if 7 out of 10 roles go to men and 8 out of 10 roles go to white actors, then is Hollywood really casting the best actors? And if so, does that mean Hollywood believes that men and white folk to be simply better than women and minorities?
11th-Jun-2010 12:37 am (UTC)
Best actors? To me most of the best actors are dead, along with an even larger number of untalented ones as well. A lot of these new actors suck to me and are hired not on any real skills in acting but on a marketing demographic of what Hollywood believes people to find attractive. Look at same of who the new big names are and judge them against the screen stars of the past and you'll find them completely inadequate and no way near as multi-talented.
11th-Jun-2010 04:41 pm (UTC)
Gregory Peck for Appa.
11th-Jun-2010 03:34 pm (UTC) - Slight OT but related topic
So I'm reading this news blurb about how Eclipse is going to eat summer and spit out bottles of suntan lotion...


check the last paragraph:

"More of a surprise, and a relief to the executives at Paramount Pictures, is polling also shows "The Last Airbender" will not be the dud many feared or expected. The Nickelodeon franchise's loyal following is excited about the live action incarnation of their favorite characters and should give it a healthy kick off on July 2. Where it goes from there is anyone's guess."

Comments, anyone?
11th-Jun-2010 03:42 pm (UTC) - Re: Slight OT but related topic
oh and yes I replied XD hellz yes I replied...
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11th-Jun-2010 08:22 pm (UTC)
You know what this controversy has taught me? That the people making The Last Airbender missed a prime PR opportunity!
Most people aren't aware of the barriers people of color face when trying to break into show biz. And The Last Airbender marketing team could have raised awareness while simultaneously patting themselves on the back for helping out underrepresented minorities (which we all know is a favorite pastime among the self-righteous white liberals who populate Hollywood).

...but no. Instead they decided to turn A:TLA into a lame LotR/Harry Potter ripoff and assumed that fans of the cartoon would eat it up as long as the special effects were good.

11th-Jun-2010 10:27 pm (UTC)

Took the words right out. This movie was nothing but a missed opportunity!
A studio like Paramount should have been able to discern from the popularity of the TV show that there was a potential market to tap into concerning a story setting which was non-Western based.

If one thinks that if the filmakers had stuck to the original premise, not only would it have garnered the wide attention of its core based fans but also the massive approval of millions of people both within minority groups and many others in the movie going public who would love to see something different. The film wouldn't be seen as generic or redundant. The risk would have payed off very very well.

It really can be pointed back to the short-sightedness (or personal prejudices) of Paramount and Hollywood in general.
11th-Jun-2010 10:20 pm (UTC)

I never put much thought into Ebert's commentaries until the Racebender controversy. And frankly I now deeply admire him for being so to the point and most of all, being truthful about the issue.

I think on one point, he nails the issue of young Asian American males being underrepresented, to a perfect T. Young East Asian American men are indeed probably the most socially/sexually stigmatized group in US pop culture and media. And the dearth of prominent young actors being portrayed positively (John Cho and in a distant way, Masi Oka being the exceptions) is appalling.

It's quite ironic that after half a century of at least some recognizable presence by East Asian men in the US media, Hollywood is irrationally reluctant to feature many of them in positive fully developed and well-rounded roles. Compare for example with how many South Asian Indian men have featured prominently in a number of roles on US TV and cinema (and the history of the Indian-American community is much younger than the East Asian American community!), and you begin to wonder whether the US media has got something out against young East/SouthEast Asian males.
12th-Jun-2010 04:18 am (UTC)
Looking at all this, I'm getting a little concerned about my own movie collections. Some of my favourite movies unfortunately contain racebending.

Like Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, for example. Ricardo Montalban is undoubtedly a great actor and does brilliantly in the role of Khan, but he's Mexican, and Khan is Indian. It's miscasting because there were plenty of people of Indian descent that could have played that role and done it just as well as Montalban. We can't really change the movie now (well, I suppose they could digitally insert an actor of Indian descent over Ricardo Montalban, but there would be nerd uproar), so we can only change movies that have not yet been made.

Perhaps we should clarify that no matter how good an actor is in a role (Noah Ringer, for example, may well play Aang very well), every time a character is racebent, it's a chance taken away from actors of whichever minority that character is.
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