Avatar Casting
We made an oblique reference to the controversy over the casting of the AVATAR; THE LAST AIRBENDER movie the other day, but noted cartoonist Derek Kirk Kim has a rather impassioned take on it and a call for action on his blog:New day in politics, same old racist world on the silver screen. The gist of it is that the M. Night Shyamalan adaptation of the popular cartoon has cast all cute little white kids in the roles of Asain characters in the cartoon. Shyamalan is, of course, himself of Indian heritage, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t business as usual in Hollywood, and reading stuff like Kirk’s remembrance is a powerful reminder of how much this stuff hurts:

When my brother and I were in high school, our favorite class was Drama. While we were rehearsing for the next day’s class or participating in a school play or dancing it up at the after party, I don’t think there was anything we liked more. During such times, it even surpassed our love of—dare I say it—comics. But we never even entertained the notion of actually pursuing it as a career. Not because we didn’t want to, but because we had too much pride to spend our entire lives pretending to be Long Duk Dong, or a Chinese food delivery boy with one line, or a Kato to some Green Hornet. Or even worse, having our hearts broken over and over going after roles that specifically call for Asian Americans like “Avatar, The Last Airbender” only to see them go to white actors. Back in my Drama days in high school, I used to dream of being white so I could pursue acting.

With discrimination like this “Avatar” casting continuing to happen uncontested in Hollywood, my future kids will nurse the same pitiful wish.

And it infuriates me.

If my future kids feel a passion for acting, I want them to be able to pursue it just like any other American. If they’re forced to give up that passion due to a genuine lack of talent or hard work, fine. But I don’t want their dreams to be clipped at the bud by some unassailable, universally accepted dismissal of their existence on the face this country.

Much more in the link, with a call for a letter writing campaign to Paramount and Kennedy/Marshall Productions.

The entire ban on Asian-American actors starring in American movies is especially bizarre when you think of how many of the world’s biggest movie stars are Asian, and the massive influence of Asian culture on so much that is successful out of Hollywood for the past 15 years or so. Is is just denial?


  1. I don’t know about this…

    I’m a huge…HUGE Avatar fan. My twin 5 year old boys and I watched each and every episode together and LOVED them. I bought each of the seasons on DVD and it was a nightly ritual.

    But while the Asian influence obviously is the backbone of both the story and art…I actually never thought of Ang or Kitara or ANY of the main cast to be Asian.

    Sure he’s a monk. But he’s white. Look at the picture above.

    I don’t know. I feel bad for Derek. I really do. But I personally never saw these characters as Asian. And I’m not sure if the creators or Nickelodeon did either.

    Is it just me?

  2. Scott, I wouldn’t say it’s “Just you” because that’s lobbing a lot of very inappropriate and unfounded accusations your way, and that’s just wrong. Your response was interesting to me because I am a white male, but I always saw the characters in Avatar as Asian, not white. I think that speaks more to the way that viewers and readers will project certain things upon comics and animation, and that perhaps the best comics and animation not only allow for this but, by their highly stylized renderings, encourage it.

    Race can be a really tricky issue in comics and film, and it’s hard to navigate at times, especially for me.

  3. Mr. Sava, this isn’t a criticism, but I’d like to know what makes you think the characters of Avatar are white (or any particular real-world-amalgam race for that matter).

  4. Obviously, with a name like ANG or KITARA, they must be white :-))

    The entire ban on Asian-American actors starring in American movies is especially bizarre when you think of how many of the world’s biggest movie stars are Asian, and the massive influence of Asian culture on so much that is successful out of Hollywood for the past 15 years or so. Is is just denial?

    As for racism in Hollywood, it exists but is superseded by money-ism. The ONLY bankable star in Hollywood of the past few years is a black man: Will Smith, because he brings in the cash everywhere around the world (primarily because of the projects he chooses)…

    Hollywod executives love cash and would hump 100 dollar bills if they could. Now, are there any Asian/Indian stars on that

    (and please remember, especially Heidi, this is not a popularity contest, because then Asia would win on numbers alone…)

    … FINANCIALLY SUCCESSFUL, bankable level? No. Why not? Because a) a lot of movies get pirated in Asia, which means the Asian markets are not all that interesting to Hollywood executives to begin with and b) admittance prices in the vast bulk of Asia are not on the level of admittance prices in Western countries (with a few, notable exceptions)

    So, in general, and this have nothing to do with morals: if you make a 100 M budgeted movie, and the financial breakdowns of revenue stream is still about 65 percent USA/Europe vs 35 percent Asia/Africa/Australia etc. … you go, well, what IF we put white kids in Asian drag? Nobody will notice, right? Right?

    The only problem with something like AIRBENDER is that they are clearly identifable as Asian, the background is Asian, the storyline is Asian, the entire culture is Asian, and in comic books and cartoons, that isn’t an issue… not in a cartoon world where we can have all kinds of different cultures and somehow just immerse ourselves into them.

    The moment comes when it’s live action and one goes: huh? that LOOKS wrong.

  5. Oversensitivity. It does come down to who is a bankable star. To say that because Asian cultural items abound in the source material means we HAVE to cast Asians is just as bad as saying Asians can’t be in standard films, it’s really the same statement.

    This would be a Kato role just as much as anything else if it were made in the way the linked article implies. If the point is that Asians should be able to win any role (which I agree with), why are we lobbying for Asians to be cast in the 2000’s equivalent of Ming the Merciless?

    The solution is to just be a great actor and not to allow yourself to be cast as the delivery boy. I am totally in love with Ken Leung as Miles on Lost because he has forged a character that I am interested in and highly amused by.

    Taking this opportunity to say “Wah! We don’t even get cast in the stuff that even KKK members would assume we would!” is pretty weak. Be exceptional and you will be noticed, if only by a small group of nerds on the interwebs.

    Hello and Goodbye,

    Francis Sandow

  6. I agree entirely that accusing the movie executives of racism is misguided. Yes, they are making decisions based entirely on marketability.

    But it is in no way an example of Derek being oversensitive. Everyone, right now, think of the last major studio film that starred an Asian. Kung Fu movies don’t count, and Slumdog was made by the indy arm of a studio.

    The convenient target is the people doing the casting, but Derek has every right to be angry. Those executives had to make that decision because the movie would fail if they cast Asians in Asian roles. It’s indirect racism, it’s our entire cultures perceptions of Asian Americans, and it’s sad.

    Yes, things have come a long way since the days of Long Duck Dong, but not as far as we would all like to believe, and there’s still a long way to go.

  7. Gee, no Asian monks… guess they will be fighting under the Marquis of Queensbury rules with the sword flourishes of Western swordsman Talhoffer. The point is one can be exceptional as a delivery boy only when Hollywood refuses to cast Asians PRIMARILY on negative stereotypes or third rate roles, but on positive ones as well. The residue of the past will have less power if the present allows for equal representation for minor and major roles.

  8. When the movie was announced, I was sort of expecting there to be a mix of races with the cast, but that Aang would be white. And you know what? I’d have been alright with that, a sort of resigned but pragmatic set of expectations I thought.

    I don’t think Sava is guilty of anything, though. The lead characters at least by design can read as anything (well, Zuko I think reads as Asian, but hey). There aren’t much facial features that distinguish them–hell, look at a lot of anime and without clothing how do we read the simplified faces as Asian at all, other than recognizing it’s primarily produced in Asia?

    Still, the casting is gross insensitivity, not oversensitivity. If you actually watch Avatar, even while the leads are suitably blank so any audience member can associate with them, pretty much everyone else is explicitly Asian. Which actually sort of tells you that everyone is Asian, including the leads.

    And the casting problem is everywhere. I remember watching Firefly with a friend, a show based on a universe where Chinese influence is pervasive enough for slang to be Chinese and signs to be bilingual, but I still said the first lines by an Asian ethnic character would be from a whore with a heart of gold–and so it was. Lost is the best show to cast actors instead of types, and things have gotten better in the past few years, but when the roles ask for it, Asian actors still lose out and get lost in the shuffle (21), we’re not a monolithic type either (Memoirs of a Geisha). And you know what, we’re not whining about just this one.

  9. I’m also taking into consideration that M. Night Shyamalan’s Box Office track record has been dismal. He can’t still be riding the coat tails of his Sixth Sense success. Thus, I don’t think Shyamalan is even in a position to demand anything, which gives more power to the studios — which gets us the results we see.

    I caught a screening of Arthur Dong’s documentary, “Hollywood Chinese”. That opened my eyes in a big way to how the studios view Asian actors, directors, and the culture as a whole. Air Bender’s casting does not surprise me.

  10. That whole thing about bankability falls apart when you consider that Jet Li, Jackie Chan and Chow Yun Fat have ALL headlined American movies. And continue to do so. We talked about this recently in the DRAGONBALL Z thread and someone pointed out that HAROLD AND KUMAR was the first major US picture to star an ASIAN AMERICAN. One assumes that Asian Asian stars sell because of overseas box office.

    Christian, I think it’s possible that you were merely projecting what YOU felt most comfortable with and, more importantly, identified with when watching AVATAR. Asian kids deserve the same experience.

    Francis, is it really being over sensitive to realize that the hopes and aspirations of a large population will never be reflected in pop culture?

    To me it’s fascinating, to see the subservient Asian roles of American cinema — and to see white actors cast as all the cool Asian characters — and then turn to HK/Japanese/Korean cinema where you see all these hot, interesting actors being movie stars and heroes (and heroines). All we’re talking about its cultural relativism.

    I see Shahrukh Khan was at the Golden Globes — I wonder if the biggest star in Bollywood will soon come to America to play the guy at the 7-11?

  11. Time was when the only lead roles in Hollywood Asians could get were as kung fu masters. I suppose we can try to look at this as progress because now Asians can’t get roles as kung-fu masters, either.

    Aang may not look Asian, but it’s following the trend of most anime, where characters who are Japanese don’t necessarily look Japanese. I don’t think many people would dispute that his friend Master Gyatso in the photo above is “supposed” to be Asian, as is the main antagonist Prince Zuko and his uncle Iroh (played in the series by the late great Mako). Scuttlebutt is that Zuko will be cast with another pretty white kid, which makes me wonder if they’re going to cast a Wise Old Asian guy as Iroh and hope nobody notices, or if they’re just going to go with a full whitewash.

    Katara and Sokka are not Asian, unless you want to count Inuit/Eskimo influenced people as Asians. However, they definitely have a much darker skin tone than almost everyone else in the show, but the 2 actors who were cast are more pretty white kids. I guess there are no talented Native American or Latino kids who can play the roles. This is especially annoying because the creators of the show have stated they were inspired by the Inuit film “Atanarjuat (The Fast Runner).” Apparently, Jackson Rathbone has also said he just needs a haircut and a tan and he’ll be good to go. I wonder when he’ll decide to do a role in blackface for the same reasons.

    I am also not sure how accusing the producers of racism is misguided if “Those executives had to make that decision because the movie would fail if they cast Asians in Asian roles.” Whether they’re doing it for reasons of marketability or because they hate all them yellow people is kind of irrelevant (and I’m not accusing them of either, since I don’t know what they were thinking). While there is dispute among Avatar fandom whether this is good or bad for the movie, NONE of that debate would be happening if they had named a bunch of Asian and dark-skinned kids to be the leads.

    I don’t feel like letting this go. They’re allowed to cast whoever they want. I’m allowed to ignore the movie because I think what they’re making isn’t “Avatar” any more.

  12. This is messed up. The world of AVATAR is based on Asian culture. The characters in AVATAR are NOT white and should be played by Asian actors.

    I find it both sad and ironic that Paramount went out of their way to get rid of the “REAL AMERICAN HERO” aspect of the upcoming live action G.I. JOE movie in favor of a more an international team in order to appeal to international audiences. Yet, they can’t bring themselves to make an AVATAR movie with an entire Asian cast. What a bunch of hypocritical racists.

    I will NOT pay to see this movie. Hell, I might not even watch this movie for free on cable. I hope that this movie flops and that Paramount and M Night catch a lot of hell for this obvious racist casting.

  13. It’s true. I may be projecting. But Ang and cast DO LOOK white.
    They’re voiced by white actors. They act and sound white. It’s produced in America and created by white people.

    And there are actually ASIAN looking characters in Avatar (which makes it seem that there is diversity in the show).

    This is I guess why I assumed they were white.

    My kids and I love the show. And love the Asian influence. It would make no difference to me or my family if they cast Asian, Black, or white actors.
    As long as the feel of the movie met with the feel of the wonderful show.

    My point was simply that the way the production is (from character design and up) these characters LOOK white.

    Has anyone who created the show specified their ethnicity?

    I’m curious.

  14. Yeah I remember everybody in my particular internet circles flipping out about this the other week.

    At the VERY LEAST they should have given the water tribe kids a little color. Personally I’m not terribly offended if a few of the kids in the movie are white. (Aang is suitably generic to pass for anything, which is a good thing.) I think that saying “There shouldn’t be any white characters at all ’cause it’s ASIAN!!” is just as bad as what they’ve done. Either way it’s discriminating against a group.

    What it needs is a balance. All things in moderation. Cast a couple leads as white if you must, hollywood, but for heaven’s sake get some other faces in there too. Otherwise you’ve just undone the whole point of the series, that kids of incredibly diverse cultures come together to save the world.

  15. “To say that because Asian cultural items abound in the source material means we HAVE to cast Asians is just as bad as saying Asians can’t be in standard films, it’s really the same statement.”

    It really isn’t the same statement. At all.

    By “standard” I assume you mean, “films in which the characters’ race/ethnicity is not explicitly stated or relevant to the storyline.” Like most of the product that Hollywood puts out. Kim is arguing that the Avatar characters ARE explicitly Asian, not just white or racially-neutral characters who just happen to live in a world where Asian cultural items abound.

    I hope folks are reading Kim’s actual post, and not just responding to the excerpt here. He does address the points raised here.

  16. That whole thing about bankability falls apart when you consider that Jet Li, Jackie Chan and Chow Yun Fat have ALL headlined American movies. And continue to do so.

    Jet Li? Really? I mean, REALLY really? You really want to make that argument without backup by actual numbers? Really? Are? You? Sure?

    Let us look at the B.O. GROSS of some of the movies that Jet Li HEADLINED, okay? Not co-starred in or was part of an FX ensemble film like MUMMY 3 (or otherwise, we could very well argue that Mark Hammill is a big damn bankable star) Shall we?

    Domestic: $22,486,409
    + Foreign: $17,752,588
    = Worldwide: $40,238,997

    Domestic: $24,633,730
    + Foreign: $43,439,118
    = Worldwide: $68,072,848

    Domestic: $24,537,621
    + Foreign: $26,333,492
    = Worldwide: $50,871,113

    Domestic: $34,712,347
    + Foreign: $21,777,211
    = Worldwide: $56,489,558

    Domestic: $36,845,124
    + Foreign: $27,592,723
    = Worldwide: $64,437,847

    Now, while all these movies have decent DVD and TV shelf lives, the majority of Mr. Li’s movies have a US domestic ceiling of approximately 40 M dollars and falling fast, down to 24 M with the last movies. And again, in order to calculate the BANKABILITY of a movie star

    (and not the wishful thinking that still earns Ms. Kidman 15 M dollars per pop)

    one needs to look at their performance when headlining, and ONLY headlining.

    All of those movies had a budget range of about 25-30 M dollars, not including marketing. The cash flow from theatrical release after the take by the theatres is approximately 45 percent, depending on contractual framework. That means most of the Jet Li movies are only there because of a good DVD/TV afterlife, NOT because he is a box office draw.

    It’s called research.

  17. Yeah. You can tell how Asian this series and most anime and manga is by those huge round eyes they drawn on everyone. Pardon me if I roll my eyes.

    If anyone of these guys are serious about embracing their roots, get away from the Disneyfied look already.

  18. What I said about Oversensitivity has been mis-interpreted. I didn’t mean to imply that asians are by any means evenly represented in film or television. The stereotypes are still there and often ugly. More often asians are not represented at all as in this film.

    What I meant is that if an adaptation of an anime (yes I know it’s American in origin) is where you stake your flag, things are pretty bad. How can you say “we only get Kato roles!” and then protest when you don’t get another Kung Fu master role? This is like saying that perhaps Charlie Chan wouldn’t be quite so bad if he had at least been played by someone who is Chinese.

    Not having Asian leading men and women in film is a problem, but this isn’t the leading man role you want, this is more of the same. Yes, the casting of Disney Channel tweens is indicative of a problem, but this film is not the place to solve it.

    Citing Jet Li and Jackie Chan means little to me because they fall well within the stereotype. What we need is an asian “Station Agent” and more and more. We need strong asian supporting roles which will lead to leading roles. We do need bravery on behalf of casting directors and others, but movies like this are not really the place we need it.

  19. Thomas:

    Guess what, those movies are all profitable. Guess what, MOST movies are expected to become profitable on DVD/TV afterlife. Guess what, that’s five more movies than have ever been made starring an Asian American. I would contend that if Jet LI hadn’t been a reliable, bankable star guaranteeing a certain modest profit worldwide, he wouldn’t have made nine American movies (not all as the top line star, granted.)

  20. They did the same thing for the movie “21,” too. All the kids in the true-story book “Bringing Down the House” that the movie was based on were Asian, but for the movie everybody became white to increase the movie’s “marketability.”

    I really enjoyed the book, but haven’t seen the movie because they did that.

  21. Imagine… imagine if, they casted an ALL AsianAmerican cast for Harry Potter. Or an ALL AsianAmerican cast in the Lord of the Rings.

  22. Two words, Heidi.

    Nicole Kidman.

    Just because somebody in an office in LA makes you HEADLINE a movie does not mean that you are BANKABLE. It just means that somebody else with cash goes “oh, I know that one, yeah, sure, let’s make a movie with them”.

    The fact is, there ARE no bankable stars anymore, outside of Will Smith (and with 7 LBS doing not so really well, that may change, too). Clooney? Forget it. Pitt? No way. Cruise? Well, that couch jumping took care of that. NONE of them are a guarantee for people to show up regardless of the role they are playing.

    The reason these folks still got to make headlining movies in the past couple of years is… EASY CREDIT. In other words, the fleecing of hedge funds (and google that. It’s fun) and before that… the fleecing of the German tax payers due to a tax loop hole. Why, they even called it “stupid German money”. Hollywood’s been running on borrowed money for a loooooong time, because everybody had their slice of the pie regardless of the overall profitability.

  23. My, this is escalating rather quickly. Can we try to keep the ad hom down a little bit? Why offend with style when you can offend with substance?

    @ Thomas Hart: Just because there are always exceptions doesn’t mean people aren’t bankable. Seth Rogen is a bankable dude but every now and again you get a poorly marketed (or timed depending on who you ask) film like Zack and Miri. Angela Jolie is bankable (people will go to an obscure comic book adaptation to see her butt!) but this doesn’t mean a film she’s in can’t flop.

  24. First, I’m going to post this link that everyone in this thread should check out who thinks there’s a question about whether the Avatar characters, story, mythology, and even Ang, are somehow even questionably “white”: http://aang-aint-white.livejournal.com/1007.html

    Just keep scrolling. Or, hell, take a look at the pictures in Derek’s post.

    Now, I understand that for a lot of people the whole stylized, large eye thing is something that white folks interpret as white. Except it could ALSO be an interpretation of children/youth. Which is clearly how it’s used in Avatar. Most characters over a certain age don’t sport larger eyes in the show. Which makes sense visually since large eyes indicate innocence and wonder, and artistically sets the children up as separate from the adults by an easily identifiable facial characteristic. It’s not whiteness. It’s youth.

    Blue eyes, fair skin, and light hair colors are also not universally “white” characteristics either. And Asian doesn’t mean just Chinese or Japanese. India is considered South Asia. South East Asia is comprised of Malaysia, Thailand, The Phillipines, Laos, Cambodia, and several others. Their are Austronesian people (generally considered part of South East Asia) like the indigenous people of New Zealand and Polynesia. And, since the show is a fantasy, it can and should take certain liberties to distinguish cultures and regions from each other. These characters simply aren’t white, whatever we may project on them. The fact that we’d even project “whiteness” onto them seems problematic to me because it seems to ignore the world the show presents.

    So, I’m curious, what does Asian “look” like, exactly? When we aren’t relying on visual stereotyping, I mean? Unless they’re drawn with “typical” Asian features they’re default white? That sounds like privilege to me. Because, in our culture, white folks don’t have to worry about having enough diverse representations of ourselves, we see it everywhere. And likewise we assume it about everything.

    There isn’t any racial over-sensitivity going on here. It’s flat our racist. I agree that Hollywood is about the bottom line. But we’re acting like they’re helpless to create new media and productions that don’t do the same old stereotyping. Or that being about profit somehow mitigates racism. It doesn’t. They are not mutually exclusive. The studios can be thinking about their profit margin and ALSO being hugely racist. And since the film industry isn’t doing so well, maybe they should, I don’t know, re-evaluate their practices.

    And Derek makes an EXCELLENT point using LOTR as an example, btw, because it’s using a specific culture/region (or cultures/regions) to set up an alternative mythology. That’s exactly what Avatar has done. The only reason anyone thinks this all white casting is okay is because we don’t like to criticize our pop culture or “entertainment”. Except our pop culture reflects AND influences us. It perpetuates stereotypes and cultural problems that should be criticized and fought whenever they attempt to give us such incredibly insulting media. I mean, this film is going to be aimed at -children-. And if we don’t think pop culture teaches us anything, then that just shows how effectively we’ve become blind to it.

    And frankly, casting white actors as “Asian” is no different than “black face”. The fact that we actually think it is should be evidence enough that we seriously don’t get it.

  25. I think the casting choices tell us that the movie is going to be boring, and much as I love the cartoon version, I’m going to pass on the live-action version.

    I also find it somewhat comical that Sava has fallen into the trap so many westerners fall prey to, with the anime tradition of giving sympathetic young characters big, round eyes. Big, round eyes are not supposed to be a cue to ethnicity, but rather to character: youth and innocence. Secondarily, of course, it’s easier for cartoonists to express emotion through those big eyes.

    But it’s also understandable for a westerner to look at Ang’s light skin and big round eyes and think, “oh, that’s a westerner.”

    The “sounds white” argument is a bit problematic. Third-generation Asian-American kids sound exactly like European-descended Americans.

    I think the reasons are pretty obvious for M. Shyamalan not wanting to associate the four nations of “Avatar” with real-world ethnicities. The Fire-Benders are the heavies, the Air-Benders are wiped out except for Ang.

    You can design cartoon characters to be “non-racial,” but you can’t design live actors this way. You gotta make choices. I think the casting director for this movie made some poor ones. If I were calling the shots I’d have varied ethnicities among all the nations. And choices for the leads based strictly on acting ability, not cuteness.

    I don’t mean to knock Sava. I’ve met him and he’s a nice guy. But, contrary to conventional dogma, racial insensitivity is not something one chooses to have. It’s a universal legacy of our tribal origins, but in the modern world is an obstacle to our advancement and must be overcome by conscious effort and learning. And we will make mistakes in the course of things. We must be firm in pointing out error but also patient and forgiving.

  26. Scott, maybe he’s a little over the line, but he is pointing out how there are different levels of racism, and we can all be guilty of one.

    As for identifying Aang as white, here’s someone’s article “Do Manga Characters Look White?”

    Francis, the complaint about “Kato roles” but not Kung Fu master roles is that Kato was a subservient sidekick. That’s why Bruce Lee moved back to Hong Kong to make movies. Hollywood refused to make him a lead, even in a show he created (Kung Fu).

    What I see as the main problem is how Hollywood’s “Asian themed” movies become a strange place where cultural appropriation meets the White Man’s Burden. Within a few months, the Westerner surpasses all other Asians and is able to defeat those who have trained since childhood.

    I have no problem with non-Asians learning Eastern Martial Arts. I’m actually an assistant instructor at my school where we’ll teach any race. It’s just this image of Asians needing a White man to become “More Asian than Asian” and save the day for us that I find condescending and disrespectful, whether it’s intentional or not.

    As for the bankability of Asians, this movie will mostly be targeted towards the current fans. Most will be children and their parents, which usually does really well, if my time as a theater cashier has anything to say about it.

  27. Whoa, go to lunch — to Iron Chef Morimoto’s joint over in the Meatpacking District — and come back to a mud slinging fest. Everyone calm down.

  28. @Scott
    Think about what you’re saying: “Act and sound white.” I think you mean, “Act and sound AMERICAN.” And yes, there are Asian Americans who act and sound American.

    Ask yourself, “How would the characters have to act and sound for me to think they were Asian?” Unless you’re trying to point out non native English speaking Asians, I hope the question is unanswerable.

  29. Big thanks to Derek for speaking out on this, and to Edward for pointing out that the lead Katara and Sokka characters are implied to be Inuit.

    It’s not just an argument that Avatar’s live-action cast should have more actors of Asian descent; the cartoon Avatar cast was exceptionally inclusive, going beyond skin color and actually addressing issues of physical ability. The main earthbending cast member is blind and a featured guest character is confined to a wheelchair- – and each of them are just as capable as their counterparts.

    One of the great strengths of Avatar’s appeal is that it has an “elseworlds” setting that allows it to transcend our world’s specific national barriers: each of the four nations has a diverse amalgam of influences. Airbending’s mountain culture reminds viewers of Tibet, and the waterbending culture’s aesthetic draws heavily- – but not exclusively- – from Arctic Native tribal traditions. The mixing allows viewers to personally identify with the characters, regardless of one’s ethnic background, which is one of many reasons why Avatar has been such a success. And since the source material is exceptional in how diverse its cast is, that makes the whitewashing of the live-action cast all the more disappointing. I may be of European descent, but I was still hoping to see actors of actual Arctic Native descent in the waterbending roles.

    The casting of the film has been a big, angry disappointment to my group of friends and coworkers who watched the series together- – which, for whatever it’s worth, was comprised of a dozen or so white folks in our late twenties. The cast’s racial homogenization is in opposition to the remarkably inclusive spirit of the series, and it feels like a betrayal of the property.

  30. Oops, I guess other Scott already made a point about this.

    Anyway, back to the topic on hand. Realistically I was expecting Aang to be white, but was hoping some of the other kids would be of Asian ethnicity. I would say Zuko is most “Chinese” due to the imperialism of the Fire Nation. If Zuko was the only Asian one of the four, I understand this could also be problematic, since the main character, a Caucasian, would be fighting against an Asian power. If Zuko was say, Chinese, the Firelord (his dad) would also be Chinese. I’d be okay with it though, for reasons I can only get into by spoiling the end of the series, so I won’t discuss it here.

    At the very least, they could have made Sokka and Katara Asian.

    What are they gonna do? Dye everyone’s hair black and have them running around with long flowing robes of Asian influence?

  31. Francis Sandow sez: “How can you say “we only get Kato roles!” and then protest when you don’t get another Kung Fu master role? This is like saying that perhaps Charlie Chan wouldn’t be quite so bad if he had at least been played by someone who is Chinese.”

    What I think people are complaining about isn’t that it’s another kung-fu master role for Asian actors. As I said, at least an Asian actor could GET those leads, but now we don’t even get that. However, this is purely a “David Carradine shouldn’t be in a role meant for Bruce Lee” complaint, not a “Bruce Lee is bad for Chinese/Asian actors” complaint.

    Besides, not all kung-fu master roles are created equal. Huo Yuanjia in “Fearless” and Li Mubai in “Crouching Tiger” were terrific, deep, and multi-dimensional roles that happened to be for kung-fu masters. The leads of “Avatar” turned out to be the same on the cartoon. Yeah, Uncle Iroh looks like the stereotypical Old Asian Wise Man on the surface, but Mako brought so much depth and sensitivity to it that it was really easy to ignore the stereotypical aspects of the character.

    And don’t get me started on Charlie Chan. He might not have been any more acceptable of a character if he were played by a Chinese guy, but the fact that it’s always been a white guy in yellowface faking a bad Chinese accent just adds insult to injury.

    Last minor, semi-off-topic point. I think at least part of the reason why discussions of race in America haven’t moved forward for decades is that “racism” and “racist” have become highly loaded terms that evoke the KKK, cross-burnings, lynchings, and people getting power-hosed, tear-gassed, and attacked by dogs for daring to say that we are all created equal and all endowed with certain inalienable rights. Effectively, we no longer have a purely descriptive adjective for statements or opinions where race is the major determining factor, which also makes any of these kinds of conversations highly emotionally charged and easily prone to error and misinterpretation.

    Scott Christian Sava’s comments are “racist” to the degree that they are about primarily about race and its perception. That DOES NOT in any way mean that I think SCS is “a racist” for making those comments. There’s a difference, but it’s one that’s too easily lost in these conversations. I also like to point out that there is racism of ignorance and racism of malice, and one is radically different from the other. Unfortunately, the term “racism” alone does not adequately cover the difference between the two, and again, that distinction matters. I would probably call this casting decision more racism of ignorance, to be honest — the perception that Asian leads makes it “an Asian movie” and stuck with the box office of Jet Li’s films. This doesn’t make me any happier about it — this is still racism — but at least racism of ignorance has a better chance of being corrected or changed.

  32. @Kenrick…
    Thanks for asking.
    I simply was referring to the fact that yes they sounded liked they looked. American I guess is a better word. But I also remember Ang has light eyes and brown hair and light skin. And then looked up the kid who did the voice acting. he looks just like that.

    Whereas Mako and the other person who did the voice of Uncle had a distinct Asian accent.

    When kids sound and look like your typical “white” American kids…why is it wrong to assume they are?

    No disrespect was ever intended. That’s just how I and many many other saw it. Not that we cared one way or another. It’s just how it was presented.

    @Scott Bieser and Abuhin…
    Thanks for what you’re saying (and saying it nicely).
    But I do stand by my beliefs that by seeing a cartoon. Enjoying it. And collecting the DVDs and watching it with my kids.
    And assuming that because the voice actors and the writing and the character design all seem to tell me these characters are “white”…

    I’m somehow racist? It just doesn’t make sense.

    I will say. If someone (and I think someone did) says that I’m “ignorant” of how anime portrays races. I may agree with them.
    Though I’ve been watching anime since I was a kid.

    Is Speed Racer white? I always thought he was. Was the movie scrutinized for this?

    I don’t know.

    The fact remains. If I offended anyone. I do apologize as obviously it’s not intentional.
    But I do also take offense to being called racist. Either by gutless anonymous posters…or by well wishers trying to explain to me how I may not THINK I’m racist…but really am…but in a small way.

    I hope that helps a bit. And thanks for those who’ve conducted themselves courteously.

  33. Ack. Ok last thing I will say. Pardon my ignorance. I think this would be acceptable: Aang – Caucasian, Sokka & Katara – Arctic Natives, Zuko – East Asian. Toph in Book Two would also be of Asian descent. BUT WHATEVER NOW.

  34. Katie Moody said “The cast’s racial homogenization is in opposition to the remarkably inclusive spirit of the series, and it feels like a betrayal of the property.”

    That’s the real nail on the head I think. The show was designed and executed specifically to convey a (really wonderful) sense of multiculturalism. It’s direct yet subtle treatment of that is what was one of the things that made it unique. To see that (apparently) abandoned by those charged with movie (or the casting at least) is already starting to chip away at what made Avatar really one of the truly exceptional things to be on TV in the last few years.

    I also want to says thanks to Derek for shining a brighter spotlight on this.

  35. Edward’s last paragraph is the best description of the linguistic and emotional pit traps in discussing race issues that I’ve read in a while.

    Scott, I think that something worth considering is that it’s actually a luxury to assume that a given character is one’s own race. It’s a privilege for those of us who are Caucasian that we don’t HAVE to think about our race very often; it’s rare for us to feel out of place or unwelcome simply by virtue of our skin color, since it’s the one in the majority in this country. Becoming conscious of that luxury is the first step to realizing how privileged that position is.

    Similarly, it’s difficult for feminist women and men to demonstrate to some that sexism still exists. There are cultural habits we are so immersed in and accustomed to that they have become invisible … invisible, that is, to all but those negatively affected by then.

    And “cousin of ignoramus,” kindly zip it. You aren’t helping one iota.

  36. you might not be a… i hate all asian people racist…

    but you are a stupid ignorant white-boy racist…

    if all the characters always seemed white to you… then why didn’t the creator just remove all the asian or intuit inspired parts of the show and set the show in a european world… with knights and barbarians

    i would like to see mr sava tell a black person to his face… that he sees no problems with casting an all white cast to play a show based on african cultures…

    i bet you dont have the balls to do it

  37. “This is like saying that perhaps Charlie Chan wouldn’t be quite so bad if he had at least been played by someone who is Chinese.”

    The crazy thing is … Charlie Chan was never bad. That’s why he was popular among asians in the 1930s and 1940s. People who think he’s offensive today don’t know what they’re talking about.

  38. “i would like to see mr sava tell a black person to his face… that he sees no problems with casting an all white cast to play a show based on african cultures … i bet you dont have the balls to do it”

    I would, except that it sounds like you’re hoping for violence as a result. Not cool.

  39. Just because there are always exceptions doesn’t mean people aren’t bankable. Seth Rogen is a bankable dude but every now and again you get a poorly marketed (or timed depending on who you ask) film like Zack and Miri. Angela Jolie is bankable (people will go to an obscure comic book adaptation to see her butt!) but this doesn’t mean a film she’s in can’t flop

    Francis, that’s not what bankable means. Bankable means that regardless of the project and of the role, the star will guarantee a high monetary level, especially in a BO gross vs. budget outlay analysis. Now, what does that mean? It means that I can put Will Smith in PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS or I can put him into I AM LEGEND or I can put him into HANCOCK or HITCH, and (with the exception of his latest)… people will show up in comparable numbers.

    In short, his bankability since 2004’s I, ROBOT has been 145 M dollars domestic as the WORST BO performance, and again, REGARDLESS of genre OR role. We have a rom-com in there, two sci-fi flicks, a drama and a superhero parody/action vehicle.

    Now, will people show up if Angelina Jolie is kicking butt in an action movie like WANTED? Yes (domestic: 134 M). Will people show up to see her play a distraught mother in the 1920s? Not so much (35.7 M) Will they turn up to see her play a distraught wife looking for the people who killed her husband in A MIGHTY HEART? Not a chance (9.71 M). I am taking out MR. AND MRS. SMITH (186 M) due to the fact that the movie’s launch was surrounded by a lot of gossip hype, due to her affair/relationship with Brad Pitt at the time. Every now and then, you have a perfect storm that generates interest beyond the core group.

    Seth Rogen? High-Mid-List comedian in frat boy humour movies? Works. If he can hold a film together in a different genre and has people show up in comparable numbers? We’ll see when GREEN HORNET comes out (and it’s not a parody/slacker/Kevin Smith lovefest). George Clooney as smart, contemporary schmoozer? Brings in people. Anything else? He tanks, and he tanks hard.

    Tom Cruise used to be entirely bankable throughout most of his career, because he would bring in people regardless of his genre (one may debate about the roles that he played, and if they were merely variations of himself). Me, personally? I love the guy, but his diminishing returns at the B.O. means that – sorry, Tom – anybody who pays him 20 M basic and 8-10 points on the gross is insane.

  40. Is there anyone who is in the Philadelphia area… who is willing to organize a rally to protest this movie??

    I pulled this from aang-aint-white…

    Look what I found…
    The O.C.’s Jackson Rathbone has been named as Sokka. Casting folks are looking for extras to play soldiers, martial artists, dancers, gymnasts, athletes and families – specifically physically fit people from 18 to 65 years old. The open call will be 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday (1/24/2009) at Bullies restaurant at the Wachovia Spectrum. You’re asked to dress casually or in the traditional costume of your family’s ethnic background. Info: [email protected] or 215-574-7878

    I called the number and it is legit…

    It is this Saturday!!!

  41. OOOOOKay…..Ignoramous and your large family….I’m removed your comments. You may have a point but come back without the insults and name calling.

    Thomas R. Hart…I don’t get what you are arguing any more? Yes it’s true that Hollywood doesn’t have big stars any more the way they did when Arnold and Mel and Bruce and Julia ruled the roost.

    So what does that have to do with 100 years of casting Caucasians as Asians?

    Jackie Chan and Jet Li were “bankable” IN THEIR DAY — “bankable” meaning they could open a picture at a non-embarassing level and had a fanbase worldwide big enough to give the movie a shelf life on DVD. And, more significantly, in Asia they were as big as Arnold and Mel. AND could actually do kung fu.

    Now, because of the internet and home entertainment and piracy and all that stuff, profits for movies have to spread over many different channels and few stars are BIG in the way Shirley Temple, John Wayne, Charlie Chaplin or Clint Eastwood was big. Now we like franchises — like STAR WARS and BATMAN.

    Which is still off the topic of this post, but to bring it round a little bit, if America can accept a Wookiee and two robots as movie stars can they accept an Asian man?

  42. I truly don’t understand what I’m reading in some of these post. You cannot equivocate colorblind racial rules and standards to the world of Hollywood. Colorblind casting is an excuse for the general powers that be, who are mostly white, to perpetuate whatever market trends they feel. A tax attorney’s performance will not be effected by his race, an actor’s can be. I’m sorry but there are certain parts that people of color should not play. I know this may seem limiting but in the long run it will do us a great service. Instead of trying to make already Caucasian characters an ethnic minority we should just write new roles for people of color. This can only start with looking at the film industry objectively, because we ll know minorities would never be considered for Superman, Batman, or Harry Potter. This WILL NEVER HAPPEN and if you believe so you’re fooling yourself. The setting of this movie is also important. I cannot believe people are trying to support the idea of Caucasians dressed in obviously Asian clothing and make up to appear more ethnic. That idea is mind boggling considering the practice of blackface has long been left behind. AND TROPIC THUNDER doesn’t count

  43. Thank you, Heidi. Ignoramous was doing nothing but hurting this cause. It’s a shame too because he had good points. Ignoramous, belittling and screeching at people is simply going to drive people away. Furthermore, it’s just not cool.

    I’m saying this as an Chinese American.

  44. OH and Rich.

    yes charlie chan was popular among Asians because that was the best we could get. It’s not like they said, “you know what that Charlie Chan is right on and that ‘s all we need”. There were always people upset he wasn’t portrayed by an Asian, who would have done so without the insulting makeup and accent.

  45. Plus a corporation does have the right to make money, but it still doesn’t make any of their actions less offensive or less racist. Whether motivated by money or racial hate, it is still offensive. They do have the right to make whatever they want to, but it is not their right to dictate to an ethnic minority what to find offensive or not. This movie and this casting is offensive. The producers, director, and studio are motivated by money to perpetuate racially offensive images to an entire generation of children. No matter how you try to justify it that’s what it is. The general Asian community finds it offensive and they will make money off of it. FACT.

  46. Heidi, why don’t you remove Scott Christian Sava’s posts as well?! while they may not contain foul four letter words, they are equally, if not more insulting than mine. In censoring my voice, you are only propelling his point of view. Your efforts are only encouraging IGNORANCE by sweeping them under the rug.

    I prefer my style of “tell it like it is” because in my view, some people need this slapped to their attention. There may be others who can explain this in a more passive manner, but i choose to be more direct.

    Martin Luther King alone did not effect the change in racial viewpoints in this nation. There were other factions that had a much harder stance such as Malcolm X.

  47. >his ignorance is making me want to vomit

    Your assholeness is making me want to vomit.

    Ignoramous, seriously, all you’re doing is giving Asians a bad name.

    People, just ignore this fool.

  48. Hopefully when white people in this country become the minority and china and india have risen to the top then white people will finally get it.

  49. please don’t let the fact that someone is being mean on a blog comment cloud or change the fact that bigotry is not all “I HATE MINORITIES LET ME GET MY KLAN HOOD!” Passive, background bigotry is a very real problem and intent has NOTHING to do with it. As much as people might want to believe otherwise, saying “I don’t have anything against Asians, but I think Ang sounds white” IS bigotry. Not all racists or bigots are mustache twirling super villains. Many are normal people, your friends and neighbors and webcartoonists, who just never had to deal with something outside their personal world and don’t understand. Very few people WANT to be a bigot, and so its natural to get defensive and even angry when you’re told that you have an ignorant view.

    But Sava, and many others reading this, you are a bigot about this issue. This doesn’t mean you are a bad person or that you are an evil super eternal racist forever. It means you have a choice, you can accept that you have (or had) ignorant views and try to educate yourself, or you can just ignore it and blame other people for being mean or over sensitive. But that ability to ignore it? That’s what “white privilege” really is. People who are a minority don’t get to ignore it like we can. Its very easy for anyone in the majority to tune this stuff out because it doesn’t effect us, but that doesn’t make it any less bigotry.

  50. Hi Mike…
    I don’t understand.
    I really don’t.

    By watching and loving a tv show with characters with brown hair and big blue eyes. Characters designed to be “generic”….I’m a BIGOT because I thought they were white?

    That’s my crime?

    Thinking an animated tv show’s characters were white?



  51. see? thats what I mean. did you even read the post or just see that I said you were a bigot?

    the characters are obviously asian, you choose to ignore that due to ignorance (not a bad thing) and then when confronted with evidence in the cultural symbolism used and the intentions of the creators said “well… they SOUND white! they don’t have an accent!” I shouldn’t need to point out how THAT is bigoted. It doesn’t MATTER if you love the show. It doesn’t MATTER if you don’t hate Asians. It doesn’t MATTER if you don’t want to be a bigot.

    you still keep thinking of bigotry and racism being only the domain of the evil and bad, but its NOT. Its something EVERYONE deals with. It’s NOT a crime. Its not permanent, it doesn’t mean you’re going to hell or are to be shunned forever. It means you learn and accept and move on or you don’t.

    either you’ll accept that, yes, sometimes we are bigots for what we think even when we don’t mean to be or you won’t.

  52. Hey Mike…
    Thanks. I really did read your whole post.
    I honestly and truly don’t understand.
    And for that I apologize.

    Maybe calling me ignorant might fit better…ha ha.
    But I mentioned in my first and second post…way up top that I love the Asian influence. Of course I noticed it. It’s brilliant.

    But the characters, the design, the dialog, do not reflect that influence as much.
    It’s homogenized (intentionally for Nickelodeon I think) to the point where honestly…they came across as not entirely Asian.

    But for the life of me. I can NOT see how this makes me a bigot (whether that’s the evil or nice kind of bigot). Duped? Mislead? Ignorant?

    But I don’t see how any personal prejudices or bigotry (if there are any) came into effect. A cartoon was put on tv that led me to believe one thing. So I did.

    Again. My apologies if I’m just not getting it. But I’m trying. So thanks for explaining.

  53. and I should also add that bigotry has nothing to do with being white and everything to do with being the majority. One of the reasons I got over my “white privilege” (which I still feel is a real but unfortunately named phenomenon) is because I lived as a white minority in several countries and experienced what it was like to really be a member of a minority. Yeah, I guess its kind of sad that I couldn’t understand why someone would get upset about something like this until it effected me personally, but that’s normally how it goes. Humanity is kind of sad sometimes. No one of any group is naturally going to understand and know everything about every other group ever. Everyone is going to be prejudiced at some point. Preconceptions are normal. It’s how we deal with new information and experiences that challenge those preconceptions that matters, not our intentions.

  54. Scott, it’s choosing to live in ignorance that is the crime. I have made assumptions about white people and learned a lot of those assumptions just were not true. If you choose to brush it off and live in ignorance without educating yourself and truly trying to see it from another point of view, then that would constitute an “evil” act in my opinion. Hollywood is doing just this, they are not willing to see it from the other point of view. Avatar was a real shot in presenting Asian and Inuit heroes to main stream America, especially children. More importantly it could have been Asian Americans. There are plenty of movies and stories featuring white heroes, it’s overwhelming. Can’t you not see the ignorance in placing white heroes in an Asian fantasy land? Is there not something wrong with this? Regardless of the intent of the animators or creators about the race of Aang, the movie will have him represented with a Caucasian. Are there not enough movies with Caucasian heroes saving the world? Is now necessary to not only save a European fantasy world (middle earth) but now they save an Asian one? I cannot believe a person capable of logical thought could think that would NOT be offensive to Asians. Please prove me wrong and see it from our point of view.

  55. ok.. so they are not entirely asian to you… so you are saying it would make sense that if they were part-asian… or entirely asian… or white…

    then explain why the producers cast WHITES for every single main character????

    the official casting call asked for “CAUCASIAN or other ethnicities”

    and for some magic reason… they cast ONLY CAUCASIANS for every main role… roles that you said… could have been ANY race….

    you want to know why? coz the producers do not believe a mixed cast would make them money… so greed rules… and we are sick of it… give asians a chance to prove that they are just as marketable and attractive to mainstream america!!!

    [ AANG ]
    12-15 years-old, Male, Caucasian or any other ethnicity. We are looking for a young man to play the lead role in a motion picture franchise. He must be athletic and graceful with an ability in Martial Arts (not necessarily extensive experience, but at least an aptitude for it). Kids with experience in gymnastics, dance, or sports could also be good. He is a young adventurer and should seem like the type of young man who will grow up to be heroic.

    [ KATARA ]
    14-17 years-old, Female, Caucasian or any other ethnicity. She is Sokka’s younger sister. She is a headstrong and determined girl with a real sense of idealism. She believes in herself and feels that she can play on the same team as the boys. She is beautiful, intelligent, passionate, feisty, and has a real sense of adventure.

    [ SOKKA ]
    16-20 years-old, Male, Caucasian or any other ethnicity. He is Katara¹s older brother. He is intelligent but awkward, and very funny (although not necessarily intentionally so). He aspires to greatness, but he tends to doubt himself. He is always one to be swayed by a pretty girl.

    [ ZUKO ]
    16-20 years-old, Male, Caucasian or any other ethnicity. He is a brooding, intense young man who wrestles – not always successfully – with being good. Regaining his honor is a driving impetus for him. He is extremely handsome and is the type of dangerous boy every girl falls in love with. Athletic and/or martial arts experience is a plus.

  56. Sava, we’re a little out of sync now that I posted that addendum but I appreciate you at least getting that I’m not condemning you. It’s a tricky situation.

    Honestly, there isn’t really anything else I can say or add to make things clearer. If you try to look at it from the point of view of someone who isn’t ignorant of the non-surface Asian trappings of the show you might see why more people perceive Ang and crew as being Asian. Not only that, but the creators and Nickolodeon themselves have stated that the characters and world are Asian. The idea of Ang being white is entirely your creation. That is where the prejudice comes into play, that certain actions or mannerisms are innately white. Since you were ignorant of the signs that these characters were Asian, your prejudices are what led you to say that they were White. Now that you become aware of the signs to indicate that they are Asian, and that certain aspects (big eyes, paler skin, no “accent”) that you associated with being “white” are not exclusive, you can change the prejudice.

    Because no one wants to be a bigot, it can be hard to think of our views as bigotry. Its often a very strong accusation, and thats why its so easy to think “well I’m not a racist, so I CAN’T be thinking anything that is racism”. Accepting when we are being racist or bigoted without being a “racist” or “bigot” can be very, very hard. But words mean things, and while changing “bigotry” to “ignorant” might make it easier, in my opinion its not worth it. The more often we are able to accept that sometimes we really are being bigoted, the more often we will be able to catch it and be open to change.

    Think of it this way, would you have been surprised by a black Frodo? Why?

  57. Scott Sava, I believe that you are sincere in saying that you are just not getting it. But, with all due respect, re: your perceptions of these characters, I don’t get it.

    I have to admit, I’m not an Avatar fan or expert. I watched a few episodes after I saw all these kids in Avatar costumes at last year’s NY Comicon and had no idea what it was. But from what I saw, it seemed obvious that they were Asian characters. True, a lot of them (esp. the principals) are drawn in the cartoonified style that to Western eyes makes them seem Western, but . . . come on. They’re in Asian clothing, in an Asian landscape with Asian architecture, use Asian eating utensils, fight with an Asian fighting style. And a lot of the characters do (to me) appear definitively Asian in appearance. Honestly, until this thread, it would never have occured to me that anyone would not perceive them as Asian characters.

  58. Mike Joffe:

    When I saw the first Lord of The Rings movie, my friend (a Tolkien accolate) was outraged that Frodo was not black! She pulled out her dog-eared copy of The Hobbit and flipped to the page which describes the Hobbits as little nappy-haired brown people!

  59. Of all the things said in this thread, I think I’m more upset by the fact that a bunch of people are still spelling “Aang” wrong ;).

    @Katie Moody: “It’s a privilege for those of us who are Caucasian that we don’t HAVE to think about our race very often; it’s rare for us to feel out of place or unwelcome simply by virtue of our skin color, since it’s the one in the majority in this country.”

    The blunter way that I make this point is by saying no white guy in America will ever be told to go back to his own country, unless he opens his mouth and starts speaking with a Russian accent. I think your way is a lot nicer, though. I am also totally cribbing your line about how the casting blows the multi-cultural spirit that infused the show. By the end of it, they were drawing inspiration from South American culture and architecture with the Sun Warriors, which was one of many reasons why that episode just knocked me out.

    And, to put a slightly nicer spin on it than Mike Joffe, I’ve been told that I speak English really well, even though I was born in Brooklyn and didn’t learn to speak Chinese until college. Still can’t speak Chinese for crap. Some people see my face and assume I don’t speak English as my native language. Does this OFFEND me? Sure it does, but on the same level as the people who stand in the door of the subway when I’m trying to get on, really. Someone trying to compliment me by saying, “You speak English really well” is just about as pure a definition of a “racism of ignorance” incident as you can get. Yes, it’s “racism” strictly defined, since it’s assuming white is the default and not-white means not from here, but ain’t nobody gonna lynch me for speaking English well.

    Beyond that, it’s worth pointing out that Dante Basco (Zuko) is Filipino-American and Jennie Kwan, who played Suki, is Chinese-American, but I’m going to bet that they both sound as “white” as Aang. There’s actually quite a few Asian actors in the Avatar voice cast that don’t have Asian accents (James Sie, Daniel Dae Kim, George Takei, and Lauren Tom, to name a few). I know a bunch of Chinese-Americans from the deep South (one of whom is 4th generation American) and they tend to blow people’s minds when they speak with strong southern twangs. Someday, they won’t blow people’s minds. I can wait.

    @cabbageguy: “yes charlie chan was popular among Asians because that was the best we could get.”

    To add to that, people in the 30’s and 40’s didn’t have a problem with Polack jokes, flagrantly anti-Catholic sentiments (there was genuine fear that America would turn into a Papist state when JFK was elected), minstrel shows, the anti-Chinese immigration laws (still the only race DANGEROUS ENOUGH to be banned from immigrating! Woo-hoo!!), or segregation. I’m pretty OK with being offended by things that weren’t offensive by the common standards of the 30’s and 40’s.

  60. @Scott
    Regarding the character’s eye color in the series: Each character’s eye color is primarily tied to the element of their nation.

    Air Nomads: Grey/Hazel
    Water Tribe: Blue, a very striking Blue
    Earth Kingdom: Green
    Fire Nation: Yellow/Gold. GOLD! This isn’t a real-world race trait.

    There are some outliers in the series, but it follows the above most of the time.

  61. OI, once again, I leave the keyboard for a little bit of rest and all Gehenna breaks loose.

    I understand the rage and anger that is fueling some of these posts, but this isn’t a litterbox and I’m removing abusive posts even if they are making good points in between the vitriol. Reason goes a lot further.

    Scott, I’m sorry you have become a punching bag here, and I believe that you are ignorant of why people are taking your comments as a bit unenlightened, but these kinds of comments are EXACTLY why a lot of people — myself included — question and discuss stereotypes, archetypes and cultural conditioning.

    For instance, several people have made mention of how “light skinned” the Avatar characters are, so they didn’t look Asian (I admit,; I’ve never seen the show, something I need to remedy). This really bugs me because, despite the “Yellow Peril” and “Fu Manchu”, many Asian people are lighter than Caucasians.

    You are — I’m assuming — a Caucasian American Male. You have projected characters as being a certain race because they look and sound like you expect that race — Caucasian — to sound. It’s not bigotry or racism, really, it’s cultural conditioning.

    FWIW, I didn’t much care for Jessica Alba playing Sue Storm…to my mind part of Sue’s character was being a WASP-y blond, and accepting that the mixed race Alba and very white Chris Evans were brother and sister made less sense…but no less so than the rest of the mostly silly FF movie franchise. But that is my expectation not Hollywood money making.

  62. Edward…jaysis I don’t get that “You speak English good!” thing with Asians. It’s mind boggling really.

    Also, a side note, Dante Busco …as I recall he was Rufio in Hook, and was kind of set up to be a teenybopper heartthrob. I’m glad to know he’s still around and successful at voice acting.

  63. @Heidi

    Not to go off-topic, but look up Dante Basco’s poem he read on Def Jam when you get a chance. It should be on youtube. He’s a pretty funny dude.

  64. I have been trying to be politer and more reasonable than I usually am on blogs and comments, so I really don’t want to give the impression that I’m treating him as a punching bag.

    And as for that side note, Rufio is in Avatar!? Ok, now I am going to have to watch the show.

  65. “Jessica Alba as Sue Storm” You see this is why I say colorblind casting doesn’t work in all situations. I know I may get flack from my fellow Asians for saying this, but I don’t think traditionally Caucasian characters should be made an ethnic minority. Not because they don’t have the ability to do so, only because I believe it gives the Caucasian majority to make any character and make them white like they are doing to Avatar. I would just like to see new characters of color written like the creators of Avatar did. I know it’s not the same thing as making Nick Fury black, but the general Caucasian population won’t see it that way. They will think it OK to white wash everything because of things like this. Like I said before, in the long run this will be better for people of color.

  66. sorry should read

    “only because I believe it gives the Caucasian Majority a reason to take any character and make them white like they are doing to Avatar”

    sorry typos.

  67. his anger, or anyone else’s surprises me.

    honestly, I can see if you are a fan or whatnot, but the fact is, the show IS produced in America (I assume that’s the version we are talking about) and it’s animation for goodness sakes. It’s all a combo, the people who ‘draw’ it may be asian, but lots of anime voice overs are done by non-asians these days, even over in asia. So, not to bring up another point, but wouldn’t that, in some way affect the way a character may be drawn, to more approximate the features of the voice actors? or maybe not.

    by let’s also be serious here, it’s a frikkin cartoon show. Let’s not let Hollywood’s biases get us all bent out of shape on real issues. if you want to condemn them for not following the look and feel of the show, then fine, but taking this any further is kinda silly.

  68. “it’s a frikkin cartoon show”??

    um.. dude… you are on a Comic Book message board…

    we take our graphic fiction VERY seriously

    besides… our fiction is a reflection of our society… so we take this seriously… if it so “not serious”… then why doesn’t hollywood throw us a bone and cast the movie with a diverse and accurate cast?

  69. @michael

    Sorry, “it’s a frikkin cartoon show” is an insult to Avatar as a whole. Avatar is this generation’s equivalent (in quality) to Batman: The Animated Series.

    DiMartino and Konietzko slathered their creation – in meticulous detail – with Asian culture, philosophy, spiritualism, martial arts, fashion, art, and cuisine. The casting of the live action adaptation is a big slap in the face of the creators of the source material.

  70. Not a professional. Just a civilian following the issue, but I want to step in to address one argument.

    The voice actors being primarily Caucasian is not very relevant to this discussion. Voice acting is only concerned with the aural aspect of the character, and the visuals are left to the show’s designers and animators. Thus, a good number of animated prepubescent boys including Bart Simpson and Bobby Hill are voiced by middle-aged women. And Samurai Jack, who no one will argue is an Asian character, is voiced by Phil LaMarr, a black man.

    This isn’t to say that it wouldn’t have been nice to have more Asian-American voice actors in the original show – and there *were* several in major roles – but it wasn’t nearly as important when the etnicities of the characters were largely being determined by the animators’ visuals.

    Live action is different because we can see the actors as well as hear them. The actors have to embody what the character looks like as well as what they sound like, so race-appropriate casting is a much greater concern.

  71. Thanks all for your patience.

    It’s been enlightening and frustrating at the same time…ha ha.

    I’d love to meet some of you at a con and discuss this more. Or on another board so we don’t clutter up poor Heidi’s site.

    Thank you to those who were civil. To those who tried to understand. And to those who voiced their opinions honestly and intelligently.

    I look forward to speaking about this more if possible.

  72. Not to be self-serving, but this is EXACTLY the reason why a few of us got together to create the book SECRET IDENTITIES.


    And since Sava brought up talking about this issue at a con, there’s going to be a panel at NYCC called “Asian Americans and Superheroes: Secret Identities” that will feature the editors of Secret Identities along with Greg Pak and a couple other SI contributors:


    Now that the plugs are out of the way, back on topic:

    I just want to point out that the previous discussion of Jet Li films is a total non-sequiter. Part of the issue is that there is a whole lot of Asian American acting talent out there that is constantly getting passed up because casting agents would rather cast Caucasian actors in roles that are supposed to be Asian. At the same time, I don’t necessarily like seeing Asian Asian actors cast in roles that are supposed to be Asian American (primarily because it perpetuates the stereotype that Asian Americans are foreigners and “not American”.)

    Kal Penn and John Cho have proved that Asian American males can be leading men in Hollywood by playing real “American” characters, but they aren’t the only ones out there.

    And to pick up on the point of “racism by ignorance” or racism of omission (and not the malicious lynch mob/water hoses perception of racism that derails any attempted artful discussion of the topic), my biggest problem with whitewashing the cast of Avatar is PRECISELY because it’s an adaptation of a “frikkin cartoon show” (presumably aimed at children–who is the target audience of the live-action Avatar). Little Asian American kids, who were able to see themselves in their favorite cartoon, are going to grow up the same way those Asian American kids in the 70s grew up with David Carradine–seeing white actors play them on screen. It’s been more than three decades. Is it so bad that we want to see ourselves reflected onscreen?

  73. “Greed rules in Hollywood” is making it too easy for Hollywood. 10 percent smarter Hollywood and you’ll get there.

  74. Cabbageguy: “There were always people upset he (Charlie Chan) wasn’t portrayed by an Asian, who would have done so without the insulting makeup and accent.”

    Well, this was probably in following the “star” method, where there weren’t really bankable asian stars. The protests over Charlie Chan didn’t really begin until the 1970s … that lame movie, Charlie Chan and the Curse of the Drago Queen, was going to be released. Asian groups were protesting the fact that — after THIRTY YEARS — Hollywood apparently “couldn’t” find an Asian guy to play Chan and cast Peter Ustinov in the role. People who didn’t know what they were talking about (and still don’t) grandfathered in the original movies to the argument.

    As for the accent, Chan’s second language is english. I work at the local Barnes & Noble one day a week (near Princeton, NJ), and there are plenty of Asian people (or “people of Asian descent”, whichever sounds better). I doubt they would appreciate me telling them to “knock it off with the insulting accent.”

  75. @Redk: “Voice acting is only concerned with the aural aspect of the character, and the visuals are left to the show’s designers and animators.”

    All true (and I loved Phil LaMarr as Samurai Jack, light fake accent and all). That being said, it’s worth pointing out that Andrea Romano (the thoroughly awesome casting/voice dir of Batman the Animated Series to Justice League, and also voice dir for Avatar) has said she makes a point of trying to cast ethnic actors for ethnic roles whenever she can. I made a point to ask her about this when we talked about the new Batman: The Brave & the Bold show:


    Also, for the record, I was wrong about one thing in there. Romano has only cast a voice-actor as Batman 5 times (6 if you count Batman Beyond). Rino Romano in “The Batman” was cast by someone else, although she worked with him later in the series.

    @Keith — I will make a point to try and cover that panel at NYCC, just like I try to make a point to cover the Black Panel (which is also one of the most entertaining at NYCC). And also to order the book, which I have heard nothing at all about.

  76. rich

    I saw an interview with Keye Luke (sp?) who was a prominent Asian American Actor, most notably for “Kung Fu”. He played the “number 1” son in many of those early Chan films. He stated animosity for the part was always present but there wasn’t much they could do about it because it was so socially acceptable.

    PLUS. Just because you know Asians with an accent doesn’t mean we all speak with insulting accents. Even back in the 30’s and 40’s there were Asian American families that have been in the U.S. for almost 100 years. Plus I guarantee you a real accent by an Asian American is very different from an “impersonation” by a Caucasian actor.

    Kieth stated “at the same time, I don’t necessarily like seeing Asian Asian actors cast in roles that are supposed to be Asian American (primarily because it perpetuates the stereotype that Asian Americans are foreigners and “not American”.)”
    —that is the heart of the problem they don’t see us as American. There’s a guy who just posted on Derek Kim’s board that Japan cranks out plenty of anime with Asians as leads? He equivocates Asian countries as being the country for Asians and not the United States.

  77. Cabageguy:

    I saw an interview with Keye Luke, however, where he stated there was SOME animosity … not every people of asian descent got bent out of shape. And he stated that he personally didn’t take any offense … though it might have been interesting to see Luke play Chan in film or tv show … although he did VOICE Chan in that old cartoon about the “Chan Clan.”

    Find an Asian actor or American Asian to play Charlie Chan. Fine with me. No, actually, that’s mandatory these days.

  78. Rich: You said,

    “Find an Asian actor or American Asian to play Charlie Chan. Fine with me. No, actually, that’s mandatory these days.”

    Well I only want it as mandatory it is for a Caucasian to play Dick Tracy, Sherlock Holmes, or James Bond.

    An equal playing field is all I’m looking for.

    Also I don’t know if anyone can say “not every person of Asian descent got bent out of shape”. Considering Neither of us probably lived in that era. I guess it’s fair that I can’t really say most Asians did get bent out of shape. What I can say is opportunities were very slim back then for Asians. Many of the restrictions of the Chinese Exclusion Act were still in full effect back then. There were restrictions on where we could live and marry. I guess we were just happy there was at least some representation of our culture in Hollywood.

  79. @Scott Christian Sava – Like you, I first saw most of the characters in Avatar as white. I am a Caucasian female. I thought that Aang and Zuko were both white. However, the more I watch the series, the more it becomes obvious to me that they are Asian, and intended to be Asian, and that I was looking at them through the eyes of my own cultural conditioning. Now I can’t see any of the characters in the show as Caucasian.

    I live in California, where we have an enormous Asian population. Most of the Asians I grew up with speak English just as I do. We have the same accent and similar voices. Now that I am in college I have several Asian professors who DO have an accent, but that is because they were not born here and grew up in either China or Japan. However, Asian people born in America speak English just like everyone else does. You can’t tell that the voice actress who does Suki is Asian and the one who does Katara isn’t. They don’t have the voice of white people, they have the voices of human beings.

    Even though I am white I am personally still very offended by Paramount’s casting decision. By doing so they not only insult the Asian community, but the Caucasian community as well by implying that we are so racist, so bigoted that we cannot handle seeing anyone but our own race on screen. I WANT more diversity in Hollywood. I’m BEGGING for it. I was excited for this movie because I thought it would finally be a chance for several Asian actors to get a breakthrough and get respect in the industry. But no, they were denied it. And Paramount thinks that Caucasian people are racist, that we won’t go see their movie if they hire Asians. They are wrong, and not only me but my entire family has decided that not only will we not be seeing this movie, we will not be saying ANY Paramount film until this is resolved and they get their bigoted heads out of their butts. This is completely unacceptable.

  80. Not to go back to this, but I do believe the casting of Caucasians comes down more to bankability than anything else. I don’t agree with it, but Hollywood executives have consistently exhibited a belief that non-white actors can not open a movie, with a few notable exceptions (Will Smith, as was previously pointed out).

    While Jet Li/Jackie Chan have been incredibly successful outside of Hollywood, they have not shown the ability to really open a movie huge in the States. Their films have been mostly profitable, but the few films where they were given sole top billing were (relatively) smaller budgeted pictures, not big-budget franchise films. I guarantee you Hollywood executives credited the success of the Rush Hour and Shanghai Noon franchises as much, if not more, to Chris Tucker and Owen Wilson than to Jackie Chan.

    Hollywood even had Jackie Chan AND Jet Li in a film (Forbidden Kingdom) but still had to throw in a white actor who a) saved both Jackie Chan and Jet Li at various points; b) learned kung fu in the space of a few months, c) ultimately was responsible for defeating the villain; and d) scored the hot Asian girl at the end. That film was also, if I recall correctly, pretty heavily steeped in Asian mythology – why not cast an Asian teenager instead of an annoying (relatively unknown) white kid? Because Hollywood believes that white people will not show up to a movie that doesn’t have a white person in it. And there is no way they are going to risk white people not showing up to their huge summer action franchise movie.

  81. I’d like to make one point about the terms “bigot” and “bigotry.” I don’t think they’re appropriate as applied to Scott Sava’s misapprehension. A bigot is someone who is intolerant towards those of other ethnicities or religions, and refuses to learn tolerance. It is a derogatory term and I don’t think it describes Scott at all.

    The worst you can say about Scott is that he has been fairly clueless, on this particular topic. We are all clueless about one thing or another, it’s no crime. But we can all learn, and I think Scott is learning too.

    I learned a bit myself when I went and read Derek Kim’s essay. I hope everyone here has, or will. I learned the considerable extent to which “Avatar” is really steeped in specifically Asian culture (well, except for the South American bits), and it makes no sense for the live action actors to be anything but Asian, of varying nationalities. At least, for the sake of artistic integrity and verisimilitude, if nothing else.

    This old white guy would be pleased to take my kids to go see “Airbender” with proper casting. As it stands, I won’t be.

  82. ” Edward Liu Says:

    01/22/09 at 11:21 am
    Time was when the only lead roles in Hollywood Asians could get were as kung fu masters. I suppose we can try to look at this as progress because now Asians can’t get roles as kung-fu masters, either. ”

    Fucking A, man ! ROTFL !
    Best line of the week….

  83. “It has been pointed out to me that though everybody is addressing their complaint letters to [Mark] Bakshi, he was laid off from Paramount quite a few months ago.” – Amid Amidi, Cartoon Brew

    Bakshi’s replacement seems to be ADAM GOODMAN, President, Production, Paramount Pictures. Goodman is overseeing development and production for Paramount Pictures, MTV Films and Nickelodeon Movies, as well as co-production projects in development from DreamWorks Studios.

  84. Josehph-

    That only works if you believe that racial bias isn’t an aspect of the assumed “bankability” of mostly unknown, young white actors…and by the fact that this is movie based on an already successfcul franchise. There’s already an audience of white fans for this show that is clearly Asian influenced with an Asian cast. So they all they need to do is expand that audience for the film, not whitewash the characters.

    Because studios are made up of people, and not entities unto themselves, I think they are motivated by both their bottom lines AND cultural bias. And frankly, in this instance, Hollywood appears to be way behind everyone else.

    If this was a film based on an obscure show it might make more sense. But it’s not. It’s a show from one of the top children’s networks that already has a large viewing audience both on TV and in DVD sales. This is definitely a case of bias more than profit.

  85. I love all these justifications about why the cast was set like this. I know that Afro-Samurai is being made into a live action movie. What would happen if the Afro-Samurai was made into a white male lead? There would definitely be an outrage. I think it just represents how Hollywood looks at Asians. They love Asian culture but dislike the Asians. For many movies, even 21, you could see it go to anyone. But a show where people are dressed in Asian outfits, reading ancient Asian texts, and where there’s even Asian architecture everywhere must mean that the characters should be Asian.

    When we think about David Carradine taking Bruce Lee’s place in Kung Fu the TV show 30-40 years ago, we laugh about how absurd the idea was and say that only happened back at that time. It’s happening again where white people are playing roles so well designed for Asian people. It’s called “yellow face.”

    One other point I’d like to make. People are saying not to blame or think of this as bigotry or anything. But when our kids are looking at movies and they see white people playing Asian actors in Asian outfits, they’ll think that the only good heroes are white, even in Asian culture. As an Asian American father, I fear this, and I remember thinking this. The idea of poor marketability isn’t true. There are plenty of Asian movies that do very well in the US. Look at Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon. So let’s give some Asian actors a break here. Those white kids will be able to get roles in other movies in the future, but for Asian actors, they have to fight and scrounge for every role they can get. And here’s one tailor made for Asians that just got stolen away.

  86. To those arguing about bankability, the idea that an Asian actor can not be marketable but Asian culture can is absurd and racist and the fact that its seen as the status quo is alarming. A big budget film like Avatar is the chance of a generation to be the face of a well regarded franchise, and one that can grow through the film medium. Getting someone with the right look and feel is important and I think that by going the traditional Hollywood route not only have they destroyed a chance to help break down those barriers but also made the film less marketable. I have lost all interest in seeing the film because of this and millions of others have as well. I also don’t believe the arguement that children want to see an all white cast out of some ingrained racist sentiment I mean good lord, this is the generation of Obama, Doraand Sagwa not of Howdy Doody.

  87. Please forgive the double post.

    According to the government census I am white, and its easy for me to identify myself as white and quite frankly I am but at the same time I am only four generations removed from the trail of tears. I am six generations removed from a freedman. Nor do I see or feel that there are only white boogeymen in our past as I am only five generations removed from my family opening thier home with a scrawny circuit lawyer in Illinois by the name of Abraham Lincoln. The reason I am related to both African Americans and Native Americans is becasue the son of the son of Abraham Lincoln Cleary (born while lincoln was living with them in 1833)married a creek woman who was born on the trail of tears and that childs son married the great grand daughter of a freed slave.

    Forgive the geneology for a moment but my family is the lense through which I view American history in all of its racial and idealogical complexity and it has given me great hope. From my family I have learned about the importance of cultural perception. I have never known discrimination in my life realy. I grew up for the most part in the inner city the product of parents raised in the inner city. My father looks the part of his native ancestry and my mother looks just like her swedish immigrant grandmother and I fall somewhere oddly between the two. My father however has been mistaken for mexican on many occasions and had racial epithets thrown his way, as well as being aproached due to the popular perception of Native Americans as some kind of mystic. That perception exists overseas as well. I have friends and aquaintences through my professional life who are from England who when asking about my Native Ancestry aproached it in a fashion that supposed there was a shamanistic gene atached to it. Not the worst stereotype in America but one that makes life harder for Native cultures none the less and allows them to be percieved as no longer existing in a modern age.

    America and the world is an alltogether more diverse place than is often acknowledged in popular portrayals in the media. I celebrate diversity but don’t always play identity politics because at its heart identity politics is divisive rather than inclusive.

    However, Avatar thrived because it was a mirror on a diverse world. It took elements of many cultures and presented them in a way that made a myriad of groups and ethnicities happy. Avatar was diverse in the way that Asia as a continent is diverse, in the way that aboriginal cultures are diverse and in the way that America the complex melting pot is diverse allowing children from so many different backgrounds to identify with the charachters in a way they are not often afforded, charachters they not only admire but that they can feel they can become. That is a serious opportunity not just wasted but stole. The show doesn’t exist without the thuosands of years of cultural heritedge it draws from and neither for that matter is America the same place without natives or asians and its important to not just sweep the connection under the rug while millions of children look on. It is simply not ok.

  88. I want to add my 2 cents to this discussion. First of all, people need to realize power of the media. Majority of what average Americans learn are from TV and movies. It is unfortunate, but it is reality.

    As an Asian American growing up in the USA, I recall the feeling to hide my face every time I see an Asian character in the movies while growing up. Why? Because they are usually characters to be made fun of or they are totally “uncool” characters or some stereotypical Asian person that spoke with bad accent etc. Asian American men rarely if ever get to play any leading roles on the silver screen. In many ways, these offensive images are telling every Asian American kid that it is uncool to be Asian American because all the cool people are suppose to be white. The same thing is happening to all minority kids in this country.

    People that say this whitewashing character is no big deal. Well, it is a big deal to me. It won’t be a big deal when the day when an Asian American actor can play any role in a movie and not because they need an Asian face. Why can’t an Asian American actor play part of a Tom Cruise or Britt Pitt? Before someone comes over and tell because they won’t sell, I want to remind you that people said the same about Will Smith before someone finally gave him a chance. Even Will Smith still deal with racism to this day in Hollywood. He had to change his female lead in the movie Hitch from a white character to a Latino so it won’t “offend” the white audience. People that claim only white characters are bankable don’t see the other side of this business. While there are white actors who made a lot of money, there are thousands who never made a dime for the studios. The problem is they get chance after chance after chance while Asian American actors never get any chance. I know cause I actually spoke to a few struggling Asian American actors who are trying to make it in this racist business. While they speak perfect English, roles they audition for many times all required them to speak with “Asian” accent. Kal Penn (Indian American actor) said he was told by Hollywood agents that he would never make it in Hollywood because he is neither “white” or “black”.

    I like to think average Americans just want to see good acting regardless if an actor is yellow, brown, red, black or white. I think the fact many people elected Obama as our president proved we do have people that see beyond color. I know I like to see good movies regardless the color of actors.

    Lastly, I also believe it is every American’s right to fight for fairness. It is easy to drown Asian American’s voices out because we are not the majority in this country. Fighting for equality is not just fight of minorities, it is a fight for every white American too. Remember someday the shoe could easily be on the other foot.

    It is time for Hollywood to change. With 1/3 of this country being people of color (100M+), it is time for Hollywood to make movies reflect our society vs. the same old white men as all leading characters. I do have faith in the average American. Things won’t change in Hollywood until people tell them with their wallets. I would hope all the Americans regardless of color who see inequality will fight for equality for all the people in this country.

  89. I know this seems to be a dead thread, but I thought I’d say something.

    Bankability (the argument that an asian cast would somehow result in a lower box office turnout than an all white cast): I am unsure as to why this argument is valid at all :S

    This isn’t some story which has been written fresh and has yet to be market tested, this is AVATAR we are talking about, its already massively successful within and without its target audience on one of the biggest channels in america, Nickelodeon!

    are you really trying to tell me than the guys in charge of the purse strings are afraid that mommy and daddy aren’t going to take little johnny to see Avatar because the leads are asian? how does this logic hold up at all?!

    Equality: (the argument that asians shouldn’t ask for preferential treatment but instead should rely on their acting ability to and skills to secure roles)

    Again, I don’t see how this is valid. All people are asking for (in this case) is correct racial casting. I think everyone here doesn’t want to see a Chinese Batman, Bruce Wayne is not chinese, thats not who Bruce Wayne is, I don’t care if the best actor in the world is chinese he shouldn’t get the part.

    In this particular case we again aren’t talking about preferential treatment, we are talking about characters that are clearly Asian, being cast as white people, – I don’t see how this is defensible in any way shape or form.

    Would you cast a white person as tiger woods? would you cast a hispanic man as bruce lee? how is this a difficult or contentious issue?!


  90. Hey what most people fail to see is pure logic…They are either being fooled or want to believe on ideals that doesn’t add up.
    An Asian world…..with characters with Asian names…where everyone dress in Asian atire….Writing in Asian language…Practice Asian marital arts…Believe in Asian gods and monsters Philosophy….Buildings and houses are all Asian…. Food they eat are asian styled….Asian features such as black hair balck eyes….. All these seems pretty clear. Is characters nationality White or Asian is pretty clear.

    Because American entertainment is a Caucasian fantasy world (most heroes are white). If People believe the characters nationality are european or white decent contradicts with the very series and setting of avatar.

    I mean what role does a european or white nationality play in this?

    Aside from what I said so far what makes this racist is…….
    A European or white descent dressing Asian clothing and rating food with chopsticks and refer him or herself as an Asian is mocking the Asian culture! is very similar as see an Asian person as jesus christ.

    Can people accept an Asian as Jesus Christ if so I can accept White people acting as Asians.

  91. It really simple Hollywood craves and wants asian culture so bad, but they don’t want the people. Asian Culture and Asian people are one. It can’t be separated. It like claiming the christian bible to be Asian myth. Is it acceptable?

    I surprise how some people want characters to look white, but can’t seem to give any proof or evidence. Oh side note white people don’t have anime eyes. People of white and all descent can have small eyes
    take tom cruise for instance.

  92. i dont think any of the characters in the comic or the cartoon look asian except for zuko so i dont realy care who they cast as long as they do a good job being the characters

  93. So much is wrong with this Anglo casting. Many of these point have already been made, but I want to have a jab at it too:
    1. Avatar is so obviously revolved around Asian cultures. The daily life, culture, and mythology are in so many ways /Asian/. So the first thing that comes to mind for the cast is “white.” Really, now.
    2. Just about anywhere in the world, culture has revolved around the Euro-, Anglo-, White, whatever way. Beauty is continually defined by white people. Thank you /so/ much for supporting this idea. Because Asian people don’t have self-esteems at all.
    3. So the main cast is white but the background actors are Asian? The greatest implication is this: Whites are more important than Asians (or any race for that matter). So other people don’t deserve these roles? Are whites just that awesome that their race automatically qualifies them for the role, rather than their acting capabilities?
    4. To be more a little more media-minded, the whole atmosphere of the world is ruined. As previously mentioned, there are so many things in the Avatar world that are Asian. The intrusion of this intricately designed world is such a bummer. A dozen white people drinking tea and wearing Asian clothing seems a little awkward to me.

  94. @Anybody who believes anime characters are white (specifically, those who were duped by those wide eyes):


    Meet Henry Wong.

    Henry lives in Tokyo, Japan with his parents and 3 siblings. Like most anime characters, he has two wide, Caucasian eyes. So, he must be Caucasian, right? Maybe his parents moved to Tokyo from America. Maybe “Wong” was a traditional last name in the European country their ancestors hail from. We don’t know. Heck, let’s just assume that he’s white, and thus should be portrayed as such in a live-action film.

    “Henry is half-Chinese and half-Japanese; his father (Janyu) is Chinese and his mother (Mayumi) is Japanese.”

    Oh, would ya look at that: I just sunk your battleship. :)

    Great post, Kim. Keep fighting the good fight! I hope that you, like me, will actively boycott this film. I love Avatar too much to financially support this corruption of the series.

    And I’d just like to say: If Mike and Bryan actually supported the casting, they wouldn’t be so nonexistant these days. If nothing, their silence only proves that they disapprove of the film, and are (too afraid/ legally obligated not) to speak out.

  95. It’s obvious that there are white people out there such as Mr. Scott Christian Sava who are in serious denial. Despite the fact that the main protagonist’s name is ‘Aang’ and that he is a bald monk which he and his people were obviously based on Shaolin monks, what exactly is so ‘white’ about him? Is it his skin color? Because his complexion is actually no different from countless east asian people. Or is it his eyes because they aren’t slanted?? Whatever the excuse may be for their thoughts on Aang, I suggest they go here: http://www.racebending.com/v2/2009/07/31/aang-is-white/

    As for Katara and Sokka, I have no idea how they could possibly think these kids were white. Again despite the names and attire which are Eskimo, their features and especially their skin color are obviously NOT white! And I’ve had enough of the “blue eyes” which only marks their Water bending ancestry the same way yellow eyes marks Fire bending ancestry.

    By the way, it’s obvious that Mr. Sava has no clue that the creators of the series– Mike DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko have specifically stated countless times that there ARE NO ‘caucasians’ in the ‘Avatar’ series but ALL ASIAN, or that the animators of the series were Korean, or that the very production of the series was the creators’ homage to anime and Asian culture.

    And yes it is these very people like Mr. Sava whom Hollywood prays upon to perpetuate their racist status quo! Just look at what Hollywood tried to do to Neil Gaiman’s book : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anansi_Boys#Movie_Adaptation

  96. You know was just talking about this at school today and when I told this guy who was playing Sokka he flipped. I personally like this actor but when he told me who was playing Prince Zuko I was like, “but Zuko’s white” he was all like I now right, but anyway we soon calmed down or at least I did when somebody told me that everybody chosen could fight. He, however, will only be at peace if the movie turns out good and not like Dragonball (but of course that is a whole other issue). So overall the whole racist issue totally blows my mind and in my case is not worth fighting over…unless of course the movie totally sucks arse! Oh and please don’t bomb on my views, but if you disagree just state it don’t be an evil corn dog.

  97. All of my Asian friends download movies illegally so they don’t come to the movies with the rest of us, so the movies are not made for them.

  98. This is really not about color, but race & it is Aryan . It is foolish to contend for the Post of the ” Prince of the power of Air”

  99. You know how Black people say, “Everyone wants to be Black, but nobody wants to be Black”? Well, guess what Asians? Now you understand what we mean! The White creators were perfectly fine with their ink-to-paper cosplay of “pretending to be Asian” with the cultural influences, styles and character backgrounds…but remember the creators, voices and “acting” as somebody mentioned, was “White”. When it came down to actually representing the fantasy on screen, though…we are quickly reminded, that it is the White fantasy and it is for them to enjoy. They are simply romanticizing Asian culture, but when it comes to giving the respect and props? White people forget that Asian people also have light skin…there is no monopoly of the hues.

    Sure, for White Hollywood, its all good to “pretend” to be Asian in a cartoon, but when it comes to a movie and a bunch of money to be made, people snap the fuck into reality and they could give a shit about Asians in movies.

    Welcome to the club, Asians. It won’t change until a director comes along out of the Asian culture who:

    A) understands American culture, because frankly, Takeshi Kitano cannot make a movie that most Americans will understand.

    B) Will not sellout to whitewashing a movie because of the promise of millions of white dollars like Shymalan and James Wong did.

    C) Has an interest in making movies that will educate people about Asian-Americans and Asians abroad…

    …in other words, Asians need their own Spike Lee.

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