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[personal profile] wingblossom
I'd be lying if I said I didn't feel at least a little schadenfreude at the horrible reviews the A:tla movie is getting. Or a lot of it, to be frank. I was curious as to how well the movie would do, since I have friends who wanted to see it despite everything I said about the racism of the casting decisions. But it seems this movie has failed on pretty much every account, or as Ebert claims, every category he can think of and others still waiting to be invented.

Linkblogging:
fan recasting of the movie
thoughts on race & gender
facepainting (If you read only one link, read this one.)
"but we must always be polite about it"
"it's not the same story"



1. I seriously think that a golden opportunity was wasted in not casting Dev Patel as Sokka. He would've been perfect in that role.

2. Some of the ad hominem comments about Shyamalan are making me cringe a little. On one hand, he deserves all the complaints he's been getting for his casting, scriptwriting, and production decisions, because they were all awful. On the other hand, some of the criticism aimed at him has this racially-charged edge (wrt him being Southeast Asian), and I'm not at all cool with that.

3. Also, gotta say this: when I was younger, Katara would have been my absolute favorite character. She's brave! Kind! Passionate! So it's disheartening to realize that the movie fails just as badly with the gender aspects as it does on the race front.

(To elaborate, I don't think that female characters should all be flawless beacons of virtue who can do no wrong. Instead, what TV needs is more females portrayed with depth and agency, who aren't taken for granted within the narrative. Writing female leads like Katara and Toph -- who show heroic attributes on the same level as their male counterparts -- definitely helps towards that. The movie doesn't. In fact, it doesn't even pass the Bechdel Test. )

4. One comment on LJ that irked me:

"Eh, Aang's casting is the one I can agree with, just because the kid looks so much like the catoon version. I think that if all the casting were like that, regardless of ancestry, I'd be okay with that because he would at least be going with what he saw in the show. My problem is that pretty much no matter how M. Night altered the casting he was pretty much screwed. He didn't do a good job, but if he was having mixed race casting at all, I'm pretty sure people would have been pissed for one of the common tropes of racial casting. (The possible exceptions are Zuko and Aang white with the water tribe siblings played by Native American actors, or Katara and Sokka white with Aang and Zuko darker skinned.)"

Then followed up with another comment from the same poster:

"I do see a problem with the white hero leading the oppressed brown people and his character being Tibetan, but then I think the problem might lie in the character design, as well as the casting...It probably would have been better if Aang were Asian, but he looks like his character which is more than you can say for the rest of the cast. I'll stand by my statement that if all the characters looked as similar to their animated counterparts then I don't think I'd have a problem with the casting. It would have been justifiable."

My reply to the second comment:

"Sorry, interjecting here, but I disagree with this statement. If you think that Aang's character design is part of the problem (namely, that he "looks white") while ignoring the cultural signifiers in A:tla, you're bringing your own baggage to the table. Period. The actors in the movie don't resemble their cartoon counterparts, but there are far more issues with the movie casting than just that.

For a start, PoC were ignored in favor of Caucasian actors for the leading roles. PoC actors are constantly undermined in Hollywood movies -- but in this movie, they couldn't even be cast to represent themselves. To add insult to injury, Paramount openly admitted their racial bias in casting calls. Actors like Jackson Rathbone stated that being Asian meant "[pulling] their hair up, [shaving] the sides, and definitely [getting] a tan." Furthermore, when Dev Patel was eventually hired as Zuko, the rest of the Fire Kingdom also was cast as PoC, strengthening the racist implication that light-skinned characters = good, and dark-skinned characters = bad.

Besides the Fire Kingdom, only minor extras without any agency were cast as PoC, while being witness to statements like, "If you're Korean, wear a kimono." And then M. Night Shyamalan had the nerve to backpedal by saying that The Last Airbender is the most culturally diverse movie of all time. And claim that the animators of the cartoon were to blame, because they put supposedly ambiguous features on all the characters in the show. (Despite the fact that, again, the cultural markers in A:tla are very clear if you take even a minute to point it out.)

This was terrible, terrible handling, particularly for a fantasy series that was built around an Inuit and Asian framework, and enough to ensure that everyone involved in the production of this movie should be ashamed of themselves."

Sigh. It's still hard for me to believe that anyone would defend Shyamalan's casting decisions at this point, but apparently this is possible. You'd think people would learn after the third, fourth, or fifth time, but apparently this isn't the case. After reading through numerous threads, all I feel like doing is shaking my head and thinking, "What's wrong with you people!?" Over and over and over again.
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November 2011

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