Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Some Commentary on the "Last Airbender" Race Controversy

There is a movement against M. Night Shyamalan's upcoming movie, "The Last Airbender" on account of the actors cast to portray the main characters are predominantly white and should be representing a different ethnic culture.

The most uproar came from the casting of Jesse McCartney to portray Zuko, the secondary antagonist of the first film. I myself was frustrated by this casting choice because I didn't feel Mr. McCartney had the chops to play such an intricate character. Thankfully, he has been replaced by Dev Patel, star of "Slumdog Millionaire", adding much needed diversity to the cast.

So the main qualms with the casting now are that the darker, brown people have become the villains of the franchise, while the white kids are cast as heroes. While nothing can be done at this point because of casting except a boycott of the film upon its release, people have continued to complain that this was an injustice to diversity and the uniqueness of the individual eastern cultures the movie is attempting to portray.

I present this different viewpoint to their argument.

The original series, "Avatar: The Last Airbender", was drawn with these cultural differences in mind. Each of the four nations had a distinct ethnic background and rich history apparent in their dress, way of speech, and practices. So why, then, was the original cartoon not boycotted when the voices of the main characters were that of white people and the villains of the series voiced by darker, ethnic people? Sokka and Aang were both voiced by white actors, as were Katara and Toph. Zuko, the presumed villain, was voiced by Dante Basco, and Iroh, originally, was voiced by Mako.

The same casting happened in the cartoon as did in the movie.

Now, without being told this, you may not be able to guess that this was the case, and that is not because the actors had a cartoon to hide behind. I argue that it is because of the depth and believability they brought to their characters. They breathed a life into the show with their voices, and portrayed the ethnic diversity beautifully.

So why can't the actors on screen do the same? If diversity stops at the surface of the skin, then yes, they are doomed to fail. But in this day and age, I would hope more oft than not we would ere on the side of believing diversity is more about what one carries in their heart and mind.

I do understand the argument against these actors. There is a wealth of actors from specific ethnic backgrounds that could have played these roles to the "t". But we must keep in mind that this movie is being made for Americans by Americans (not to mention it was created by two white guys). The cultural sensitivity is borne into this story. The people at the helm get that because it is intricately woven into the storyline from beginning to end. Race is important to the story, but it isn't the main attraction.

There is so much more going on. "The Last Airbender" will touch on genocide, war, censorship, responsibility, destiny, inner-conflict, peace...the list goes on. We should be concerned that these themes and motifs get across, regardless of how dark or light the actors portraying them are.

Another point. Zuko, who those who oppose the casting for the movie say is the villain, forget that Zuko is one of the most complicated, unique, and challenging character to play in the entire movie. His character will blossom in ways many of the others will not and it is an honor that of all the characters to cast, they got that one right, as far as ethnicity goes. And they have built up the entire cast of the fire nation with strong Indian actors who will undoubtedly bring a much needed depth and richness to the portrayal of the fire nation.

As for Aang, Sokka, and Katara, I am sure these actors will do well with the roles they've been given. I am sure the will come to understand what they represent. We have to remember that this is a Nickelodeon funded film as well. Nickelodeon, founded in the US, has on their hands what may very well be their best feature film yet. It may do wonders for their international notoriety. They know what is at stake if they botch the cultural aspects of this film. They know what's at stake.

Again, race is not the big issue, nor is it that big of a deal in the context of this film. No one is being portrayed as less than white or worse off than white. If they stick to the core of the original series, this will be one movie that supports and cultivates diversity in the minds of those who view it. So there are a couple of white kids at the helm of that. Some would argue they are the ones who need a lesson in diversity the most.

Let them play their roles and let us just enjoy that one of the best cartoons to ever be on television is become a live-action movie!

For more information about the movement against the casting of "The Last Airbender", visit www.racebending.com. For information about the film itself and the new teaser trailer, visit www.thelastairbendermovie.com.

***Oh, and I just found this out, the voice of Fire Lord Ozai is Mark Hamill. How's that for a twist?***

Sunday, June 21, 2009

a rambling.

I was staring out the window from the back seat of my mom's Volvo on our way to a jazz concert for Father's Day when the weight of conflict broke my back. I've been told since I've come back home that I seem gloomy and that I should deal with the things that are weighing me down, and I've begun work on that, but man, the things that are causing me distress are really...distressing.

One thing that sticks out to me now is that the world (or society, either will work) that we live in isn't conducive to the types of things I want to see in my life. I want to walk the earth with nothing but some faith, food, and skills, like being able to make really good tea or give killer massages or have really good, open conversations. Just meet with people who do good, honest work and grow from my travels.

But in this lovely capitalistic economy, it's nearly impossible to drop off the grid, let alone meet someone doing good, honest work for the sake of doing good, honest work.

And when I reflect on it, maybe walking the Earth isn't the best thing for me right now, because while God is sustaining me, he's barely an afterthought in my life right now. So actually, maybe walking the Earth would force me to rely, and that's good, right?

But I'm not walking the Earth anytime soon. That's the conflict. So what is my life supposed to look like? I just feel as if I was born for another time most of the time.

I guess that's it.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Throw Hands Together

I'm sitting here in my kitchen next to all the stuff from my room in Sierra Madre listening to my iTunes. Strawberry Swing (Coldplay) came on and the biggest smile swept across my face and I started laughing uncontrollably. It's amazing that music can do that to you. All I want to do is throw my hands together and swirl around violently.

I didn't do much today, but I realized how living in a res. hall really can make you selfish, lazy, and ungrateful. I sat here the whole day not eating because I didn't want to make myself a sandwhich. I did eventually, but it's crazy, right? My parents stocked the frigde with food they like to eat, but it's food. Good food. The years of them stocking the fridge with sugary treats and meat are long gone, it's all about weird health foods and you know what, they've earned that, deserve that, and there's no room for me to complain.

This summer is about figuring out what I do. I say a lot. Think a lot. But I want to know what I do.

It's been a good start!

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Traveling Spirits

When I think about how I want to spend my life, I realize it's not what I'm doing now. I want to explore things. Experience old and new places. Create stories to share. I don't want a career, I want to go on an adventure.

Does this make me a wayfarer? Does this mean my soul is restless? I feel that way now, but who's to say I won't want to settle down in a month or so.

I'm waiting for that day when I'll stop making mistakes and excuses. When I'll pick up all that I am and just have at life. I just don't feel like I was made to sit on my butt and read books. Not that I don't love to read, I'm just so antsy to get out there and do something these days.

It's been a rough quarter, getting even rougher as it winds down. Maybe I just need to get away.

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