Frank Marshall Talks About the Race Issue in The Last Airbender

There’s been quite a bit of controversy surrounding the casting of M. Night Shyamalan’s adaptation of the hit anime Avatar: The Last Airbender. First of all, one of the casting calls specifically called for “Caucasians and Other Ethnicities,” but even more galling to fans is the casting of Noah Ringer, a “white kid,” as the lead character Aang, who is Asian.

This casting choice has so infuriated people that a group recently created the Web site Race Bending, dedicated to “advocating just and equal opportunity in film and television” as a response to Avatar‘s casting.

Yesterday the producer Frank Marshall addressed the issue of race and casting in the movie, saying that the casting notice was offensive and poorly written, but also points out that it was created and distributed by a “local extra casting entity” that did not consult with the production or the studio. He goes on to say that “Ultimately, we all take responsibility for not doing a more thorough job monitoring these frequently used third-party agents and Paramount has since been in regular dialogue with Asian American advocacy groups including the Japanese American Citizens League and the Media Action Network for Asian Americans to ensure that such a mistake does not happen in the future.”

Included with his statement were copies of the initial casting breakdowns that were approved by the production company and the studio: Casting Call 1 and Casting Call 2.

The Pulse: Sometimes it gets hard to tell what gets overblown in our hyper racially-conscious society, but I think that the protesters have a point. It’s important to have role models that people can identify with, and part of that identification comes from physical appearance. This controversy really isn’t anything new in Hollywood; after all, Blaxploitation movies arose from need for African Americans to have positive, powerful role models. So I don’t think that the people behind Race Bending are being out of line or overly sensitive in their outrage over Avatar.

Now, that said, I can’t help but think of Noah Ringer. If the IMDB forums are to be trusted, Ringer is actually half-Asian, so the protesters are essentially saying that he’s not good enough because he’s not wholly Asian (whatever that means). The problem, it seems, is that he looks too not-Asian. It doesn’t appear to matter whether or not he’s a good actor. All that’s important is what he looks like. I feel sorry for the kid.

Needless to say (although I’m saying it anyway), this is a complex situation. Ideally, race shouldn’t matter at all, but that’s just not how the world works. The conundrum is that Asians (indeed, every race, gender, and ethnicity) have every right to be portrayed positively and equally in movies and television, but by specifically singling out characters as “Asian” people run the risk of producing stereotypes, falling right back into the racist trap.

Credit: Ugo

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