Racebending.com is a coalition and community protesting the discriminatory casting practices and cultural insensitivity of the Paramount Pictures feature film, The Last Airbender.
Although the film is adapted from an animated series set in a pan-Asian fantasy world and featured ethnically Asian characters, the three heroic leads were cast with white actors. Asian American actors and other actors of color have instead been relegated to antagonist, villain, and background extra roles.
In addition, members of the production, including a casting director and one of the lead actors, have repeatedly made culturally insensitive statements to news media.
Comprised of thousands of Avatar fans of all ages, from around the world–alongside members of the public, social activists, and industry professionals–racebending.com exists to exhibit how Paramount has discriminated against actors of color and “whitewashed” a respected franchise. Their actions did not go unnoticed. The decision to “whitewash” Avatar: The Last Airbender is shameful, cowardly, and unacceptable.
“We knew that Nickelodeon was looking for a [particular fantasy] kind of show, so we kind of took that directive and set about creating our own mythology. And we wanted to base it in Asian rather than European background.”
- Avatar creators Mike DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko [source]
In 2005, the hit animated series Avatar: The Last Airbender premiered on Nickelodeon to great acclaim. Advertised by Nickelodeon as set in an “Asian fantasy world” and incorporating elements from several pacific rim cultures, the show quickly became an international success, building a fanbase much larger than the target tween audience.
In August 2008, Paramount began casting for a live action adaptation of the series. Astute fans were concerned when casting sides specifically called for Caucasian actors, instead of Asian American actors.
On December 9th 2008, an article on Entertainment Weekly announced the actors cast in the lead roles of M. Night Shyamalan’s upcoming 2008 film, The Last Airbender. All four lead roles were given to white actors.
Characters from the animated series. Aang from the slaughtered Air Nomads. Katara and Sokka from the peaceful and oppressed Water Tribe; Zuko from the tyrannical and genocidal Fire Nation.
Most recent casting for the movie. Noah Ringer as Aang, Nicola Peltz as Katara, Jackson Rathbone as Sokka, Dev Patel as Zuko (originally cast as Jesse McCartney, a blond, blue-eyed popstar).
The issue is complex and runs deep in history. For the sake of simplification, the following images are a brief visual summary of what Paramount Pictures has done. This website has further information that details their discriminatory practices.
As fans of the original television show, we still hold the highest level of respect for the Avatar: The Last Airbender animated series and its culturally nuanced depiction of an Asian fantasy world. The series featured Asian characters in a fantasy setting inspired and informed by a variety of Asian cultures. The characters fight with East Asian martial arts, have Asian features, dress in clothing from Asian cultures, and write with Chinese characters. The cast and setting were a refreshing departure from predominantly white American media, and were a large part of the show’s appeal as well as an inspiration to many Asian American children.
We desperately want to support The Last Airbender film, but we cannot in good conscience support its current incarnation and the generations of Hollywood discrimination it represents.
what we want
We know we cannot change the casting of The Last Airbender this far into the production. But this is not the end of our protest. We want Paramount Pictures – and all Hollywood studios – to know that white-washing characters for the sake of supposedly higher revenue is unacceptable and discriminatory. We want to ensure that this won’t happen again. We want actors of color to know that there are people out there who support them and want to see them in bigger roles. And we want children to know that people of colour can be the lead protagonists as well.