July 31st, 2010 | Published in In The News
Adoption Today is the only magazine dedicated to international and transracial adoption. Ten year old writer Li Huan Shandross, a transracial adoptee, weighed in on the casting of The Last Airbender in an article in the July 2010 issue.
According to Li Huan’s mom, Ellin: “She put tons of hours into writing and re-writing her piece, and although I’m biased, I have to admit that she did a fantastic job. The magazine ended up pulling their full legislative update and running her opinion piece instead because they were so moved by her passion.”
Adoption Today, July 2010
In the photo that runs with the article, Li Huan holds a racebending.com postcard and mentions our website as one of the things that gives her hope in the face of anti-Asian racism like with the whitewashing of Airbender.
Asians Can Be Heroes Too!
Adoption TODAY — July 2010
Li Huan Shandross
On the July 4th weekend a movie came out called “The Last Airbender.” It’s based on a TV series called “Avatar: The Last Airbender.” There’s a big problem about the movie though because of something called whitewashing. That sounds like pouring bleach into your dirty laundry to make it perfectly white and that’s kind of what the movie director did. It makes me really mad because it’s so wrong. That’s why I’m writing about it because I think it’s important for kids to speak out.
The original Airbender TV series is really great! It’s about a 12-yearold boy named Aang, who is the Avatar and also an airbender; a 14-year-old girl named Katara, who is a waterbender; her older brother named Sokka; and an earthbender named Toph. They are really brave even when they feel scared. They travel together on Aang’s 10-ton flying bison named Appa for Aang to learn to bend the four elements of water, earth, fire and air. (Bending means controlling the particular element to defend yourself or fight off threats.) Aang’s mission is to defeat the Fire Nation which is threatening to destroy the world. His goal is to bring peace back to the world.
The Airbender TV series captured my imagination because some of it is real but it’s also fantasy. I like a mix between real and fantasy. That kind of story can make it believable for me. It’s also a fun, action-packed series, but it doesn’t get very gory. It has some fighting scenes but it’s not scary. I don’t like violent shows.
What also captured my imagination about the original Airbender is the main characters. They are Asian or Inuit. The writers of the show were influenced by Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Inuit cultures. They worked with experts who really know Asian cultures so they wouldn’t put stereotypes into the show. I think they did a terrific job keeping the series stereotype free. I hate to see stereotypes on TV, in movies or at school like when some kids pull their eyes down to racially bully Asian kids.
The original Airbender series is clearly Asian to me because some of the words and characters are from Chinese and other Asian cultures, so are the martial arts, buildings and food. Some of the names of the characters are Asian too like Momo (Aang’s flying lemur) is “peach” in Japanese. (Momo got his name after he stole a peach from Sokka. My mom speaks Japanese so I know some words from her.) Everything about the show is clearly Asian and Inuit.
Avatar is important to me because it shows that Asians can be leaders and heroes as well as white people. I was born in China, and I like to watch something about Asian and Inuit culture because usually at school we don’t get to read about these cultures. It feels really good to see something about my birth culture along with other Asian and Inuit cultures so I can learn about them too. It feels important to me that there’s a series that doesn’t have stereotypes about Asian people.
I felt sad when I heard that the main characters in the movie were going to be played by white actors. I was crestfallen about that because I thought it showed a message that only white people could be heroes while the TV series says the exact opposite. I thought the movie wouldn’t look at all like the original Airbender series because white people would play the main roles and it wouldn’t be believable for me. I felt sad, insulted and furious all at the same time!
I was surprised to learn from my family and websites like racebending.Com that whitewashing of Asian roles is a tradition in American movies. That means that Asian roles get replaced by white actors. I felt insulted when I learned that because it’s horrible to treat us like dirty laundry that needs to get bleached. We are human beings just like everybody else. We can be leaders and heroes too! I think it’s horrible that the director of the movie did this. My mom and I watched some audition videos on the Internet of young Asian actors who tried out to be Aang. I thought some of these kids could have done just as well and even better than the white actor who got Aang’s role. I even thought that I could have done a better job playing Katara because I understand her character and her feelings more in my mind and heart. I don’t think Asian people should be forced to disappear out of movies and stories that are about us and our cultures.
My favorite teacher taught us a great expression last year in fourth grade. He liked to say: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” This movie is repeating history by whitewashing the characters. That’s called racism. It sends a message that it’s OK to bully Asian kids because we’re wiped out of the picture. I think that’s really wrong and offensive.
I still have a lot of hope though from websites like racebending. Com, talking with my family and friends, protesting racism at school and writing protest letters. I hope a lot of kids like me will protest this kind of whitewashing with their parents. I believe we can change the world!
Li Huan Shandross, 10½, was adopted from China and lives with her mom and dad in Massachusetts. When not protesting racism, Li Huan likes to spend time with her friends, swim, read, practice kung fu, and do arts and crafts. Two of her favorite activities outside of school are acting and high ropes.
Thank you, Li Huan, for so eloquently sharing your thoughts about the unfair casting of The Last Airbender with the adoption community and greater community online!