June 30th, 2010 | Published in In The News
Ross Reynolds of KUOW 94.9FM interviewed Racebending.com editor Catherine Bugayong on his show, The Conversation, a day before her July 1st protest against The Last Airbender in Seattle. You can listen to their conversation on KUOW’s website: In Conversation – Postponed Energy Requirements, Opting Out On Phone Books, And Fan Protests.
Catherine’s segment on the show is transcribed below by Racebending.com staff writer Freya.
Postponed Energy Requirements, Opting Out On Phone Books, And Fan Protests
Ross Reynolds: Up ahead, the flap over casting the live action of the popular cartoon series Avatar: The Last Airbender.
[cut to clip]
Some believe he is the chosen one, who will bring balance to a world at war … and some will stop at nothing to destroy him.
RR: A 3-D blockbuster movie coming out this week has drawn controversy for what some fans and critics call whitewashing. The Last Airbender, directed and produced by M. Night Shyamalan is based on the TV cartoon about a young martial arts hero who must save the world. Some are upset because Shymalan cast white actors in the roles that were portrayed as Asian and Inuit characters in the original cartoon. Critic Roger Ebert said "its fans take it for granted its heroes are Asian, why would Paramount and Shyamalan go out of their way to offend these fans… there are many young Asian actors capable of playing the parts." Thursday the movie opens in Seattle and elsewhere, and some fans plan to protest this, including Catharine Bugayong, she is a recent graduate of the University of Washington, she studied International Studies and Economics and she’s organizing a protest over at The Last Airbender in Seattle. Catherine, thanks for speaking to us today.
Catherine Bugayong: Thank you.
RR: Why are you protesting this movie?
CB: I’m protesting this movie, personally, for me, because I was and I am a fan of the original cartoon series… It was something that I watched with my family and that we all enjoyed because of its very compelling story line and its respect for the Asian and Inuit cultures that it chose to portray. And seeing this movie, with the white leads in it, it just feels like a such a betrayal of that respect. It doesn’t feel like it’s respecting Asian and Inuit cultures and Asian and Native American people.
RR: When you were watching the series, were these characters heroes to you?
CB: Definitely. And the nice thing about the series [as well] is that they were fully fleshed out characters. Katara and Sokka, who are the Water Tribe siblings, were originally brown skinned in the cartoon, and that’s something that’s so rare to see. To see brown skinned heroes, like… I can’t even name ten characters with brown skin that are portrayed as positively as heroes.
RR: So part of it was that here were some heroes who look like you.
RR: Well, as you probably have read, M. Night Shyamalan, the director who is Asian, is kind of rejecting these complaints he says that "they don’t look past the principal characters to note that the entire cast consists of actors from many different cultures and racial backgrounds". He thinks there’s been too much focus on the lead characters, here. What do you say to that?
CB: We appreciate that there’s diversity introduced to the movie and we are glad that there are Asian actors in the background and in some of the villanous roles, but we feel that the way that he structured it with the white actors as the leads… it taps into the history of Hollywood in which, that kind of structure, where you have where you have white leads and people of color as villains and background… it taps into that history. Recently we’ve seen movies such 21, which was based on Asian-American students at MIT and they were whitewashed for the movie version and they only had two token Asian characters.
RR: Catherine, we’re just about out of time, but I want to find out from you where it is that you’re going to be having the protest for The Last Airbender and what it is you’re going to do at that protest.
CB: We’re planning to protest The Last Airbender at the Real Thorton Place in IMAX. We’re planning to pass out literature and just inform people about the issues and the importance of people–
RR: [background noise] Okay, we gotta go. Hey, Catherine, thank you so much for saving the time, we really appreciate you talking to us today. Catherine Bugayong is one of the people who’s going to be working on this protest here in Seattle. They’re taking place all over the country around the film The Last Airbender, M. Night Shymalan’s film, of a cartoon, but in the live action film that he’s made, he’s taken the Asian and Inuit characters and cast white actors in the lead. From KOUW, this is Ross Reynolds.