On July 1st, reporter Amanda Tran was on the scene when Racebending.com and other organizations held a demonstration against The Last Airbender in front of the Arclight Cinerama Dome. L.A. Residents Protest to End ‘Racebending’. Neon Tommy is a web-only, Los Angeles-based news source sponsored by the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism at the University of Southern California.
L.A. Residents Protest to End ‘Racebending’
Amanda Tran | July 2, 2010
Thursday, July 1 marked the opening day for filmmaker M. Night Shyamalanâs latest venture, “The Last Airbender,” a live-action film based on the popular Nickelodeon animated series.
A large crowd of original “Airbender” fans gathered in Hollywood in front of the ArcLight Cinemas on Sunset Boulevard late Thursday afternoon, not to form a line for the movie, but to protest against it.
Since announcement of the filmâs casting in 2008, there has been growing controversy over Paramount’s decision to cast predominantly white actors in the lead roles.
Paramountâs official casting call for the principal roles solicited applicants who were âCaucasian or any other ethnicity.â
Many fans of “Avatar: The Last Airbender” were upset because the original show was set in a fantastical Asian world, which featured heroes of color and was modeled after traditional Asian/Inuit culture.
Mike Le, one of the lead organizers of Thursdayâs protest, expressed his anger over the casting.
â[âAvatar: The Last Airbenderâ] showcased Asian culture and a marginalized group of people that had never had a place on TV,â Le said. âIt spoke to people of different backgrounds as wellâŚThis was a robbed opportunity and was a huge blow to morale to everyone.â
The protest was organized by activist site Racebending.com, a grassroots movement dedicated to advocating fair and non-discriminatory hiring practices in the entertainment industry.
Racebending.com started as an online community of fans of the original show. The community grew larger, and as the movement gained momentum there was a push to make a formal site.
Marissa Lee, co-founder of Racebending.com, spearheaded the project.
Her involvement stemmed not only from her passion for the show, but also from her desire to see better Asian American representation in the media.
âGrowing up there were not many Asians on television,â Lee said. âI remember whenever my dad saw an Asian person on TV heâd call the whole family over. It was like spotting an endangered species on a hike.â
Racebending.com supporters advocate through direct protest, contacting studios that âracebendâ or otherwise discriminate against actors of color.
Although the movementâs supporters wrote unanswered letters to Paramount asking to change casting in “The Last Airbender,” Thursdayâs protest transcended the film.
âTodayâs protest isnât about [the letters.] Itâs about showing Hollywood that unnoticed audiences are ready for fair, representative casting,â Lee said. âWe are raising awareness to let Hollywood know that when they donât offer fair opportunities people will speak out. Consumers expect better. They want something to better reflect the American landscape.â
The diverse protest grew close to 100 people within the first two hours, with several activist organizations in attendance, such as Media Action Network for Asian Americans (MANAA).
Heather Glover, 25, discovered the Facebook event for the protest hours earlier.
âI really like the whole feel,â she said, glancing back at the chanting crowd behind her. âI was pleasantly surprised at the turnout, and Iâm going to see if I can throw [a protest] together myself.â
Sixteen-year-old Taylor Cross flew in from San Francisco with her mother for Thursdayâs protest. A long-time fan of the series, she discovered the Racebending movement early on and jumped at the opportunity to protest.
âIâve been mad about this for a long time, and [my mom] knew flying me down here would have meant the world to me,â Cross said. âA lot of people think that protesting wonât change things, but I canât stand by and pretend that nothingâs going on. I know in the back of my mind that this is wrong.â
Lee acknowledged that her activism stemmed from being a fan first.
âWeâre all new to this,â Lee said, pointing to herself and Mike. âWeâre channeling this passion as fans into activism. Weâre using all this energy and focusing it on changing the world.â