Media Consumers for Entertainment Equality


Depictions of Gender and Ethnicity in The Last Airbender

September 30, 2010

M. Night Shyamalan has repeatedly said that his movie, The Last Airbender (2010) is “the most culturally diverse tent-pole [movie] in history” and that “everyone is represented.” But did the movie live up to his claims? This seven-part article explores the depictions of underrepresented groups in The Last Airbender.

“Except for a few lines from some victimized Asian villagers, every minority character with a speaking role is a bad guy, and every white character with a speaking role is good!” – Guy Aoki, founding President of Media Action Network for Asian Americans

“Every character of color in the film who takes an action against the Fire Nation invasion needs inspiration from a white character before he can take the action.” – Ken A., Racebending.com volunteer.

“Shyamalan affirmed he’d made a conscious effort to include all races and ethnicities in the movie. We believe him. We simply think it was rather important for him to have tried a little harder with the main characters.” – Magda Knight at Best for Film

“The biggest crime, for me at least, is how completely disempowered the female characters Katara and Yue are. Instead of the strong, caring motherly-type of personality we see in the series, Katara is this whiny little girl almost always on the verge of tears in the film. We don’t get to see her fight her way through gender discrimination to train in waterbending in the Northern Water tribe. We don’t get to see Yue conflicted about her true love for Sokka even though she’s a princess engaged to another young man.” – Racebending.com staff member Dariane N.

“The people of the noble, peaceful water nation are lily-white hippies. The people of the dirty earth nation are exotically grubby Chinese peasants. The people of the villainous, imperialistic, world-ruining fire nation are dark-skinned Indian jerks. The people of the air nation are extinct, so whatever. It’s so transparent you can see all the way to China.” – Film critic Lindy West, The Stranger

“Caucasian actors in the movie tend to get lines; non-Caucasian actors tend to be used as background.” – Film critic Stephen Whitty, The New Jersey Star Ledger

Next Page: Depiction of Circumpolar Indigenous and Inuit People

Categories: The Last Airbender
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About the Author

Marissa Lee is one of the co-founders of Racebending.com

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