Media Consumers for Entertainment Equality


Shyamalan interviews: racebending.com responds

March 31, 2010

Director M Night Shyamalan was interviewed by ugo.com (further related interviews here and here) about the casting discrimination in his upcoming film The Last Airbender. The interviews meant to clarify his motives behind casting white protagonists in an Asian-based fantasy film.

Unfortunately, Shyamalan’s idea of ‘diversity’ only proves how much he completely misconstrues the casting concerns of the public.

The staff of racebending.com have since sent a letter to the President of Paramount Pictures, which restates why exactly we take issue with this film.  Here is an excerpt:

Avatar: The Last Airbender featured characters of color, and the film adaptation was an opportunity for Paramount to develop leading talent from Asian American and Inuit American communities—groups the Screen Actors Guild has acknowledged as underrepresented, particularly in leading and heroic roles. Only 1.8% of lead roles in Hollywood go to actors of Asian descent and less than 1% of lead roles go to actors of Native American descent.Yet, Airbender lead casting breakdowns worded as “Wanted: Caucasian or any other ethnicity” failed to provide adequate outreach to communities of color during lead casting. And the production’s specification of “Caucasian” and the initial casting of all four leads with white actors further reinforced Paramount’s failure to extend the rare opportunity to be a lead heroic character to minority actors.

The casting of The Last Airbender exemplifies the “glass ceiling” that pervades Hollywood casting. While actors of color have been cast, they are marginalized in roles as antagonists and background characters. The casting decisions in The Last Airbender have reinforced Paramount’s lack of support for actors of color, and lack of regard for equality and diversity.

Worse, Paramount has sent a message to the rest of the industry, reinforcing that casting white actors to play people of color is appropriate–while actors of color are barred from playing characters that share their ethnicities. If Paramount chooses not to have actors of color as lead protagonists–even in a culturally inspired film like The Last Airbender–then when does Paramount actually plan to extend meaningful opportunity and representation to Asian American and Inuit American actors?
— read the full letter to Adam Goodman here (.pdf).

MANAA also responds to the Shyamalan interview in their blog, stating outright that “Shyamalan misses the point.” Further points:

But to respond to our calls for people of color as heroes, he simply points to the racial indeterminacy of anime — as if that justifies the casting of only “European”-featured heroes. He completely neglects to mention that they specifically cast for white actors, instead implying that they were really trying to populate their world with a mix of races. Which would be hard to do with the casting announcement for “Caucasian or any other ethnicity.”

The day after Shyamalan’s interview, ugo.com published: Racebending: Understanding the ControversyA grassroots movement makes some valid points about Shyamalan’s Last Airbender. The article describes some of our argument and notes that both Racebending and Shyamalan will be at WonderCon 2010.

Responses to Shyamalan’s interview quickly popped up over the internet and in other media. Additional articles can be seen below:

Los Angeles Times – Hero Complex- M. Night Shyamalan says ‘Airbender’ rises above race issues
SlashFilm- M. Night Shyamalan Responds to Last Airbender Race Issues
MANAA – M. Night Shyamalan misses the point
io9.com – Shyamalan Addresses Airbender’s Race Controversy And Answers Your Questions
8Asians.com – Shyamalan on ‘The Last Airbender’ Casting Controversy
Latino Review – M. Night Talks About The Changes And Casting Choices In His Airbender Movie.
AngryAsianMan – m. night shymalan talks last airbender and “diversity”
ScreenCrave – M. Night Shyamalan Addresses Race Issues In The Last Airbender
Asia Pacific Arts Magazine – M. Night Shyamalan talks about Last Airbender casting

Categories: Featured, In The News, The Last Airbender

About the Author

Loraine Sammy is one of the co-founders of Racebending.com

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