Media Consumers for Entertainment Equality


Producers of “The Last Airbender” plan to adapt “Snow Crash”

June 19, 2012

Deadline.com reports that the studio and producers behind The Last Airbender (2010) have acquired the rights to Neal Stephenson’s cyberpunk novel, Snow Crash.

The 2008 Subterranean Press edition cover of Snow Crash

Paramount Pictures is launching it’s second attempt to make the film, tapping Joe Cornish to direct. Cornish is best known for his 2011 breakout hit, Attack the Block, which starred several young “unknown” actors of color in lead roles.

The diverse cast of Joe Cornish’s Attack the Block

The Kennedy/Marshall Company will produce. The Kennedy/Marshall company is the production company headed by Kathleen Kennedy and Frank Marshall, two of the producers of The Last Airbender (2010).

In 2008, fans of Avatar: The Last Airbender wrote hundreds of letters to Kennedy and Marshall asking them not to cast white actors to play characters of color in their adaptation of The Last Airbender. These letters were returned to sender or otherwise ignored. Even after Asian American advocacy organizations stepped in, producer Frank Marshall did not acknowledge that the casting of The Last Airbender had a discriminatory impact on actors of color.

Marshall did, however, acknkowledge that casting breakdowns asking for “Caucasian or any other ethnicity” to play the characters of Airbender were “poorly worded and offensive.” He told UGO.com that:

“Ultimately, we all take responsibility for not doing a more thorough job monitoring these frequently used third-party [casting] agents and Paramount has since been in regular dialogue with Asian American advocacy groups including the Japanese American Citizens League and the Media Action Network for Asian Americans to ensure that such a mistake does not happen in the future.” – Frank Marshall, 2010

How will this all play out in the adaptation of Snow Crash, a 1992 novel about a futuristic Los Angeles featuring several characters of color? The main character is hacker and pizza delivery guy Hiro Protagonist, who is of mixed Asian and African American descent. Other characters include a street smart skateboarder named Yours Truly (Y.T.), Hiro’s ex-girlfriend Juanita Marquez, and the antagonist Raven, who is of Aleut descent. Themes of racism and sexism intersect the text and the characters’ experiences.

Hiro Protagonist as depicted on the Japanese edition of Snow Crash

A faithful casting of Snow Crash–though unorthodox for Hollywood–would mean that women and people of color would feature in the film’s central roles. [Even if Paramount wants actors who are “already established,” there is at least one famous young performer of Asian and African American descent, Shaffer Smith (aka Ne-Yo), several famous young Latina actresses, and several famous young Native American actors (Twilight series, anyone?]

Since Snow Crash producer Frank Marshall has stated that Paramount is working to ensure that post-Airbender casting calls will be accurate, and Joe Cornish’s biggest film to date features a multicultural cast, we’re rooting for actors of color in Snow Crash‘s lead roles. Snow Crash would be the first tentpole science fiction film to star a person of Asian and African American descent in the lead role.

Thank you, hoyvinglavin64, for tipping us off about the production of Snow Crash on the Racebending livejournal group!

Categories: blog, Featured
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About the Author

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

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  • Oh, uh, that…I have mixed feelings now!  I’d seen the director & said “yay” but the producers?  “NAY.”

  • I can hear the casting directors and producers now…

    “We can tell the same story exploring themes of racism through the lens of a white protagonist, too!”

    This honestly sounds like something I’d want to see, but after seeing that the jerks in charge of The Last Airbender movie are involved, as well as the dull and untimely sentiment for letting racebending get completely out of hand, I’m too nervous to be anything but mildly interested. Joe Cornish, don’t let all of us down.

    • Anonymous

      Didn’t the cast of Airbender end up being predominantly non-white?

      Or are you just referring to the fact that it got, like, a negative number on rottentomatoes?

      • hapappa

        If by “predominantly non-white”, you mean all of the extras were non-white, then yes. Also, the bad guys were non-white, and the good guys were white.

        There were no East Asians or Inuits in any of the main roles — in the original cartoon, Aang, Sokka, and Katara are obviously not white and Zuko is obviously not Indian. You can argue that hey pocs were cast in main roles (ex. Dev Patel), but the races of the characters should have been how they were in the cartoon. Their race matters. Ultimately the whole piece of junk of a movie was racebent to the 4th dimension.

        I think even without the same director, having the same studio and producers is unsettling *flashback to Dee Dee Rickets*

        • Anonymous


          I was basing my statement on imdb – I’ve never seen the movie or read the source material. Thanks for clarifying – sounds like it was even worse than a “regular” whitewashing.

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  • Jack

    oh NO….NO NO NO ONE OF MY FAVORITE BOOKS NO. They are only going to make this movie once and they get the guys who made AIRBENDERS to do it? Oh god…just flush it directly down the toilet and skip breaking my heart already…

    • Anonymous

       But it’s a different director….

  • nelsonjames

    I won’t hold my breath on this one.  Whether of not it will be a “tent-pole” film really depends on how much money the producers are going to put into it.  The more money the less the story will resemble the novel, which means ethnic actors/characters  will take a downgrade.

  • Chillibeer1837

    let’s just make this an animated series…..?

  • miga

    I’ve never heard of Snow Crash, but I have to check it out now!

  • amazing book! one of my all time favs! For the record I hope they stay true to the novel in terms of casting, bcuz imo when creating a portrayal of reality in the not so distant future it is essential to define how identity exists and how people are treated.
    I think Hiro sounds cool as shit and hot as hell. His racial makeup (Black father in the army and Korean mother) are deeply rooted in his story. His upbringing and parents happen to be described quite a bit throughout the novel and his identity is essential to how many people react to him (wanting to fight him/ not wanting to bring him into some fundamentally racist districts districts /him being misunderstood etc) … plus America is becoming more and more mixed with each generation- give kids something to relate to once in a while hollywood!! Juanita- I would love to see her kept as a sexy independent, business minded Latina! Just to rant: I don’t understand y there are still so many white actors in the majority of roles in mainstream films where the historical background of character is non existent and doesn’t necessarily call for them to be white. avatar l.a.b.- i was a huge fan of the anime & i thought the films special effects were great but c’mon the casting was so sad, all good looking kids and ppl who can act but you can find those in any demographic, Inuit, Asian etc. Just be a little more proactive casting directors- that is ur job!!

  • Lauren

    Chloe Moretz as Y.T. or bust.