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Justine Larbalestier, Young Adult Genre Author

January 7, 2010

Besides being a fan of Avatar: The Last Airbender, Justine Larbalestier is the author of the Magic or Madness trilogy, and of How to Ditch Your Fairy. Her latest novel, Liar, was released in October 2009 after controversy broke out over the race of the model on its cover. Racebending.com staffer Catherine e-mail interviewed Ms. Larbalestier about The Last Airbender racebending controvery, Liar, and racism in the media.

Her website is http://justinelarbalestier.com/

NOTE: The opinions espoused by the interviewees represent their viewpoints alone, and do not necessarily represent the views held by the staff of racebending.com

Justine Larbalestier on The Last Airbender film

RACEBENDING.COM: Tell us the story of how and why you became a fan of Avatar: The Last Airbender.

Larbalestier: I’d heard people talking about it, read mentions on people’s blogs, but it wasn’t until a friend, Diana Peterfreund, started bugging me to watch it that I did. I pretty much instantly fell in love.

RACEBENDING.COM: What was your reaction to the casting announcement?

Larbalestier: The casting announcement was made before I saw the show. In fact, the outrage about the casting was one of the things that got me interested in watching Avatar in the first place.

RACEBENDING.COM: What about the casting was particularly striking to you?

Larbalestier: That it was so completely out of keeping with the show, which was inspired by several different Asian cultures and was so clearly an all-Asian world. It made me wonder if the people making the movie had ever watched Avatar because they’ve displayed zero understanding of it.

Liar Controversy - Justine Larbalestier


RACEBENDING.COM: You recently experienced a similar phenomenon in which one of your protagonists was “racebent” on the cover of your book, Liar. How did it feel when you learned that the protagonist, who is black in the book, would appear as white on the cover?

Larbalestier: I was not happy.

RACEBENDING.COM: When the initial Liar cover was released, several bloggers—including industry professionals—spoke out against the cover design. You also spoke out against the cover design on your blog. How did the public outcry on the internet blogosphere lead to Bloomsbury changing the cover design?

Larbalestier: It definitely helped but there was a lot going on behind the scenes as well.

RACEBENDING.COM: How has the Liar cover controversy impacted your writing?

Larbalestier: That’s a very difficult question to answer. I’ve been thinking about issues of race and representation for a very long time. What happened with my cover is not an isolated incident. A dear friend and mentor of mine, Samuel R. Delany, has been dealing with similar stuff since the 1960s with almost every book he’s ever written. I’d seen it happen to other people so it was strange going through it myself but I felt oddly prepared. I’m very pleased that many people who had not previously thought about race and publishing and representation now seem to have had their eyes opened.

RACEBENDING.COM: We’ve been told by Hollywood and other media types that Caucasian characters are “more accessible” or “more universal” to moviegoers, readers, and consumers. Given you’ve written characters of several different ethnicities, have you found this to be true?

Larbalestier: I think it’s crap. But there are some white moviegoers, readers, and consumers who are uninterested in people who aren’t white. I just strongly doubt their numbers are big enough to affect box office. I mean it’s never affected Will Smith’s box office. I think Hollywood is terrified of taking anything they perceive as a risk. And they think white men are ground zero. So if a movie with a white male lead tanks they never say, “No more movies with white male leads.” But if a movie with a white woman tanks then they say women can’t carry movies. And if it’s a black man then it’s blacks who can’t carry a movie. Black women almost never get the chance to carry a big A-list Hollywood film. The whole system is insanely racist.

RACEBENDING.COM: Paramount contends that because they have supporting and antagonist characters of color, the film is diverse. Racebending.com feels that while the cast is diverse, there is no true equality since the best roles were changed from characters of color to be reserved for white actors. What are your thoughts on how diversity is handled in fiction and film?

Larbalestier: I think Paramount are being disingenuous at best. When the heroes are white and all the other characters aren’t, then that’s a pretty clear signal about who are the most important and goodest people in the universe. Sounds an awful lot like white supremacy to me.

RACEBENDING.COM: What advice would you give to people who are interested in speaking out against discrimination?

Larbalestier: Just do it! The more people who speak out the better it is for everyone. I know many white people believe racism is something that does not affect them but they’re wrong. Inequality and injustice affects every one and must be fought every (legal) way we know how.

RACEBENDING.COM: Any last words for racebending.com supporters?

Larbalestier:Keep up the good fight! And boycott the movie of The Last Airbender, rewatch the original show instead, and send the creators a letter of thanks. Try to spend your entertainment dollars on creators who care about issues of social justice and equality. (Though I know all of you are already doing that.)

Racebending.com would like to thank Justine Larbalestier for this interview!

Categories: Interviews
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About the Author

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

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