Robot 6

Why Gene Yang won’t be watching Airbender

YangComics creator Gene Luen Yang (American Born Chinese, Prime Baby) has made a webcomic to explain why he won’t be going to see the Last Airbender movie in theaters—in short, Gene takes exception to the producers’ decision to use an all-Caucasian cast for a movie in which all the characters are Asian. He makes the argument better than I do, though, and of course a lively discussion breaks out in the comments section, so go, read.

I’m not a big movie fan anyway, so I’m much more likely to while away a summer afternoon with the manga.

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13 Comments

That’s just kinda dumb racism.

Say what?

After all its a cartoon set in a FANTASY world with flying bison with filled with its own made up cultures and customs, granted heavily based off of eastern philosophies. But whatever You would really not see a movie because the actor isn’t the a certain race you imagined him to be from a kids cartoon?

I’ve never watched an entire episode, but I’ve seen bits and pieces of the show, but from what I’ve seen saying the characters are Asian is a bit of a stretch. They certainly don’t LOOK Asian. What is it? The robes? Only Asians can wear robes?

Sounds to me like it’s a case of Pareidolia, you see what you’re looking for, y’know.

DetectiveDupin

May 26, 2010 at 10:17 am

Caveman and Drunkjack, do yourselves a favor and educate yourselves on the matter.
http://www.racebending.com/v3/learn/

Anybody who tries to excuse the whitewashing of the show based on the idea that the cartoon was a fantasy world is being exceptionally dense. Avatar obviously takes place in a Pan-Asian world. The joke of it is that even the movie recognizes this when it comes to any character that isn’t a heroic lead.

It is neither racist [or reverse racism] or pareidolia to make the assumption that the characters of “Avatar: The Last Airbender” are Asian. For anyone who has seen the series on a regular basis and not just “bits and pieces”, it would be logical assumption. It would be dumb racism and pareidolia to assume the characters were White or Caucasian.

Just as “The Lord of Rings” world is based and influence by Celtic, Norse, Germanic and other European mythologies and culture, everything in this fantasy world is based upon some aspect of Asian culture, from the direct use of Chinese characters as the language of the world to the use of various Asian martial arts to the clothing. The creators of the cartoon acknowledge this.

There are no knights or castles, vikings or long boats, centurions or togas, or anything else to suggest that the characters are Caucasian [or European in origin].

So when everything in a world is “Asian”, it’s only logical for the characters to be Asian. It would be counter-intuitive and “dumb” to think otherwise. Likewise, it was logical for characters in the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy to be white and European.

As for the characters “looking” Asian or white, it’s because of the conventions of anime where characters are drawn in race-neutral generic terms. Even though produced in America [though animated in South Korea], the creators admit this is an anime-inspired cartoon. And because it is set in a “FANTASY”, a normal trait like eye color doesn’t matter because eye color is determined by which nation/tribe/element the character is associated with. Earth-benders and people of the Earth Kingdom have green eyes. The people of the Water Tribes have blue-eyes.

Plus there are no freckled redheads, blue-eyed blondes, or porcelain-skinned people to suggest European fantasy world. Or Africans to suggest a multicultural diverse fantasy world. It’s an Asian fantasy world.

And yes, the creators of the property are white but the world they created is Asian. Similarly, I wouldn’t think the characters in “Record of the Lodoss War” were Asian because the creator is Japanese and because it was a fantasy world based upon D&D and other RPGs featuring knights, elves, dwarves, and other European lore.

So imagine if Haley Joel Osment was cast as Harry Potter or if Sam Worthington [an Australian] was cast as Captain America. To Asian-Americans, there is something antithetical about the casting of the film.

For the record, I would like to state I’m an Asian-American. And as an Asian-American, I don’t want or need special treatment, but I do want to be treat fairly and equally.

“So imagine if Haley Joel Osment was cast as Harry Potter or if Sam Worthington [an Australian] was cast as Captain America.”

Those really aren’t good examples. Mainly in the later case, Sam Worthington is typically cast is “American” roles (like, oh, a Space marine). Plus, that dude playing Batman (an American superhero) ain’t exactly from the New World himself.

Inuits aren’t Asian. And half of the major cast were, if anything, based on Inuit culture and ethnicity (and voiced by White voice actors, because those were presumably the best people they could find for the job).

“Mainly in the later case, Sam Worthington is typically cast is “American” roles (like, oh, a Space marine). Plus, that dude playing Batman (an American superhero) ain’t exactly from the New World himself.”

I think there is a big difference between the American-ness of a character like Captain America or Superman vs. Batman or Spider-Man. There is even some outrage that the Captain America movie is being filmed in England [even though the Captain America character operated mainly in the European Theater in his original 40s comic books]. If a non-American actor was cast as Captain America, I think there would have been some uproar.

Ditto with the British nature of Harry Potter. The British press and fans [along with JK Rowling] were outraged at the thought of an American being cast as Harry Potter when the movie was first being planned.

“Inuits aren’t Asian.” But Inuit are definitely not Caucasian or European. I think the Inuit have more in common with Asian than Caucasians, especially considering their cultural origins [i.e. crossing the Bering Sea from Asia]. Of course, they might be one of the lost tribes of Israel.

DetectiveDupin

May 26, 2010 at 1:02 pm

What’s really galling is that all the “heroic” characters are being played by whites but the villains are all dark skinned.

“There is even some outrage that the Captain America movie is being filmed in England [even though the Captain America character operated mainly in the European Theater in his original 40s comic books].”

This is the first time I’ve heard of it. What’s the British take on Russel Crowe playing an English Robin Hood, despite being from Australia?

I’m just saying that I think in the US it’s more or less generally accepted that great actors can be found out from all over the world, so we won’t get mad if they’re not from the States. So a British guy and an Australian woman can play Southerners in the American Civil War and not get bent out of shape over it. If there would be outrage over Sam Worthington playing Cap, rest assured that it would be because he’s Sam Worthington, not because he’s Australian.

“But Inuit are definitely not Caucasian or European. I think the Inuit have more in common with Asian than Caucasians, especially considering their cultural origins”

Definitely a valid point. But despite descending from a some proto-ethicity prior to crossing the Bearing Straight, Inuits are of a different race now. And as such, the idea of casting Asian actors to play Sokka and Katara should be viewed as being just as wrong as casting White kids to play them. And I don’t see that kind of thinking coming across in the people that are so upset about the “racebending” They are upset that a non-Asian actor is playing Ang, but they would be completely fine with the idea of Asian actors playing the roles of his two best friends.

As a “white” person, I am normally quick to discount claims of racism and I initially discounted this issue.

Until looking at the issue from the perspective of the linked webcomic and racebending web sites. There was bias in that it was not distinctly Asian or even coincidentally Asian, there was no attempt to make it Asian beyond stealing the culture and inserting white people. Such things are very similar to blackface or when white musicians stole music from Black artists.

Most insulting of all is the hubris with which Hollywood producers decide what “America” is ready for. Some MBA d–che-bag decided with his business-magic-sense that “we” were not ready for Asian actors in this film. I’d lay the blame at their feet. These executives live in some world where a few years at business school and the luck to work on good movies (before they learned their magical “production” craft), later decide they know what a soccer-mom in Iowa is willing to take her kids to. These guys decided we are racists. So based on the assumption that America is racist, it is Ok to create a movie that co-opts Asian culture and excludes the actual people of that culture. (( BTW: Is their idea to make everything Hispanic once the US population becomes predominately latino?))

I avoided “Bolt” out of respect for Chris Sanders’ firing by that jerk John Lasseter. I want to say I will avoid “Airbender” (but I really want to see this movie). If I go to just the 2d version in protest would that be enough?

..didn’t think so.

I have watched this show for years, and from my understanding it is not only set in Asia… Ang and his friends travel all over the world and meet many different people of different races. It’s a cartoon and obviously they aren’t all going to be Asian or any other race for that matter. they want to make the children tuning in to the show everyday think what they want about the races of the characters. this has nothing to do with racism, maybe they just wanted them to be racially ambiguous so that everyone of every race can make believe that they are the Avatar or can have special powers. Trust me NONE of those people look white though their skin is entirely too dark. They look more like me than anything and I’m half white and half black.

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