Aang is White? Really? Weird.

A recent posting brought up something close to my heart – Cartoons. Evidently, the movie version of Avatar: The Last Airbender will feature a somewhat paler complexioned Aang as well as most of the cast (except for the baddies). I was sort of floored by this. I remember hearing that they were planning a live action movie but I really assumed that it would be a mostly Asian cast. I don’t really recall any white characters except maybe Earth Kingdom but I could be wrong. As stated recently:

Avatar has been hugely popular among kids of all races. There was no backlash against an all-Asian show. Much as those who watch anime don’t freak out at the paucity of white characters. Yet, somehow the Hollywood producers think the live action version has to be white washed. Except for the villains, of course, it’s okay for them to be brown. I think they’re wrong.

This assessment is correct. Usually, according to Hollywood, only side-kicks, partners and villains can be minorities. Rarely do you find otherwise (there are obviously movies that go against this but I am sure if we did a quick survey of summer blockbusters we will come up with close to 0).

I like Avatar. It has served as a segue into Asian culture for most of the children I worked with (Librarian and Tutor at Youth and Family Services and now Outreach at a public library). Many can not stop talking about Aang and it was an easy transition into learning about Shinto, Taoism and Buddhism. It was great and this was from an area that has almost no Asian population so this may be the only real engaging introduction into a culture they would probably never have exposure to…at least until adulthood and by then, well, we are not anywhere near as receptive.

Looking at the possible cast (I hope it isn’t definite) here, I almost spit my Schlitz out on my keyboard. A picture is worth a whole heckofa lotta words and Those casting suggestions speak volumes.

I don’t know why Hollywood would think that the public is unable to deal with minority central characters. I was psyched for “The Last Samurai” and am still confused why that movie had to have Tom Cruise in it, he really didn’t add to the flick all that much and there was such a deeper story to be told without him. It should have been a much better movie.

Schindler’s List is another example of this…although maybe less obvious. The Jewish workers were show as helpless and perhaps the whitest actor I can think of, Liam Neeson, was made out as the hero. I am sure that there were shitloads of Jewish people that fucking stepped up during WWII but we don’t hear about them.

It seems more insidious though to actually change the ethnicity of a character for marketing purposes. And don’t fool yourself, this decision was made purely at a Marketing meeting when it was determined through focus groups that audiences were more receptive to a white Aang (and entire cast from the website) than an Asian one.

Avatar opened the doors to a unfamiliar culture for many young kids (especially out here in East Bumblefuck). I saw kids react to it. I know. Now the movie is just going to reaffirm the stereotype, the generalization, that when it comes to heroics…look towards a white leading actor and a minority supporting cast.

One personal note, my father opened me up to the classic, iconic western with “The Magnificent Seven”. Imagine my surprise when he told me that it was actually the classic, iconic samurai flick “The Seven Samurai” then I got to experience Kurosawa and Toshiro Mifune.
It looks like this is a losing battle, unfortunately, but take some solace in the fact that M. Night Shyamalan is directing so there is a good chance that it will suck either way.
For more info look to the racebending website. They sum it up pretty well.



2 thoughts on “Aang is White? Really? Weird.

  1. I enjoyed the contrast you drew here and the clarity with which you examined the influence of media i.e. Hollywood, on popular culture. I agree with the point/s you raised, but the crux of the problem appears to be manipulation of "The Market" for the benefit of few. How can this be tackled? Communism made an effort to rectify this but failed. our Capitalist ideologies are far from fair but for the time being this is the way it is. There is of course hope that a common Idealogy/religion like Buddhism can be effective. All that can be done is to try and raise awareness, as you are doing with your posts.

    Additionally, to end this response on a positive note, There are some very interesting film makers out there who are not white; people like Khandro Rinpoche (A Rinpoche who directs movies; see 'Milarepa', his latest) or the Korean director Kim Ki-duk with his superb movie called: Spring Summer Fall Winter and Spring, Or the Iranian Director Kiarostami with 'A taste of Cherry' and many more. However, I am a big fan of Korusawa myself and especially when Mifune is involved too, there is pure magic!

  2. Correction: It is 'Neten Chokling Rinpoche' who made the recent 'Milarepa' movie and not Khandro Rinpoche.


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