The Racebending Controversy Continues

UGO is first to debut documents that further fan flames of debate in casting kerfuffle.

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The Last Airbender
The Last Airbender Credit: Paramount Pictures

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More news from the Racebending front. (Do you remember Racebending? Get your Racebending primer here.) A few months back, we interviewed Michael Le, spokesperson for the grass roots organization known as Racebending.com. The group calls for a boycott of M. Night Shyamalan’s upcoming fantasy/action picture The Last Airbender.

Le explained that the source material of the film, Nickelodeon’s Avatar: The Last Airbender, is so steeped in Asian lore that despite it being a cartoon and set in an imaginary world, that it is offensive to cast Caucasian actors in the lead roles. Racebending.com holds as something of a “smoking gun” that casting calls went out with the coded phrase “Caucasian or any other ethnicity” listed next to the characters’ names. Racebending.com argues that a phrase like that would be likely grounds for a casting agent to only call on Caucasians.

After we ran that article, The Last Airbender’s producer Frank Marshall contacted us, explaining that the strangely added phrase “Caucasian or any other ethnicity” was added by third party casting agents. While Marshall admitted that his group should have had better oversight, he was not responsible for the phrasing. He then included documents that showed the initial memos from his office did not have that wording.

Today, Michael Le contacted me with similar looking documents (see below and click to expand and compare to here and here) dated two months earlier (July 30, 2008 vs September 12, 2008) that do contain the phrase “Caucasian or any other ethnicity” after the first descriptions of Aang, Katara, Sukko and Zuko.

What to make of this? Is this a cover-up?  Was Marshall simply misinformed? Are these new documents for real? Racebending.com says they received these documents from an actor who was a fan of the show and sought out the casting call.

We ask you what you think of all this? Should the producers of The Last Airbender just admit that, financially speaking, they need Caucasian actors in lead roles? Or is this all much ado about nothing?

 

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Qui Liu - Sun. May. 23, 2010 at 10:21:26 AM

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Hollywood still pretty backwards.

Nothing new here. Minorities always have it tough in the entertainment industry. They have to cater to the ignorant masses and look so many apologist that don't care.

Rebecca Hazard - Sat. May. 22, 2010 at 08:36:28 PM

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Jessamyn McCollam said it...

"after a while I realized that *this is not the show.* This is a film *adaptation*, which automatically means changes are going to be made." Exactly right, and I will there July second with an open mind.

Rachel Benson - Sat. May. 22, 2010 at 01:48:28 PM

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I'm going to kill all of you.

I agree deeply with the comment by my friend Jason Bryce down there. If your sour attitudes and pointless and completely wrong accusations and complaints make them change the actors/actresses in the sequels, I will hunt down this Michael Le and kill you with my bow and arrow. Seriously. And Michael Le, I'm guessing that you're Asian, are you not? Is this really about the movie or your hurt pride and Ego. Go fall in a volcano. I also happen to have Mongolian in me, and Cherokee, and Swedish, and Germen, and English, and Italian, and I'm about as bi-racial as this movie. You're saying it's unfair that they didn't cast an ALL Asian cast, but they also didn't cast and ALL Caucasian cast, and you don't see me getting my panties in a bunch. They cast is full of different ethnicities. Why don't you open your eyes and broaden your horizons and stop being such a close minded, egotistical, selfish, ignorant, and RACIST person. Because in the end the movie is coming out, and it'll be great. And while I'm at the midnight premier with popcorn and a slurpee, you'll be where? At home, in front of your computer, all by yourself, judging, judging, and more judging, and then when the reviews come out you'll be sulking, and I can only hope that you'll disappear in an iceberg for 100 years, you and every supporter of your stupid website. It's honestly pathetic.

Susana Rodrigues - Sat. May. 22, 2010 at 11:38:02 AM

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Agin complaining about it?

The Racebenders are stupids! I'm not caring about the cast I'm happy that the story didn't change for what we can see. Racebenders you are all idiots and you are the racists not Mr. Shayamalan! One more thing if the actors do good it is not connected with there races is because they are talented!

Jason Boyce - Sat. May. 22, 2010 at 04:08:04 AM

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What's done is done, get off your soap box and learn to let go.

Look this has been going on for months now and quite frankly it's getting really really annoying. I am a die hard fan of the show, if you asked me any question about the show I would know the answer. I have no actual problem with the casting of this movie. Everyone thinks the show is based off of ONLY asian characters and asian culture but they're wrong. If you look at the Water Tribe in the movie you will realize they may have a a bit of asian heritage but they are mostly derived from Inuit and American Indian type settings and appearances, the Fire Nation is also more of a mix than anything and so are the Air Nomads and Earth Kingdom. M. Night didn't say this has to be an all-white cast, which it isn't!, he picked who did the best at the auditions and based the races of each nation off of those he cast in certain roles. I was upset at first as well when I heard McCartney was cast as Zuko but in the end it all worked out fine when Dev Patel got the role instead. If you look at the nations now they are each different, they try to show that even with the differences they are all the same. The Water Tribe consists of caucasian and Inuit heritage, the Air Nomads were a mixture of all races, and if you look at Noah Ringer you can tell he is mixed caucasian and Asian, the Earth Kingdom consists of Asians and blacks, and the Fire Nation consists of mainly Indian heritage. So overall is this movie really white washed as the racebenders will have you believe? NO! This whole movie has more races in it than in most movies that I've seen, but they're problem is the main characters are ALL white! Hmmmm let's see Katara, yes, Sokka, yes, Aang, he's a mixture, and Zuko, Indian. So are they ALL white? Nope. The change that M. Night has made is to show how different the four nations are and still show how they are all the same, nothing wrong with that in my book. And if the racebenders want to boycott the film what is it going to prove? That they don't like the movie? We all already knew that, and they haven't even seen it, they should be happy that there's even a live adaptation being made of a story that we all love brought onto the big screen to show the world. The movie has been shot, it's coming out July 2, complaining about the casting issue isn't going to change that and if the movie is a success, which I'm pretty darn sure it will be, they'll all look like idiots. Stop trying to rob yourself of a good time at the theater, watch the movie and see how it is, don't watch it and think the cast, the cast, the cast, watch it for the story and the characters that we all fell in love with when the show came out.

Jessamyn McCollam - Fri. May. 21, 2010 at 08:44:00 PM

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Still?

Are we still talking about this? The movie is less than two months away. It's the oldest argument ever. I don't understand why everything has to be about politics these days. I don't understand why political correctness is forced on Hollywood, of all things. I'll admit I wasn't a big fan of the casting at first, talent-wise, but after a while I realized that *this is not the show.* This is a film *adaptation*, which automatically means changes are going to be made. If that includes the characters' (perceived) races, so be it. Not to mention the fact that, if *all* the actors were Asian it would just reinforce the stereotype of "Asian actors can only do martial arts movies." Or, if you want to spin it this way, "Only Asian actors *can* do martial arts movies." Is that really any better? (That brings up the question of what the people at racebending.com define as "Asian" or what "looks" Asian. Because last time I checked, India is most definitely part of Asia, and the series has roots in Indian culture and belief. What I find interesting is how, way back when Zuko was re-cast and we found out Dev Patel would be playing the role, they claimed victory because one of the white actors had been canned, but they still turn around and cry Racism because Zuko, the "villain," has dark skin. Well, which is it? Are they happy about it or not? Or are they just looking to be negative about *everything* because they ultimately didn't get their way and there are still Caucasians in lead roles?) This film will absolutely *not* affect the series in any way (besides probably inspiring new fans, which is a good thing), and no matter what choices were made, good or not, the fans will always have the show to go back to. Personally, after hearing Shyamalan's explanations for how he cast it, and built on the film nations' ethnicities from there (I'll admit it, a Russian-inspired Water Tribe and East Asia/African-inspired Earth Kingdom sounds cool, when I really think about it), I'm less concerned. I believe he's being honest here and will take him at his word. If the actors' performances are wonderful, it won't be because of their race. If they're horrible, same deal. At this point, I am looking forward to seeing a fun summer movie, that also happens to be based on my favorite animated TV series. Story and characters are far more important to me than what race an actor is, and the more I read what the folks at racebending.com write, the more it sounds like "reverse" racism to me. I do see their broader point--yes, Hollywood is dominated by Caucasian actors. It always has been. It's like they were surprised when the cast was revealed or something. That said, "Caucasian or any other ethnicity" is terrible word choice. *Terrible* word choice. But I don't see any conspiracy there. And honestly, Frank Marshall already apologized for this (in about as sincere a way as Hollywood bigshots can). At this point I'm wondering what the boycotters think they can change--I mean, yes, it is absolutely their choice to boycott the film, but what do they think it will actually accomplish, with the movie less than two months away?

Anthony Ambrosio - Fri. May. 21, 2010 at 05:15:22 PM

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This is such a stupid controversy. These protesters will ruin the sequels.

All of the voice actors for these roles on the Nick cartoon were white. How can you be a fan of the TV show even though it cast all white people, but not the movie? The producers have said that the Earth nation and most likely Toph in the sequel will be Asian or Black. The fact of the matter is that if a studio is going to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on a movie they can't cast Asian actors as the lead since not enough people will go to see it if all of the actors are Asian. Are there any other $100M+ movies coming out this year where the cast is all Asian? No. So by protesting the white cast (which in my opinion is itself racist) you are basically saying that you did not want them to make this movie at all or you wanted a very low budget version that would have flopped featuring Asian actors. You can't have it both ways. Either the movie gets made in a way that does not alienate most Americans and Europeans or it gets made in a way that primarily appeals to Asians and completely flops at the box office regardless of quality. The movie studio can't come out and say this since it's not politically correct, but I can as a fan of the show. I want to see this movie get made with a $100M budget. I want them to cast the best actors regardless of race, but I also don't want to see the movie fail at the box office. I don't think the race of the cast significantly takes away from the quality of the Last Airbender story. The races were never expressed in the cartoon anyway. The story doesn't even take place on this planet. The whole discussion of race is idiotic. This pressure will only cause the studios to make politically correct casting choices for the sequels which will result in a worse movie. Instead of casting the best actors they can find they will try to placate an angry mob of protesters who should not be telling the studios or the director how to do their job.

Eric Sun - Sun. May. 23, 2010 at 07:15:36 AM

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Okay Dude, I'm Asian, I hate this Michael Le, guy, yet you're still dumb.

The fact that a movie is projected to flop due to Asian leads is in itself due to racism, okay? So, for sympathizing with the studios for a) playing to racists and b) assuming that the country is filled with them who will turn away from a movie just because it has an Asian lead that MAKES SENSE in the role, you are no longer allowed to cry 'racism!' And also, the studios don't 'have no choice' in the matter when they cast leads of certain races (for any movie, not just this one), they have a choice between what's ethical, the familiarization of America with people of other races, whom they'll come to see are really not that different from themselves, and what's profitable, which is upholding the status quo. Sure, if the movie 21 was made with an Asian cast no doubt less people would see it, but do we ask ourselves why? Is it justifiable at all?? And can't we gradually move out of that by producing more films with minorities in leads, the way Hollywood has started doing with African-Americans? Plus, would people REALLY turn away from The Last Airbender because the kid's Asian? Being hairless, he already looks like he doesn't have a race, plus the lead girl, whatever her name is, just looks plain awkward in her garb and hairstyle while sporting blue eyes. I don't think anyone would care because they'd go just to see special effects anyway. And, what do you mean when you say that casting an Asian person or a Black person will guarantee a film 'ruined?' Maybe plenty of minority actors have wonderful acting chops and ARE the best for the job, but don't get screen time because Hollywood fears that audiences aren't used to seeing people of a certain color (a self-fulfilling prophecy if you ask me, the more whites in leading roles, the stronger the status quo). In crying 'racism' you've revealed yourself to hold some prejudices of your own. Why don't you admit that you have no coherent argument? I think Michael Le is stupid in implementing a boycott because he will draw only more anti-Asian sentiment for appearing whiny, and I think that a movie based on a Nickelodeon cartoon is the wrong movie to make an example out of about Asians being snubbed. Now, the Ghegis Khan movie starring Mickey Rourke, that's another story... But Le has a point, that this race-based snubbing of casts reveals a flaw in American culture for which something must be done. Whatever the first reactions they've inspired among those viewing the trailers, non-Asian Americans have loved and identified with Harold, Kumar, Aziz Ansari and Jamal (from Slumdog) enough times for them know that Asian leads can also grab their sympathies and attention.

Eric Sun - Sun. May. 23, 2010 at 07:15:39 AM

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Okay Dude, I'm Asian, I hate this Michael Le, guy, yet you're still dumb.

The fact that a movie is projected to flop due to Asian leads is in itself due to racism, okay? So, for sympathizing with the studios for a) playing to racists and b) assuming that the country is filled with them who will turn away from a movie just because it has an Asian lead that MAKES SENSE in the role, you are no longer allowed to cry 'racism!' And also, the studios don't 'have no choice' in the matter when they cast leads of certain races (for any movie, not just this one), they have a choice between what's ethical, the familiarization of America with people of other races, whom they'll come to see are really not that different from themselves, and what's profitable, which is upholding the status quo. Sure, if the movie 21 was made with an Asian cast no doubt less people would see it, but do we ask ourselves why? Is it justifiable at all?? And can't we gradually move out of that by producing more films with minorities in leads, the way Hollywood has started doing with African-Americans? Plus, would people REALLY turn away from The Last Airbender because the kid's Asian? Being hairless, he already looks like he doesn't have a race, plus the lead girl, whatever her name is, just looks plain awkward in her garb and hairstyle while sporting blue eyes. I don't think anyone would care because they'd go just to see special effects anyway. And, what do you mean when you say that casting an Asian person or a Black person will guarantee a film 'ruined?' Maybe plenty of minority actors have wonderful acting chops and ARE the best for the job, but don't get screen time because Hollywood fears that audiences aren't used to seeing people of a certain color (a self-fulfilling prophecy if you ask me, the more whites in leading roles, the stronger the status quo). In crying 'racism' you've revealed yourself to hold some prejudices of your own. Why don't you admit that you have no coherent argument? I think Michael Le is stupid in implementing a boycott because he will draw only more anti-Asian sentiment for appearing whiny, and I think that a movie based on a Nickelodeon cartoon is the wrong movie to make an example out of about Asians being snubbed. Now, the Ghegis Khan movie starring Mickey Rourke, that's another story... But Le has a point, that this race-based snubbing of casts reveals a flaw in American culture for which something must be done. Whatever the first reactions they've inspired among those viewing the trailers, non-Asian Americans have loved and identified with Harold, Kumar, Aziz Ansari and Jamal (from Slumdog) enough times for them know that Asian leads can also grab their sympathies and attention.