M. Night Shyamalan says ‘Airbender’ rises above race issues: ‘That’s what’s so beautiful about anime’

March 31, 2010 | 2:34 p.m.

M. Night Shyamalan

M. Night Shyamalan has a massive plan in mind for “The Last Airbender” — a patient film trilogy that presents a fantasy epic and also grows progressively darker as its young characters (and actors) mature in front of moviegoers.

That brings to mind both “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy and the “Harry Potter” franchise, and, as you might imagine, that has stirred excitement among executives at Paramount Pictures who would love to have a magical franchise that pulls in billions of dollars at the box office. But because the stakes are so high, there has also been considerable behind-the-scenes hand-wringing because of a nasty fan backlash on a touchy subject — race and casting.

Check the venting and venom we heard in more than 100 comments that followed an “Airbender” post in January. Here’s how one reader summed it up: “I am one of the many who is seriously disappointed that characters who are non-white have been cast with white actors. Only the villain is allowed to be played by a person of color. I expected better of Mr. Shyamalan.”

Shyamalan has responded to the threat of revolt. In a breakfast meeting with a circle of journalists and bloggers, the director said he has always cast his films with an open spirit, and that anime, such as the source material for “Airbender,” is about blurring the race boundaries of the real world and embracing something more uplifting.

Here, for instance, is how he was quoted by Meredith Woerner at io9.com in a lengthy post that goes deep into topic of the planned mythology and clearly reveals the filmmaker’s passion for the property:

“Here’s the thing. The great thing about anime is that it’s ambiguous. The features of the characters are an intentional mix of all features. It’s intended to be ambiguous. That is completely its point. So when we watch Katara, my oldest daughter is literally a photo double of Katara in the cartoon. So that means that Katara is Indian, correct? No, that’s just in our house. And her friends who watch it, they see themselves in it. And that’s what’s so beautiful about anime.”

Katara on the dock

He also says:

When I was doing “Sixth Sense,” if you literally read the script he [Cole Sear] has dark hair, black eyes. I always pictured the kid from “Searching For Bobby Fisher” as the lead for “Sixth Sense.” And I said, “We are not hiring any blond L.A. kids, OK? Don’t even bring them in.” Then Haley [Joel Osment] came in and I said, “You’ve got the part.” How can you not have him play this part?

That’s always been my lean. I have hopes of what I want them to be, my hope was that the movie would be incredibly diverse. That when we look back on all three movies, that it is one of the most diverse movies of all times. And that is the case when you watch the movies. And it’s not an agenda, like when you see a picture of a kid’s school and they have everybody on the swings. It’s not like that.

There’s a lot more in Woerner’s piece, and “Airbender” fans (whether they be optimistic or angry at this point) should check it out. Again, you can find it here.

We’ll have a lot more on this film (and, I suspect, this topic) 

— Geoff Boucher


The Last Airbender poster

Shyamalan should be careful. Remember “Dragonball Z”?

VIDEO: Watch the “Last Airbender” trailer

Shyamalan had a sense that “Airbender” would make a “killer movie”

Shyamalan found liberation in box-office failure

Shyamalan make take another whack at “Unbreakable”

New “Karate Kid” slammed by original writer

 Black Pegasus? “Clash” has horse of a different color 

“Clash” leads the way in Hollywood’s 1980s revival

“The Losers” are on a Hollywood mission

Jon Favreau on the secret weapon in “Iron Man 2”

Upper photo: M. Night Shyamalan. Credit: Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times

Lower photo: A scene from “Avatar: The Last Airbender.” Credit: Nickelodeon


41 Responses to M. Night Shyamalan says ‘Airbender’ rises above race issues: ‘That’s what’s so beautiful about anime’

  1. Jei Caldwell says:

    uh sure, what he said might be nice, but i'm pretty sure it's been said before and he hasn't really addressed the issue. From what i read he's saying he has ideas in his head about what the actor should look like but if someone comes in who doesn't fit that image and plays the part well, then they get it. but as the casting calls specifically asked for caucasian actors, the part is not going to be given to the best actor, it's going to the best white actor. and it doesn't matter what his pr rep told him, none of the main characters are "racially ambiguous" enough to be played by the people that were cast

  2. Disagree Completely says:

    I think that what everyone finds so galling about your version of the movie is the fact that the main characters of this series were so obviously not white. True, the main characters are more racially ambiguous than the side characters and the universe. However, you can spout all the crap you want about being post-racial and transcending race, but the truth of the matter is that I doubt that your daughter can identify with Mae Whitman as much as she can identify with Kitara in the cartoon.
    I'm sorry, M. Night Shyamalan but you are wrong to say that the the characters of the Last Airbender are "ambiguous." This may be true of some animes and cartoons, but it is not true of this one, which is so clearly placed in an East Asian universe.
    When I watched the trailer with Socca and his sister standing in front of their tribe, all I could see was a pair of white kids slumming it. While everyone else looked ethnically correct, they stood out like two sore thumbs.
    What is so disappointing about this entire movie is that it looks so good. Still, I will not be supporting this movie with my money, and if I watch it, you can definitely bet that it won't be in theaters.

  3. Kevin Mapp says:

    "Here's the thing. The great thing about anime is that it's ambiguous. The features of the characters are an intentional mix of all features. It's intended to be ambiguous…"
    This is simply not true for all anime. It may be the case with some (the ones that find their way to American airwaves), but not the majority of anime that is produced in Japan. And let's be clear on that. "The Last Airbender " is not anime, so let's stop using this excuse to justify what has been done with the film version of this cartoon.
    If transcending race was what he was going for and if race truly didn't matter, then it would have been perfectly fine to cast asians in the lead roles of this film. Shyamalan's point is just completely ridiculous.

  4. sbmtrl says:

    Responding to racism is not venom, and its not venting, it is progressive and truthful. Being criticized may not feel great, but it doesn't make it wrong. Silencing talk about racism only reinforces white supremacy, and that is what is being asked here. Just stay quiet and enjoy the movie. Why is racism a "touchy subject?" How is voicing objections to white people playing non-white roles, erasing ethnicity and culture because its "anime," For Meredith Woerner to insist that a in world of fantasy and fiction ethnicity, culture and race must be erased, what is really being said? Its too impossible for the producers to imagine a world where POC author and play roles of POC? Too fantastical?

  5. Sarah E says:

    Here's the thing, though. If anime is ambiguous, MN Shyamalan's explanation would have made much more sense if a) the casting call for the lead didn't say 'Caucasian… or others.' It should have read all ethnicities are welcome. And b) if the 'or others' clause of that casting call actually made an appearance in the outcome of this film. Casting all the protagonists white doesn't make sense if race is so ambiguous according to anime. Why aren't Sokka and Katara Indian, Aang Caucasian, Toph black and so on? But I don't see any ambiguity here; I just see white people. And there would be nothing wrong with that by itself, but given that the original story is so heavily steeped in Asian cultures…?
    This is kind of a side-step to the issue. Call it what it is. If you're going to tout diversity and ambiguity, then actually reflect that in the casting. And not in the decorative background casting, but in the leads; the people who actually get toys made of them and little kids wanting the dress up as them for Halloween.
    Film studios, I don't think you're giving people enough credit here. If you cast non-white leads a film, it doesn't mean automatic fail. Especially when, according to M Night, this is post racial. Especially not when you're making a film that already has a built-in fanbase. My 11-year-old sister saw clearly that Avatar is set in an Asian-inspired fantasy. And… being non-Asian, she still loves it!
    Anyway, race aside, this movie looks so serious and grim! Why is everything grey and blue cast? Avatar, despite the 'save the world from evil conquerors' plot, is a light-hearted kids' show. Lighten it up.

  6. art says:

    I'm willing to be open minded and give Night the benefit of the doubt. If he says he cast the best person he found for a role then cast the rest of the nation around that person then I'm willing to believe him. He mentioned he had the hardest time casting the Fire Nation. He found Dev Patel and loved him and offered him the role of Zuko. Then he cast the rest of the Fire Nation to be like Patel, which is the same he did with Nicola and the same with Noah. Noah looked somewhat mixed to him so he cast the entire Air Nomad nation as mixed.
    Some people, at least to me, would rather have this movie suck with an all Asian cast then rock with a partially Asian cast. It's an Asian inspired world that is not our own which means that while everyone in this world may not be Asian, the white people in the world are influenced by Asian culture. Katara may be white, but she's a white person who reads and writes an Asian inspired language, studies martial arts (just like every other person on the planet) and her mindsets and decisions of her people (who are also white) derive from her culture's philosophy which is influenced by Asian culture.
    You guys should REALLY listen to the audio clips from the round table hosted at http://avatarthelastairbenderonline.com/. This movie is shaping up to be so much more then the controversy surrounding the casting of 3 of the cast members.
    Of course if your mind is already made up, then your mind is already made up and nothing anyone says will convince you of anything than what you want to believe. You should also realize that this rebellion like all things internet based may not amount to much in the "real world" when the movie comes out. Ron Paul had the entire internet around him as well when he was running for president and it got him nothing.

  7. Daniel says:

    This is mostly an Asian-American issue. If anyone is aware, the members of this demographic group haven't had much of a balanced relationship with mainstream media, whether it's casting, portrayal of images and other conditions.
    In Asia, a lot of people don't really think much as many have not been in similar situations with their media outlets, relatively speaking about representation not just politics as gets widely mentioned here. In fact, quite a lot of people are proud of the fact that others around the world have a great interest in their culture. There was a Finnish Martial Arts movie not too long ago that had light Caucasian, very Scandinavian features, with a heavy Asian theme, it was decent.
    However, I think Hollywood in general hasn't been quite decent in their relationships with many demographic groups, not just Asian Americans. So, it wouldn't be much of a surprise for them to get gripes in general. As for me, I'll keep an open mind, as long as the studios don't make the film bad or become too arrogant, then we'll see.

  8. Marissa says:

    "Some people, at least to me, would rather have this movie suck with an all Asian cast then rock with a partially Asian cast."
    Statements like these are so offensive because they imply that Asian American and Inuit American actors wouldn't have been able to portray these Asian and Inuit characters as well as the white actors they cast.
    A racial bias against actors of color has been repeatedly established by researchers and the Screen Actors Guild. Describing outcry against these discriminative practices as a "nasty fan backlash on a touchy subject " only minimizes the situation. I understand that the LA Times editorializes on Hero Complex but I think it would be helpful for readers to get the other side of the story, too.
    Fans responded to this interview yesterday with a letter to Paramount President Adam Goodman explaining why they are upset and requesting a meeting to discuss systemic discrimination in Hollywood in depth.

  9. Ockham's shavin says:

    racially ambiguous ≠ caucasian by default

  10. Mazuzu says:

    Making a profitable movie is becoming harder and harder these days… Paramount and Manosh should just be honest and tell it like is… the casting of the movie and pretty much all creative decisions were made to produce the most marketable movie…
    Just stop with the BS and spin… people are not stupid… we can see thru it all…
    It's better to just admit it and move on…
    Does it suck for diversity? Is it a enormous wasted opportunity? YES
    Am I going to see this movie? NO… it is obviously not marketed to Asian Americans and true Last Airbender fans

  11. E C says:

    So… as a young black girl, growing up on a steady diet of fluffy Disney animated features, I identified strongly with Belle from Beauty and the Beast. So did my Asian and white friends. Does this mean that Belle was racially ambiguous, or does it mean that as nerdy bookworms who people tended to think were weird, we identified with the lone Disney "princess" who shared this trait?
    Maybe M Night's daughter identified with Katara's personality, and the fact that she was Asian AND not a stereotype of Asian girls (meek, submissive, forced into arranged marriage) was just icing on the cake.
    Something to think about, when trying to defend how the fact that kids of different ethnicities can identify with the same character somehow makes said characters ambiguous racially. Give me a break.

  12. drk says:

    Really? Ambiguous?
    Watch this this YouTube vid (

    and then tell us how it is intended to be ambiguous.
    I'm not an expert on East Asian culture but I see Chinese, Japanese, Inuit and Korean cultures being represented there. And despite this three of the four main characters are played by white actors. Oh, and the fourth character played by a non white actor? Is a villain. Excellent message that's being sent there.
    Casting more culturally and racially appropriate actors as supporting characters does not make the film diverse. It only points towards the whiteness of the leads.
    And, hey. By the way, I'm not venting and this is not venom. I'm just expressing my disappointment and what I see as faulty logic in, what I hope, a coherent and polite manner. As they say, I'm just calling it as I see it.

  13. Sean Long says:

    I really, _really_ wanted to see this. But I won't, not in the theaters. If just one of the actors was white where the character hadn't been, and that was the _only_ example of white-washing the story … that would have been easily excusable. But ALL the protagonists? And the tattoo on Aang's back in the movie … it's a bloody _crucifix_. That, right there, that one detail, was the proverbial straw that broke the proverbial camels back. Therefor, I have resolved not to see this in theaters. I cannot and will not condone such a mistreatment of the story, nor such a debasement of the wonderful cultural diversity in the original material … and especially, I will not supply anyoen with a _financial reward_ for having done so. I shall, in fact, be that much more reluctant to view _future_ films attached to Mr. Shyamalan's name, through or in any venue that provides fiscal renumeration in any amount. Social justice starts with the individual – and if the only voice Hollywood will listen to is money, then _my_ money shall say nothing but: "This is not acceptable; I shall offer it neither reward nor acclaim … only the silence of repudiation."

  14. James Lew says:

    Why does a movie adaptation about minorities have to become a martyrdom for "diversity" when Caucasians take center stage in movies about European culture? Anime or not, the ethnicity of these characters were as clear as day. Their identities were a very important aspect and it reflects in their actions, rituals, and demeanor. The people are becoming more away of discriminatory casting practices such as this within the mainstream media. Look out! The public is growing a backbone and a conscience = Loss of profits.

  15. Hal Duncan says:

    Shyamalan does a lot better at justifying the casting in that article than has been done previously, but I don’t think he gets the fact — and many don’t — that this isn’t just about diversity in some “PC agenda” way. It’s not just about how much more equitable it would be if the range of ethnicities in film and TV reflected reality more faithfully. It’s not about tokens and quotas that would make things nicer. It’s about segregation.
    Magic Black Guys, Wise Oriental Mentors, Gay Best Friends — these are characters that sit at the back of the bus, second class citizens of cinema who exist to serve the white, straight (and so on) heroes and heroines. They’re not allowed to sit up-front, to be protagonists in those big mainstream movies. If they’re allowed into the des res neighbourhoods of fiction, (the most popular genres like romantic comedy, action/adventure blockbuster,) it’s only to fulfill their roles as maids and chauffeurs, so to speak, and they’re expected to return, at the end of the day, to their ghettos. See the current case of “Falling for Grace” for a movie rejected as unsellable as a rom-com because of its Asian lead. That’s segregation applied to characters. Whites here, Asians there.
    But it applies to the audience too. A movie is like a water fountain that we drink from. It refreshes us, replenishes the soul. We thirst for stories that speak to us, and being able to see reflections of ourselves on screen, and as protagonists rather than stock supporting characters, is a huge part of quenching that thirst. But that segregation of characters means some of us can really only get that experience if we go to the water fountains set aside for us, in our own little ghettos.
    If you look at it in those terms, I think it’s way more important than simple diversity. It’s about integration.
    I can turn to gay cinema for a gay protagonist but when I go into the centre of town all the water fountains are for the straights. There’s the occasional exception of a terribly worthy serious film like Brokeback Mountain, but when it comes to the popular genres at the heart of Hollywood? I’m turned away from the water fountains, directed back towards the ghetto. I did a Google on “gay kid” and “high school movie” expecting to find reviews & IMDB pages for movies that had slipped my notice, got my own blog entry on The Curiosity of Chance (an indie flick, needless to say,) as top hit. Seriously.
    The original cartoon Avatar: The Last Airbender was a wonderful step in the right direction — every single character clearly of Asian ethnicity, from the protagonist down, and this done simply because… well, why not? That’s integration. The Asian characters of the cartoon sit right at the front of the bus simply because that’s their right. Shyamalan himself points to the effect that had on his own daughter, to see her own reflection on-screen as one of the core characters. And for Hollywood to make a major movie adaptation of that — if the cast had reflected the original characters this would have been a water fountain at the heart of town that said loud and clear: Asians welcome. The fact that the cartoon was so openly integrationist only makes the actual casting of the movie a loud and clear message of the segregationist status quo: WHITES ONLY.
    We’re not asking for quotas of water-fountains set aside for us in town, just that we’re not always pointed back to the ghettos. We’re not asking for a set proportion of seats at the front of the bus, just that we’re not actively excluded from sitting there. We’re looking for integration.

  16. Yurtle says:

    This isn’t even an anime.
    Say it with me now: This. Isn’t. An. Anime.
    A:TLA was animated in the states and in South Korea- Japanese animation is known as anime, which this is not. But let’s look at Anime being ambiguous. It isn’t. Anime characters often have big eyes because big eyes show emotion better. And not every asian has ‘squinty’ or ‘slanted’ eyes. Asia is not one country. It is not one ethnicity- not even in just Japan. Japanese anime doesn’t need to exaggerate the features of their ‘asianess’ because they’re IN asia, and IN Japan. It’s assumed that the characters look like they do, even if they’ve got blonde/pink/purple hair. Of course it’s not ‘open’ at all; even the non-exaggerated profiles and features of an anime character look more like an average japanese person than any caucasian I’ve ever met.
    But about A:tla. So the ancient chinese calligraphy doesn’t make them Chinese? The inuit hairstyles, clothing, weapons, and designs don’t make them based off inuit culture? What about the tibetan robes, the korean hanboks, the chinese archectiture, the chinese music, the indonesean/Iban sun warrior temples/pyramids, the Chinese names, the chinese opera mask as seen in “The Blue Spirit”, the east asian art in the backgrounds as “background paintings”, the hair ques that symbolize ranking in china, the hindu/tibetan/buddhist/chinese philosophies and moral structures based on the elemental balance of the world, and determining “right” and “wrong”, the vietnamese culture of the foggy swamp, the martial arts of China, NONE of that counts or is ‘open’ to interpretation because some of the characters are “pale”? (Not even Katara or Sokka, who are very much Not White.)
    How is any of this ambiguous? Does the Avatar world have to have a disclaimer before each episode screaming “WARNING. WHAT YOU ARE ABOUT TO WATCH IS A SHOW ABOUT A FANTASY WORLD BASED OFF OF EAST ASIA, WITH LOTS OF ASIAN DIVERSITY. THERE ARE NO WHITE PEOPLE IN AVATAR. THANK YOU.” ? Are we really supposed to pretend that two white children playing two brown heroes is supposed to be okay because “The show was ambigous” and all the extras are actually Inuit/Chinese/Korean/Japanese/etc?
    I think M.Night fails to get the point because he is attributing heritage and culture with automatic “undiverse” ways. But as long as he has white actors playing asiatic characters, he’s going to have a problem with the original Avatar fans. Because he lied to us. He lied and said he was going to hire unknowns. He did not- he hired from the Twilight series. He said he understood how great his daughter felt seeing a character that looks like her on TV. He did not understand this, if he felt it necessary to make a character that looked like his own daughter, white. He said he “got” the series and its inspirations, and the places and people it was modeled after. He did not, apparently. He lied.
    Apparently, M. Night also subscribes to a weird definition of irony- “From the looks of the first trailers, the only characters of color are baddies.
    “It’s called irony,” Night said of the controversy in a follow-up phone call exclusive to UGO.”
    Is this irony related to Rush Limbaugh’s ‘satire’ when he calls people r*tards?
    I for one, would like to know.

  17. art says:

    "Statements like these are so offensive because they imply that Asian American and Inuit American actors wouldn't have been able to portray these Asian and Inuit characters as well as the white actors they cast."
    No, not at all. What I'm saying is I believe the guy when he said that he cast the best people he found for the job.
    If the BEST person he finds for Katara happens to be white and the second best person he finds happens to be Asian I'm not going to scream bloody murder if he casts the white person. I'd rather he cast the film with the best actors he could find regardless of race. Personally I'm getting annoyed at this point by all the complaining. This cast, despite what everyone says, is a very diverse cast. IMDB.com shows that.
    People are simply ignoring that because 2 of the cast members are white when they should have been "something else" and so they zero in on that one aspect and develop tunnel vision and rant on it endlessly ignoring anything else.
    It was a tricky situation for him (again I'm giving him the benefit of the doubt). For instance he said he found a perfect guy for Aang except the guy was 5'10'' and he considered an Asian actor for Zuko. . . he just liked Dev Patel better. Besides I don't think it does much for the fans "holy war of fighting injustice" if the Indian and Middle Eastern actors all say they had a blast filming the movie and probably don't feel they were discriminated against.
    He say's he choose the best person for the role then cast the nation around that role and I'm willing to believe him. He's already stated that Toph will be Asian because he's cast the Earth Kingdom as Asian and African (and the Earth kingdom will dominate the second movie like the Water tribes dominates this one).
    About the ONLY thing I'll even remotely believe is a "conspiracy" is the casting of Rathbone as Sokka. As was said, Paramount wants to make their money back and casting a Twilight teen-age heartthrob in their minds will help them put more tween fans in the seats.

  18. Nicki says:

    Oh, this is just ridiculous.
    It’s been said by someone other than myself, but I’ll ask it here: Why does adapting something for a larger audience mean CHANGING what so appeals to its original fanbase, instead of just ENHANCING and/or EXPLAINING what is so wonderful about it TO that larger audience? You’ve already told us you’re taking away the comedy, you TOOK AWAY our cabbage merchant, you wanted to get rid of Momo–do you even understand why this series was so wonderful? Or did you get annoyed that the “kid stuff” parts, and only focus on the angsty bits that were “Shakespearean” enough for you?
    Speaking as a fan who respects diversity, the fact that Katara and Sokka (who will be having their names butchered in the movie, I’ve heard–guess what ladies, Sokka will no longer have an “okka,”) were distinctly different from the usual demographic of young white children was a tremendous asset to the show. You say you went by acting ability alone to cast main characters, but then that actor’s race defined the whole nation? Ignoring the fact that that IS casting by race, then why in the shot of the South Pole are there two incongruous white kids surrounded by Inuit-looking people?
    I really wanted to keep an open mind about this. But all the things taken away adds up to be too much. And perhaps I would still be optimistic IF I had actually heard ANY word that the actors who play Sokka and Katara were any good–but out of three early reviews none were favorable, and two were terrible:
    I think it’s about the look of the character–if it’s close and the actor is good, then it will work. But Shyamalan apparently has chosen actors that fall into neither these categories if earlier reviews of the film are to be considered. I understand aspects of a story will have to change when converting to a new medium, but this is just too warped. Good luck selling a second film, because you’ve alienated the original fanbase and presenting something too garbled for anyone without knowledge of the series to care about.
    Am I venting? Perhaps a little. Though if he had just stated he just cast who he thought was the ABSOLUTE best for the character without spilling into that “race doesn’t really matter because it’s all ambiguous” crap, maybe I’d be less angry. It just upsets me when a franchise I enjoy gets butchered into something unrecognizable because someone else thinks they understand it better than the rest of us, and that it needs to be changed to better match their understanding. I’m just unreasonable like that.

  19. JenS says:

    Considering that the entire show used Chinese calligraphy, the bending uses real kung fu styles, traditional Chinese/Korean/Inuit architecture and clothing, names and music, I don’t see what was ambiguous about it. The creators themselves have outright stated that these things were their inspiration.
    There is no way to compare this to “Harry Potter” or “X-Men” or any of those movies because those films didn’t replace their entire cast with a different race. In this film, they took a show that specifically didn’t have white leads and totally disregarded that. They didn’t bother to try to find actors of Asian or Native background at all. They called for “Caucasians and other ethnicities” which casting agents know is code for “we want white actors.” They often wont refer actors of colour when they see that.
    M Night and Paramount could have contacted acting groups like The East West Players or the numerous Native American/First Nation groups if they wanted to, but they didn’t, even though the original cartoon did for much of the voice talent. Heck, Paramount had Brandon SooHoo who is the right age for Aang, has acting experience, the martial arts skills and he was never contacted to try for the part.
    When they cast for “Lord of the Rings” or “Harry Potter” or “Iron Man” or “Star Trek,” they didn’t look for the best actor. They looked for the best *white* actors, because the setting was either a European based fantasy or stories where the characters were established as white.
    So why is it when we have an Asian based setting with characters who are established as non white, they still hire white leads and then crow diversity when they hire a bunch of minority actors for the background crowd fillers or villains?
    Can any one here honestly say they’d pass on it if they had cast Asian or Native Americans? The status quo wont change unless the studio system backs young minority talent like they do with young white talent. The money excuse is just a bad rationalization. Hong Kong and Bollywood actors are some of the most widely recognized and profitable the world over, so why is America, the melting pot, so behind?
    We have the remake of the “Karate Kid” coming out soon with no white leads and the studio seems to be fine with it. I just see this film as a horrible waste of an opportunity and just turning into a generic vanity project.

  20. Ann Johnson says:

    I loved the cartoon and what I loved was the message for kids. It didn't matter to me who played in the roles, what matters much more as a parent is the message. I am hopeful that Night will bring that message to the table. I think at this point if you feel the casting was done poorly, nothing will convince you otherwise. I think you do have a choice if you see the movie, like I do and I can't wait!

  21. Marissa says:

    "I believe the guy when he said that he cast the best people he found for the job."
    Except when M. Night says he cast the best actors he found for Katara and Sokka, he is also implicitly saying that the best actors to depict people of color are white.
    Florence Ringo wrote a great response to this article on her blog:
    "Whether or not the one white kid who auditioned was better than all the people of color who auditioned really doesn’t change that you are contributing to the racism present in the entertainment industry.
    "I’m actually at the point where I really don’t see someone’s acting chops as any excuse to perpetuate the kind of racial imagery that the media spews out and reinforces every single day. And even if one white kid was the best actor for the job (assuming visual likeness is not important), am I really meant to believe that among the rest of the non-white people who auditioned, not one could have still done a good job? Not one could have carried the part believably, if not as powerfully as white people who were cast?"

  22. Imajicka1 says:

    Racebenders, do you really want to affect change? Do you really want to see racial attitudes in Hollywood be done away with? This is what you do: support all movies that have Asian and Asian American leads. Come out in force when there is a movie where the main character is a minority. When a movie like "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" or "House of Flying Daggers" come out, show up in force. That's how you get Hollywoods attention.
    It's all well and good that you are upset with Shyamalan and want to boycott his movie. Fine. Get out there and protest and make your point. But understand this: if the movie fails it will probably be because the story or acting is terrible, not cause of the casting choices. My hunch is– there really isn't that many people bothered by the casting choices. There really isn't. Sure you guys dominate the message boards, which cater to the fans. But mainstream America isn't going to care. Picking on Shyamalan will not get you the change you seek. It's certainly too late for "The Last Airbender", where, like it or not, this is what you're going to get. No one will want a part of this franchise if it fails. Don't delude yourself into thinking someone else will take up the cause for this movie. And even if you somehow succeed, at best, you might create Hollywoods version of affirmative action, where the best actors get passed for roles just to meet some racial quotas.
    No, that is not the answer. The better approach is when Ang Lee or Hanoi Miyazaki makes a movie or has a movie played in theaters over here, show up in large numbers. Make that movie a profitable hit. Because Hollywood is really a simple creature. They are only motivated by money. And if they see that the newest Jet Li installment is raking in the dough, you will see copycat movies come out of the woodwork. And before you know it, Asians while start making lead roles. That is how you affect change. Waging a losing battle on a bunch of message boards will not work. It certainly has had no affect on my decision to see TLA and I actually sympthize with you guys somewhat.

  23. Marissa says:

    @Imajicka1 Racebending.com has recognized that boycotting the film is only a part of the solution, we're aware of the pitfalls you've pointed out.
    Our other strategies include increasing awareness of the issue of discrimination in Hollywood and supporting artists of color. We are also hoping to meet with Paramount and other advocacy groups (hey, if they flew out fan sites all expenses paid to a catered breakfast with M. Night) in a peaceful setting to discuss how Paramount can be more culturally competent in the future.

  24. art says:

    Well said and I couldn't agree more.

  25. art says:

    And before anyone wants to harp on the "where the best actors get passed for roles just to meet some racial quotas." line please take a few seconds to think.
    NO ONE IS SAYING that only white actors are the best actors. What is being said is on one wants a situation where an actor is cast for a role simply because he or she is a minority and not because they are the most qualified actor for a part.

  26. M says:

    I hope M. Night know if he skewers this franchise, us fanboys are gonna kill him.
    And regardless of the hate we might have for the casting issue, the fans will still see this movie on opening weekend, no matter what. (And then we're gonna go on the Internet and complain about it)

  27. Zach says:

    Avatar isnt an Anime O_O

  28. jerry says:

    The problem is that all of the 4 main leads were originally white actors (until Jesse McCartney dropped out). Having a multiracial cast only as a background can be seen as kind of a token, and therefore an insult.
    And then you have a casting call that reads: "CAUCASIAN or any other ethnicity" written for Zuko, Kitara, Aang and Sokka, the 4 main leads.
    Does we really think an asian actor really had a chance being cast for a lead?
    It's good that this controversy will force the producers to add more color to the sequels, but really, I don't think this film will be successful enough for sequels to even get that chance to make up for the damage it's already cause.

  29. Not Ambiguous at all says:

    "The great thing about anime is that it's ambiguous. The features of the characters are an intentional mix of all features. It's intended to be ambiguous. That is completely its point. So when we watch Katara, my oldest daughter is literally a photo double of Katara in the cartoon. So that means that Katara is Indian, correct?"
    People are not identified by their appearance alone. Are the clothing, architecture, philosophy and mysticism not up for interpretation as well? There is nothing ambiguous about it. As far as Katara being Indian, did Nights daughter also live in Inuit skin tents, use Inuit weapons, and fish for a living in Inuit fishing boats…? Don't think so. M. Nights response is a complete cop-out.

  30. Chee says:

    M. Night Shamwow is a moron. The entire show was based off Asian culture, where there are light-toned Asians and darker-toned Asians, but they are ALL Asian.
    He's just making up excuses to hide the fact that most of Hollywood hates minorities in big title roles.

  31. Amberguesa says:

    I would like to add, that it does NOT seem that the best actors were cast for the parts. In fact the actors which I had the most issue with, those playing katara and sokka received the worst reviews in regards to their acting ability in regards to early showings of the film.
    Reviews can be seen here.
    I find it VERY hard to believe, based on these reviews, that those actors really and truely got the role based on their acting credentials and not on the fact that the studio pulled strings to get people that fit their image of who is marketable – especially if one of those people gets to skate along on their 'Twilight' credentials.

  32. B.BarNavi says:

    The problem with the attitude held by people like Art is that "best man for the job" is NOT all that there is to it. Try having a white guy (not in blackface) play Othello the Moor. Or an American (even with an impeccable accent) playing James Bond.
    Certain characters (as well as certain universes) have a cultural, ethnic, and racial marker that is inherent to their being. It shapes the world around them in terms of background and interaction. One cannot simply ignore these criteria and "default" to a certain culture and/or race. Since Hollywood assumes this "default" to be "suburban white", this amounts to nothing more than whitewashing.

  33. Aurora says:

    A nice idea, but The Last Airbender isn't based on an anime. Avatar: the Last Airbender is an American cartoon. It is owned by an American company and was written and and storyboarded by Americans.
    As to the race issue, both sides have legitimate arguments and those people screaming racism need a little perspective. There are bigger race issues in the world to get worked up over than an already-filmed movie adaption of a children's cartoon. I hope that you will all use that wonderful anti-racism energy for something more productive in the future.

  34. Alyssa says:

    He doesn't seem to understand that by eliminating the racial characteristics, he is eliminating the thing that made the animated series so beautifully effective:
    the culture.

  35. Ellen T says:

    All I can say is, when I watched this anime I imagined everyone as Asian. I mean I kind of respect that he wants it to be diverse and that's a really great thought, but you have to think about the fans of the show and if they will be happy with it. Anyone who watches this can obviously see that it has a very Asian theme to it and it also represents a lot of Buddhism as well.

  36. Rina H. says:

    I agree with Shyamalan that anime is beautiful in the sense that it blurs the racial line. So maybe he shouldn't define it by making a life action movie about it. We can always argue that people who resembles the characters do not have the ability to play the role, but let's not forget that Mr. Radcliff did not have the best acting when he was first cast as Harry Potter. What made the movie the character Harry Potter a success was the resemblance of the actor to the original character in the book. I guess we were just lucky that both of the character and the actor were white.

  37. The Southerner says:

    Wow! what a load of BS from Shyamalan. First of all the world of The Last Airbender was not his creation. It already had a massive fanbase as the first really good American anime product. One of the things that made the original series great was prominent placement of people of color. You can't just take something that's already great and show no concern fans existing relationships with the characters. Fan favorites Katara and Sokka would never be confused for white. If he just had gotten Katara and Sokka right a lot of other dubious casting choices might have been forgiven. If the best Shyamalan could come up with was these Disney brats then he does not deserve to direct any more big budget films.

  38. Davis says:

    I think Shyalaman is delusional or has some sort of psychological affliction for him to spew that nonsense AND believe it! Everyone with common sense can see that the world of 'Avatar the Last Airbender' is based and inspired on Asian cultures and so were its peoples and that this live action only has asians as token-extras while whites are the main characters except Dev Patel who he and his brown kin are the villainous people! The last should be a slap to the face of Shyalaman and his people (Indians)!! Seriously I don't know what the heck the guy was thinking but obviously he must be out of touch with reality and out of his mind if movies like 'Lady in the Water', 'Signs', and 'The Happening' are anything to judge by!

  39. Caitlin says:

    I find it hilarious, because I always pictured Katara and the Watertribes indian or of color, Aang and the Earthbenders as asian. Zuko and the firenation were the palest of people. I mean, have you SEEN Mai? I think the movie is soo completely backwards in terms of casting…they were good actors (except for uncle Iroh. He wasn't funny at ALL. And he hardly ever talked about tea e_e)
    But what really bugged me most was that they pronounced half the names wrong. "Ear-oh"? "Ahhhng"? "Ahhvatar"? "Soh-kah"? I mean…wow. Watch the show, seriously.

  40. Orwill Yatke says:

    The world is a mixed race. Diversity makes for more. Can you not see the importance in having a team or a nation or a group of people having diversity? What M. Night said is right. Sure it was live action with real actors acting and behaving as if there were no cameras but 3D wouldn’t have been good enough. M. Night was versatile and creative in his film and people should give him more credit for exposing a larger amount of the world to The Avatar series. I am one who saw the teaser trailer in theaters and was amazed at the little guy in the middle of the candles twirling the staff around.

    The same group of people that pulls that racebending crap is the same group who put billions of dollars towards the oh so terrible Twilight series. Why don’t you people complain about the lack of ethnicity in the Twilight Movies instead.

    The Last Airbender showed the world how to be better and it is time to follow through.


    worst film eva. Seriously, the cast just ruins it right away, Good job Shammy, I ain't seeing your movies anymore.

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