Hollywood whitewash? ‘Airbender’ and ‘Prince of Persia’ anger fans with ethnic casting

May 22, 2010 | 3:47 p.m.

This is a longer version of Chris Lee’s cover story in this Sunday’s Los Angeles Times Calendar section.

Prince of Persia


Since its release, the video game franchise Prince of Persia has become notable for the acrobatic grace of its dagger-wielding, balloon pants-wearing hero as well as for what the games didn’t do: affront gamers of Middle Eastern and Muslim descent with stereotypical depictions of people from the region  as terrorists or religious zealots.

Independent filmmaker and blogger Jehanzeb Dar, to name one such player, remembers his favorable first reaction to the swashbuckling action game, which is set amid the sands and ancient cities of Persia (as ancient Iran is known) and follows a hero with a magic sword caught between forces of good and evil.

“You could see clearly the protagonist had distinct Middle Eastern features and darker skin,” said Dar, 26, who pens the blog Muslim Reverie from Langhorne, Pa. “People could develop some respect for that culture instead of seeing it vilified.”

So when Disney studios announced plans for a live-action adaptation of “Prince,” Dar held out hope it would be a “serious story that would dispel a lot of stereotypes and misconceptions.” Then came the bad news regarding “Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time” (the movie which arrives in theaters on Friday). None of its principle cast members are of Iranian, Middle Eastern or Muslim descent.

Jake Gyllenhaal on red carpet

And playing Dastan, the hero and titular heir to the Persian throne in the $200-million tent-pole film, is none other than Hancock Park’s own Swedish-Jewish-American prince, Jake Gyllenhaal.

“My first reaction was, ‘Really?!’ “ said Dar. “It’s insulting that people of color — especially Middle Easterners or South Asians — are not allowed to portray ourselves in these roles. That’s a big problem a lot of people in the community are having with this film.”

Prince of Persia poster Jake

Of course, Hollywood, has a rich history with this kind of thing. Think: John Wayne playing Genghis Khan in “The Conqueror,” Peter Sellers’  bumbling Indian character in “The Party” or even more notoriously, Mickey Rooney’s buck-toothed Mr. Yunioshi character from “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” the grandfather of all “Yellowface” stereotypes.

Prince of Persia poster Gemma

Although these portrayals took place decades ago, their legacy lives on.  Even now,  in the age of Obama — when the newly installed Miss USA Rima Fakih is Lebanese American, Will Smith is the biggest movie star in the world and Sonia Sotomayor became the first Latina to sit on the U.S.Supreme Court — movie industry decision-makers can still seem woefully behind the times when it comes to matters of race.

Consider the latest evidence. This summer, two of the season’s biggest budgeted films have sparked controversy by installing white actors in decidedly “ethnic” parts. And some early fan reactions have varied from indignation to righteous fury to organized revolt over a perceived “whitewashing” of multi-culti characters, a practice that has come to be known as “racebending.”

In addition to Gyllenhaal and British actress Gemma Arterton’s portrayal of Iranian characters in the swords-and-sandals action epic “Prince of Persia,” Paramount has come under attack for its live-action adaptation of the Nickelodeon animated series “Avatar: The Last Airbender.”

Noah Ringer

Directed by Sixth Sense auteur M. Night Shyamalan, “The Last Airbender” (as the movie is called to distinguish it from a certain James Cameron-directed 3-D blockbuster) has enraged some of the show’s aficionados by casting white  actors in three of four principle roles — characters that fans of the original property insist are Asian and Native American.

And with just weeks until the movie’s July 2 release — after a year-and-a-half-long letter-writing campaign to the film’s producers and a correspondence with Paramount President Adam Goodman to underscore the importance of casting Asian actors in designated Asian roles — members of the Media Action Network for Asian Americans and an organization called www.racebending.com are urging fans to boycott “Airbender.”

The movie’s detractors have spoken against the film at six college campuses, including MIT.,New York University and  UCLA, also setting up booths at events such as San Francisco’s WonderCon pop culture expo to publicize their discontent. At last count, the group’s Facebook group had 7,125 supporters and attracted petitioners against the movie’s casting in 55 countries. The stated goal: to prevent “Airbender” from blooming into a lucrative three-part franchise via negative word of mouth.

Noah Ringer

“It’s unfortunate that it’s come to this,” said Racebending.com spokesman Michael Le. “They’ve constructed a film that is contrary not only to what fans expected to see but is also contrary to what America expects to see in a film released in 2010 featuring Asian culture and Asian and Native American characters as heroes.

“We want to raise awareness of the discriminatory practices of Hollywood,” Le continued. “We want to tell people this is important. It really matters.”

Guy Aoki, head and co-founder of MANAA — a crusading organization that has skirmished with TV networks and movie studios for a decade for more positive representations of Asian Americans — put a finer point on the boycotters’ concerns. “If ‘The Last Airbender’ does really well, it sends the message in Hollywood that discriminating against Asian Americans works,” he said.

Although the studios behind both “Prince of Persia” and “Airbender” have taken costly steps to not seem insensitive toward — or out of touch with — the minority constituencies represented in their respective films, no Disney or Paramount executives would comment for this article. Nor would the producers — “Prince of Persia’s” Jerry Bruckheimer or “Airbender’s” Kathleen Kennedy and Frank Marshall. Directors Mike Newell and Shyamalan similarly declined.

Camille Alick, project manager for MOSTMuslims On Screen & Television, a resource center providing Hollywood productions with connections to Muslim actors and accurate information on Muslim populations — had not seen the films but remains sympathetic to the studios’ decisions, and contends that her experience in the field allows her insight into such casting choices.

“The hope is to have an authentic depiction, but casting directors have huge jobs in front of them,” Alick said. “They’re trying to find the best person for the part. And when it’s a big budget movie, it’s going to come down to a business decision. If a major actor can carry a film, that plays a big part. It’s not malicious intent.”

Still, those among the anti-racebending camp  feel that such rationalization provides a convenient excuse for keeping the prevailing system  — a glass ceiling for actors of color in major movies — firmly in place.
“Hollywood can make anybody into a hero,” Aoki said. “And yet these people continue to use a conservative attitude. When are they ever going to put an Asian American as a star to disprove that thinking? For Paramount to assume people wouldn’t pay to see Asians as leads is presumptuous and insulting.”

Nickelodeon Avatar Last Airbender

For the uninitiated, the cartoon series “Avatar: The Last Airbender” was aimed at children but enjoyed broad crossover to all ages — earning a zealous Asian American following — during its 2005-08 TV run. Set in a Pan-Asian universe, identifiably Asian and Native American, anime-inspired characters battle one another using martial arts manipulation of the four elements. The series follows a 12-year-old named Aang (played by non-Asian actor Noah Ringer in the movie)  and his band of youthful cohorts who must save the world by toppling the evil Fire Lord and ending war with the Fire Nation.

But when word leaked out last year that a casting call had gone out for the movie version requesting “Caucasians and other ethnicities,” “Airbender” fans freaked. Representatives for the Media Action Network for Asian Americans attempted to contact Paramount in an effort to influence casting decisions. The studio made no reply until after white actors had been cast in the lead roles, wrankling the members of MANAA.

On the “Airbender” set in Philadelphia, Shyamalan took issue with the accusation that “Airbender” was anything less than inclusionary to characters of color. “Ultimately, this movie, and then the three movies, will be the most culturally diverse tent-pole movies ever released, period,” he told the Los Angeles Times last summer. Nonetheless, many of the film’s detractors felt that Shyamalan, an Indian American, has betrayed his own.

“He can fill up the background with Asian characters but that doesn’t mean it’s a diverse film,” Aoki said.

Avatar the Last Airbender

Paramount provided a statement about “Airbender’s” casting choices. “The movie has 23 credited speaking roles — more than half of which feature Asian and Pan Asian actors of Korean, Japanese and Indian decent,” it reads. “The filmmaker’s interpretation reflects the myriad qualities that have made this series a global phenomenon. We believe fans of the original and new audiences alike will respond positively once they see it.”

(In an effort to short-circuit further criticism, the studio says it will screen a print of the film to Racebending.com boycotters once its last-minute conversion from 2-D to 3-D is complete.)

During “Prince of Persia’s” scripting process, Disney hired BoomGen Studios, a consultation and niche marketing firm specializing in creative content about the Middle East, to help address issues of historical congruity and cultural contexts. Consultants advised the filmmakers to avoid specifically characterizing religion by setting “Prince” in a “mythological time” before the arrival of Islam. As well, the company worked to assure members of the Iranian American community that the film was the antithesis of a recent action-adventure movie felt to vilify the people of Persia.

“We said, ‘This is the anti-‘300,’ “ said BoomGen’s co-founder Reza Aslan.

Asked point blank by the Times of London, “Isn’t Gyllenhaal a bit pale to play a Persian?” Bruckheimer delivered this history lecture. “Persians were very light skinned,” he said. “The Turks kind of changed everything. But back in the 6th century, a lot of them were blond and blue-eyed.”

Gemma Arterton and Jake Gyllenhaal

Aslan confirmed the veracity of Bruckheimer’s historical appraisal. “Iranians are Aryans,” Aslan asserted. “If we went back in time 1,700 years to the mythological era, all Iranians would look like Jake Gyllenhaal.”

Gyllenhaal maintains that “Prince of Persia” is simply a slice of old-fashioned Hollywood fantasy, a bit of cinema escapism that’s as light in spirit as the vintage serials. That heritage — along with the fact that it’s based on a video game — took precedence over any real-world context for his character.

“To me, it’s not something I gave a lot of thought because all of it such a fantasy,” Gyllenhaal said last month while attending San Francisco’s WonderCon. “It’s based on a video game, not something out of history. There’s nothing real about this. It’s just an adventure and it’s fun and it’s strange in a way to hold one part of it and say, ‘That’s not real or right.’ “

Blogger Jehanzeb Dar and people he has communicated with in the Iranian-American community, meanwhile, see the issue differently. “A lot of people feel its offensive and insensitive,” Dar said. “It’s another example of Hollywood doing its racebending.”

Jack Shaheen, author of “Reel Bad Arabs” and a frequent commentator on Hollywood’s distortions of Muslim cultures and people, refused to condemn “Prince of Persia’s” depiction of ancient Iranians until seeing the film. But he critiqued the film industry’s conventional wisdom that mainstream audiences won’t shell out to see a non-white lead in a big-budget film.

“Hollywood is making a mistake,” Shaheen said. “As a society, we’re not seeing color like we used to. We’re more integrated than we used to be. The country is changing. But I don’t think Hollywood is at the forefront of that change.”

— Chris Lee

Times staff writer Geoff Boucher and freelance contributor Sam Adams contributed to this report.


The Last Airbender poster Shyamalan says ‘Airbender’ rises above race: ‘That’s what’s so beautiful about anime’

Will “Airbender” resurrect Shyamalan’s mystique?

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

Shyamalan should be careful. Remember “Dragonball Z”?

Shyamalan found liberation in box-office failure

Jake Gyllenhaal turned down the lead in “Avatar”

Tom Cruise, Nic Cage and Eddie Murphy fete Bruckheimer

Jerry Bruckheimer meets the fanboys

Gyllenhaal: I’d like to go back in time and watch my birth

PHOTOS: Top, Jake Gyllenhaal in “Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time” (Disney); Second and ninth, photos from red carpet premiere of “Pricne of Persia” with Gyllenhaal and Gemma Arterton (Reuters);  “The Last Airbender.” Third and fourth, promotional posters for “Prince of Persia.” Fifth and sixth, scenes from”Teh Last Airbender” (Disney); Seventh and eighth, scenes from”Avatar: The Last Airbender” (Nickelodeon). Bottom, promotional poster for “The Last Airbender” 


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49 Responses to Hollywood whitewash? ‘Airbender’ and ‘Prince of Persia’ anger fans with ethnic casting

  1. Abby Smith says:

    Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you once again for giving publicity to this issue so well!
    I cannot stop laughing – I'm actually rolling on the ground – over the absolute IRONY of these preposterous statements: "Gyllenhaal maintains that “Prince of Persia” is simply a slice of old-fashioned Hollywood fantasy, a bit of cinema escapism that’s as light in spirit as the vintage serials. That heritage — along with the fact that it’s based on a video game — took precedence over any real-world context for his character."
    AHAHAHAHA. Forgive me. But yes, Mr. Gyllenhaal, that is precisely it, isn't it? The blissfully unaware, young, Caucasian film star has just highlighted precisely what is wrong here: that "old-fashioned Hollywood fantasy" to which he refers is a time when yellowface, brownface, and blackface were whole-heartedly embraced. Have we not already established that prosthetics and makeup that make those of Caucasian descent appear more "Asian" or "African-American," or whatever other race, have no place in today's society? Even in today's "escapism" of film?
    Once more, I must apologize. The utter ignorance (or is it awareness? I'm not quite sure, since Mr. Gyllenhaal has managed to pinpoint exactly the problem to which this 2010 film hearkens back loud and clear) of these statements renders me at a loss to fully debunk them by pointing out their amusing ironies. Really, until my stomach muscles can stop leaving me helplessly convulsing in laughter, there is little else I can do…but cling to my wallet (minus the 8 dollars I spent to see "No One Knows About Persian Cats," an independent film about "Real" Iranians).

  2. Can't Wait for says:

    maybe hollywood we'll figure it out then…
    oh… and explain to me why ultra-liberal hollywood does not practice what it preaches when it comes to casting???
    or maybe the elite, liberals in hollywood have no faith in the intelligence of the majority of the american people to embrace a non-white hero…

  3. Thank you for your thorough, well defined, and professional outline of the racebending protest.
    I am however confused by the assertion that the "Last Airbender" film will be screened for "racebending.com protesters". As a member of the community I can assure you that no one in the group has received any such invitation–if it had, believe me, we would all know about it–and I am puzzled as to where the assertion comes from.
    The only reference to an invitation to a pre-screening I've located so far is an old reference from last year, back when Paramount agreed to meet with MANAA and assured the group that they would be invited to a screening. There have been multiple pre screenings and tests across the country, including one well-documented junket where members of the Last Airbender fan groups were flown to NY and given five star treatment and a screening… but MANAA has never been permitted to screen the film as was originally agreed to. Also, since no one at the production would speak to the reporter about this, I am curious where the information that it would be screened "once it is converted to 3D" comes from, as this is a very last minute decision on the part of the studio.
    I expect the "invitation" to racebending.com will go into the same etherial mailbox that MANAA's went.

  4. Elizabeth L. says:

    Thank you for this great, well-written article, LA Times. I hope more people see this article and realize the racist travesties Hollywood continues to make, as if this were still the 1940s.

  5. Ken says:

    Thank you for covering this issue! It's nice to hear someone besides myself starting a conversation on it.

  6. Sarah says:

    Excellent article…thanks for calling attention to this issue. Hopefully, the more people hear about it, the better the chance that it won't happen again.

  7. Adam C. says:

    I am neither Persian, Asian, NOR Jewish.. but this article is RIGHT ON THE MONEY and I give the writer major credit for having the balls to bring this up. When I saw black and hispanic progression in the movie industry, I was honestly really proud and impressed with the people of Hollywood. But Asians and Middle Easterners still have a way to go and no one seems to give a damn about them. I have TONS of talented, struggling actor friends who are Asian, Persian, Lebanese, etc. and it's really painful to hear about all the OPEN DISCRIMINATION that is STILL going on. Where the only movie or television roles they can get are "Asian #2" or "Scary guy with a gun". It's absolutely ridiculous. ACTORS, DIRECTORS, PRODUCERS, AGENTS, MANAGERS, AND STUDIOS.. Take the damn responsibility.

  8. James says:

    These producers will use every excuse in the book to try to incessantly whitewash it. Do they fully grasp how rare of an opportunity this is for an actor of color? It's not like Gyllenhaal won't have plenty of opportunities to star in movies after this.
    Asked point blank by the Times of London, “Isn’t Gyllenhaal a bit pale to play a Persian?” Bruckheimer delivered this history lecture. “Persians were very light skinned,” he said. “The Turks kind of changed everything. But back in the 6th century, a lot of them were blond and blue-eyed.”
    Aslan confirmed the veracity of Bruckheimer’s historical appraisal. “Iranians are Aryans,” Aslan asserted. “If we went back in time 1,700 years to the mythological era, all Iranians would look like Jake Gyllenhaal.”
    Does this mean that when a fantasy movie is created about the American/Canadian culture, that it'll feature Native Americans and not Whites? They're the rightful settlers after all. I doubt it. Maybe a documentary but not a 100 million dollar budget movie. Bruckheimer's history lecture fails to justify why they cast a White actor to play a Middle Eastern Prince.
    I find it so selfish that after the 9-11 attacks, people had so much hatred toward the Middle East. Racism was running a muck and the media only provoked it. Yet when a movie is created about that cultures shining legacy, whether it be real or not, Hollywood hogs the limelight and reserves the leads for White actors and the villains/background for the real Middle Easterners.

  9. James says:

    Chris Lee, thank you for writing about this!

  10. Courtenay says:

    I am so overjoyed to see a story about this in mainstream media. It's an issue that needs to be on a lot more people's radar. The excuses and rationalizations on these casting decisions are so lame they are laughable, which, I suppose, is why so many of your sources declined to comment.

  11. Caterfree10 says:

    Thank you SO MUCH for this article! It's wonderful to see such a large newspaper tackling this issue head on. Gotta say, it's REALLY telling that no one involved in either production would comment for the article. x3
    Also, I am confused as well re: the supposed screening for Racebending.com. As a member of that community, we'd have heard about it long before this article. I know that the founders and website staff members have been in contact with Paramount before with them promising a screening, but nothing has come of it. Seems odd that they claim they've promised a screening when members of the Racebending.com community know nothing of it. :/

  12. HELL YEAAAAA says:

    Wonderful article! I plan on emailing it to all my friends and family :)

  13. Murph says:

    The agree with all the previous comment posters, thanks for publishing this article! The studious simply have to change their narrow casting views, this has been going on for nearly a century. Something simply has to change.

  14. Timstuff says:

    The Prince of Persia isn't even Muslim. He's a Zoroastrian Persian born during the middle ages, before the Arabs conquered Persia. Seeing as the Zoroastrians had good relations with the Jews for many years, and the fact that Islam almost pushed them to extinction, I wouldn't be at all surprised if most Zoroastrians were more comfortable being a represented by a Jewish actor than a Muslim one. That would be like having a Turkish actor play Leonidas in 300, or Perseus in Clash of the Titans.

  15. Naomi Shore says:

    Wow. Complaining about too many people of certain race in a certain movie.
    Isn't it like… pure and unmasked racism?

  16. Ciderkiss says:

    I am soo overjoyed to read this article. I am a black female who loves Avatar, and when I saw the casting choices plus the discrimination in the casting I told everyone I knew not to see the movie. I don't support this type of racism AT ALL!

  17. Jhenne Tyler says:

    Thank you for covering this issue! It's wonderful to see it brought up as food for thought.

  18. Marissa says:

    Paramount says that the movie has 23 credited speaking roles and more than half feature Asian and Pan Asian actors of Korean, Japanese and Indian decent. But how many of these speaking roles are named? How many of them are villain roles? How many of them are ancillary and background roles?
    When looking at glass ceilings, we're examining not only who gets a role, but what roles they get. It's about who gets to play what roles, and who gets to represent whom– how Hollywood gets to decide how cultural groups are represented.

  19. Protest The Last Air says:

    Naomi Shore: Your ignorant comment is very telling. I'm seeing this argument all the time now… that people protesting racism are somehow the "real" racists. Please explain to me what kind of convoluted logicbending you need to perform to actually believe that. I think you'd have to be more flexible than Ty Lee.
    It's time Hollywood, and everyone else in denial, wakes up and realizes that this is wrong and unacceptable. It's time to stop discriminating against actors of color and give them the opportunities they deserve. How can people claim we're living in a "post-racial" society when so many still think discrimination, whether it applies to movie stars or any other job, is no big deal? Please, humanity, come to your senses!

  20. Jason Park says:

    Thank you for this article. It is extremely well-written and informative about an issue that is woefully ignored in the mainstream media. I am proud that our LA Times still has the journalistic integrity to discuss this!

  21. Alyssa H. says:

    Thank you so much for this article! It's heartening to see such discussions when so many people would prefer for such things to be silenced so that they don't have to be made uncomfortable or question themselves and their lives.

  22. The International No says:

    Um, have people seen the video game version? The Prince actually looks just Jake, pale skin, brown hair, blue eyes. And like Bruckheimer pointed out, a lot of Persians could easily pass for white. I mean, Freddie Mercury was of Persian descent, how many people knew that when he was alive? No one, because he didn't look very ethnic. And Johnny Depp, who is white, is set to portray him in a movie. Will people get outraged over that, especially since Freddie was a real person and not a fictional character like the Prince of Persia, or will they care that a competent actor is doing the role justice? Didn't Angelina Jolie, who is white, play the role of journalist Mariane Pearl, a woman of Dutch, Afro-Cuban and Chinese descent? Did people get outraged over that?
    People are flipping their collective lids over this because they can. When Jennifer Lopez was cast as the lead role in Selena, some people got all upset because a Puerto Rican actress was playing a Mexican character. It's not enough that a Latina was portraying a Latina, it wasn't the right kind of Latina that was the problem. You see how ridiculous this can become? I am not saying that the issue of white actors playing ethnic roles isn't a problem that should be tackled, but people need to learn to pick their battles. Perhaps the casting directors would've been better off casting an unknown Persian actor to play The Prince in this case, because Jake does a poor job of making the role believable (not because of that fact he's white, but because he lacks the charisma to play an action hero). Lots of actors play characters whose original ethnicities don't match up with the actors'. Beyonce is rumored to be considered for the role of Wonder Woman, who the last I checked isn't a black character. Jessica Alba played Sue Storm in Fantastic Four, and her character isn't Latina like Jessica. If people pointed that out, it would be considered racist. If it's a case where the character's race is pertinent to the story, then yes, they should cast an actor of the same race. But if not, then please people, find something else to complain about. There are much bigger issues going on in the world, or even in Hollywood itself than this.

  23. dcmoviegirl says:

    Hollywood will have to change. That's simply where society is headed.
    Whoever manages to do it on film first and do it well will make a lot more money than either of these two films, that's for sure.
    You can't tell me that part of the success of LOST didn't have to do with the diversity of it's cast, and actually giving these diverse characters stories beyond just the labels.
    …And that's the irony, because they whitewash because they believe it will make more money. They believe that white audiences, who are still the majority in the country won't buy tickets to see Asians, Muslims, etc. lead films.

  24. MRCAB says:

    Nice big article about the controversy. Awesome. I actually ran out to by this paper on Sunday.
    I hope this gets more coverage.

  25. Osage tribe says:

    Who cares what color the actors are. If they get the job done, what is the problem. Why does everything have to turn into race discrimination.?
    Get on with your life and stop thinking someone owes you something. Because your not owed jack.

  26. George W. Bush says:

    How come there weren't any black actors in District 9? oh wait..

  27. Nick Fury says:

    I see no mention of Nick Fury in this article at all…
    Prince of Persia is based on a video game. Where the OG character looks light skinned with blue eyes.
    That or even based on the fact that back then, or even now there were/are plenty of light skinned/ blue eyed Persians.
    Not that Hollywood should not be taken to task for many of it's ridiculous choices of actors they get to play certain characters.

  28. Dave Russell says:

    Anyone who knows a bit about ancient Persian history, knows that the early peoples of that region were the earliest Caucasoids. Genetic and archeological evidence, support that the region around the Iranian plateau, and through the lower Caucauses, was the region of Caucasoid evolution.
    If you do a little bit of googling, you'll find a some images of busts, in which the Greeks created, that obviously have features, similar to the Northwestern Europeans. There is an excellent illustration on a particular Darius Vase, that clearly shows a group of 'White' looking Persians of royalty. The reliefs at Persopolis, depict King Cyrus as having blue eyes. The Greek Herodotus, describes tall, blue eyed, blonde haired Persian woman. Really, there is more evidence to prove that the ancient Iranians were primary Caucasoid, then any almost any other population of that time (with the exception of Greeks and Romans, of course).
    It wasn't until the Arab and mongol invasions, that physical features faded from the Persian population. The movie has not 'whitewashed' Ancient Persians. Ironically here, a more legitimate criticism, would have been that the cast wasn't quite Nordic enough.
    Here are just couple of ancient busts that I found:

  29. Stephen says:

    Prince of Persia is clearly white washed. The prince should have been of Iranian heritage, as for the Princess she was written to be of indian descent, which should have been easy to cast.
    As for Airbender the cast is multi-ethnic and when the earth nation appears in part II it has been claimed that it will be Asian, which seems logical since Earth Bending Father is Asian.
    Jackson Rathbone … Sokka (white)
    Dev Patel … Zuko (Indian but a British national)
    Cliff Curtis … Firelord Ozai ( Maori of New Zealand)
    Nicola Peltz … Katara (White)
    Seychelle Gabriel … Princess Yue (Hispanic:
    Noah Ringer … Aang (White)
    Shaun Toub … Uncle Iroh (Iranian_
    Jessica Andres … Suki (Asian/Hispanic)
    Aasif Mandvi … Commander Zhao (East Indian)
    Keong Sim … Earthbending Father (Asian
    Seems to me that the cast is multi ethnic just maybe not the right race for all the protestors.

  30. Gina M. says:

    Thank you for this article! As a diehard fan of the cartoon show, I have seen and read much about the fact that several non-Caucasians were cast to play main roles and understand the frustration.
    (I feel a rant coming on…)
    I recognize that Mike DiMartino an Bryan Konietzko, beloved creators of the Avatar universe, made the world of Avatar by the influence of non-Western cultures. Water Tribe? Fashioned after Inuit culture. Fire Nation? Asian and Meso-American culture. Even the inhabitants of these nations reflected the origins of this culture. It is the fact that this fictional world draws from reality that gives the cartoon show a layer of depth that mature audiences love, and though I can see in the movie the influence is portrayed in the structures and props, it could be reflected more in the characters as well.
    However, I think a lot of people are missing the bigger issue here. It’s true that anime is ambiguous in race, which for specific shows works because it allows viewers to focus on the story. It’s a good thing for the staff of a show (or film, in this case) if they want viewers to let go of the illusion of race and focus on the message instead. We live for messages in movies, don’t we? But this is a hard concept to incorporate in Avatar because one of the main focuses of the show is in fact -race-. In fact, it’s about a theme so prevalent in our own world–using nationality or race as a a means to establish superiority over others. It’s about the need to acknowledge that race/ethnicity/nationality is a very much real stereotype used to classify cultural differences, but that such differences can’t be allowed to be barrier to peace.
    Why did the Fire Nation launch a war against the world? To expand its territory. To spread the nation’s prosperity. A good intention, yes, but all good intentions become twisted when a leader develops a superiority complex, which in this case led to the killing of thousands of Air Nation people. Now, where has this story been portrayed in the real world? History provides dozens of examples, but most recognized I believe would be World War II, specifically the Holocaust.
    I’m no history buff, but when has racial superiority ever led to anything but war? I firmly believe that the show tries to relay said realization to its audience, and to show that killing only breeds hatred–to show that this cycle of revenge can only end when individuals realize that war will always create more problems than it solves. When we are able to recognize, and yet overcome stereotypes put on us by society, we can begin to make our way towards peace. In the Avatar world, Zuko is the best personification of this–he eventually recognizes who he is, what his family has done, yet (SPOILER ALERT) -overcomes- this for a bigger purpose, that being the end of the war.
    I’m not saying this issue of being above race can’t be done if you make an actor a character of a specific nation and don’t pay attention to their actual “race.” I mean, I personally think Nicola Peltz looks a -lot- like Katara, despite her non-Inuit roots. But casting white actors for people intended to be non-white is also ignoring the reality that we unfortunately do stereotype people into races. The fact that this article exists is enough proof of that. Even if Shyamalan’s aim is to get people to ignore race, or to cast a good role for a character (which is a sincere aim, don’t get me wrong), it’s hard to do this -because- race is so integrated into the show.
    I’m not sure if I’m really making sense in all of this. I’ve gone off on quite a tangent, but there’s a deep, underlying point which I hope people can understand. What I’m trying to say is, how can anyone establish that we need to see -past- the illusion of race without acknowledging its existence? Ignoring something isn’t going to make it go away. It’s like the elephant in the closet, and this article proves that it’s not staying there either.

  31. John says:

    I don’t really agree with this article for a few reasons:
    1) I know a lot of Iranians (or Persians as they like to be called) and actually they do look like Jake’s character. Persians look Caucasian. They have light eye colors, and Caucasian facial features. Jake looks the part, and he’s not a disgusting racial stereotype. He’s a handsome guy (I mean this purely heterosexually) who brings some nobility and coolness to being Persian, or as far as you can do so in a Jerry Bruckheimer film. It would have been nice if he was Persian, but maybe that’ll happen in a sequel. As well, I don’t think it’s racist, he’s just a qualified actor, and he’s PLAYING a Persian. The character’s race isn’t changed. Contrast this to “21” with Kevin Spacey: the lead character, who in real life was Asian, was essentially erased, and replaced with a white male, with a “white name.” That’s racist because the character’s race was changed. It was even worse because it was based on a true story where race was an integral part of the character. Having said that though…
    2) I think the discussion of “The Last Airbender” is off the mark. First off, I’m always amazed when East Asians scream about racial stereotypes. They have absolutely nothing on South Asians. When genuinely offensive portrayls of South Asians appear, they don’t care because South Asians aren’t real Asians. Want racism? How about that black character from DragonBall Z with the turban? And why is Buddha, an Indian, portrayed with East Asian features? Why is his dark skin lightened? Why does Anime always give Asian characters white features, blond hair, or blue/green eyes? Be honest with yourself: because those are attractive features. East Asians culturally need to come to terms with their own self image issues, which manifest in their animation, eye-rounding surgery, hair bleaching, skin whitening, etc. Pull the plank out of your own eye instead of criticizing Hollywood.
    If there was an “Apu” like character who was Chinese, we’d be hearing about it ad nauseam (Apu in the Simpsons was originally meant to lampoon Indian stereotypes but ironically became one in the end). As well, if you look at Peter Seller’s crap, South Asians (people from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, etc) are probably the most ridiculed group in the West: they look black, look Muslim, look Hispanic, and are not Asian enough to be Asian. I hope that East Asians might actually complain if other people are discriminated against, but you’ll only get this response when they feel they’re targeted. I agree, “The Last Airbender” looks like a joke. But then again, so’s the response.

  32. shelly nun-chucks says:

    Ok I just would like to post about a child that is Asian, that would have been much better at the role, look up on you tube if this link doesnt work, look up Perris Airbender Audition tape, and you all can see for yourself, just why he would have fitted the role and I can not see why he didn't, here is the link

    Ok first do any of you at least do any acting or have been to any of the auditions or casting calls, seriously I am sick to death of how some of these casting agencies, seriously overlook talent, what do they think, when they have to constantly pick whites over Asians over for roles.
    I think it might have been posted somewhere, but the creators of the cartoon series, did base their creation from "ASIAN" culture, yes dear god we all know that AIRBENDER is a cartoon, but seriously this is the straw that broke the camel's back.
    Oh yes we all know that they been doing this forever, but people are getting sick to death about it.
    Yeah, ok people are saying in posts, "Whoever got the money, can pick whoever they want for these?"
    Okay, then fine, cause working in independent filming, I am glad I am associated with people who will actually pick people that are suited for roles and not just based on race alone.
    But that's fine cause the greatest action films are from other countries, anyway.
    I am hoping that someday, Jackie Chan is going to make a film about his life, and I would love to see the kid that didn't get pick to play Avatar in Airbender, (Perris)to play a younger version.

  33. Joshua H. says:

    Thank you for bringing light to this topic! I was deeply hurt and offending when I heard about The Last Airbender cast and won't be paying a cent on the movie or its merchandise! By boycotting this film and others that support obsolete casting practices, we can send a message to Hollywood and maybe, bring about change in the industry in the future.

  34. Aussir Kim says:

    I went to see Prince of Persian tonight with 3 Iranian friends who were unanimous in being impressed at how Persian all the actors look, _including_ Jake Gyllenhaal, who just happens to look like one of Iran's more popular actors.
    So I'm sorry – but everyone trying to out-PC everyone else can pull their heads in – the cast looks Persian.

  35. Ed says:

    I love how all these white washed people (I assume most of the nay sayers are white but I don't discriminate) try to convince us that hollywood is not racist or heavily racially biased.
    You can make all the arguments you want for either side but the bottom line is, in this supposed liberal and multi-cultural society media has re-enforced the idea that white (and to a certain extent black) represent the ideal. The handsome, beautiful, strong, hero.
    The problem in these cases was that hollywood had an opportunity (actually a responsibility) in the interest of contextual accuracy to choose actors that better represent the racial make up of the region these stories supposedly take place in. To even add more insult, the airbender movie highlights the fact that the heroes are in fact all white and the lowly commoners are all asian looking.
    I will not be seeing either movie. However, if you must there are lots of free sites you can watch or download it. Just don't pay any money for it. The more money hollywood makes from it the easier it is for hollywood to justify their racism.

  36. Thomas Lee says:

    I'm an Asian American father of two Asian American boys (9 and 6), and we have spent many hours watching the animated series, Avatar, the Last Airbender together. Having said that, I won't be taking them to see the Last Airbender. They've asked me to, but I've explained why to them, and they seem to understand. I won't let them see the Prince of Persia for the same reason. I won't let them see any TV show or movie where the leads are all white. Am I being racist towards Whites? I don't think so. That's not my intention. I'm just looking for balance in the things that my boys are exposed to and influenced by. They will see enough positive images of Caucasians in their lives without any special effort from me, but I don't think people (especially white people) realize how difficult it is for parents to find positive portrayals of Blacks, Asians, Hispanics,Middle Eastern, etc. in the American media.
    I have known too many Asians (both males and females) who are embarrassed by their own race and culture, and I've read enough studies to know that the media is a significant part of this self-hate. I have made a conscious decision to make sure my boys don't fall into this category, but I have to say, Hollywood does make this rather challenging.

  37. kalis says:

    I think that Hollywood would have a hard time selling a movie with a no name persian actor so they had to do their best that they could, considering all the contractual bs that it takes to get a big name actor on a movie. <a href="http://www.100yearsofwealth.com” target=”_blank”>www.100yearsofwealth.com

  38. DR says:

    uncalled for
    The anger people have over Avatar the Last Airbender is uncalled for.. Give me a break. Aren’t you being discriminatory for being angry that a white boy is in it? The director is ASIAN…yes ASIAN..if you haven’t looked at a map lately INDIA is part of ASIA.. But I guess they overlooked that…they should be mad that an INDIAN directed the movie as well if they are going to be mad that a white child started in it… Oh god,, we can’t change peoples’ races in a movie…Doesn’t that sound a bit elitist? And a bit RACIST to you?
    I know there are purists to a certain novel or whatever…but its a cartoon. The cartoon was made by two white guys and was heavily influenced by Asian ideas. The inventors themselves stated that, “Our love for Japanese anime, Hong Kong action and kung fu cinema, yoga, and Eastern philosophies led us to the initial inspiration for Avatar.” But might I point out the word “inspiration,” Inspiration is NOT a stringent copy of a set of beliefs or patterns or even culture…its simply that an “inspiration.” However, they never use actual places found in asia at all. Its a mix of things Indian, Chinese, Japanese etc. Its not exclusively one type of Asian at all, in fact it never was meant to be. The names of the characters, with the exception of Toph Bei Fong, do not sound even remotely Asian..And i’d argue that Toph is NOT an Asian word to being with (if you know a small amount about asian language). Beifong could be a chinese name, maybe, but I’ve never met a Bei Fong in my life (yet). True they use Chinese martial arts as a basis for the styles of the characters but that is about it. If you think that non-asians can practice martial arts then it conflicts with your beliefs about this movie. The cartoon’s fighting consultant is an African American fellow who has a school in LA and practices kung fu himself. I guess you should be angry about that as well.
    there are some people out there that attempt to make a parallelism with this film (Airbender) and the use of white actors for asian parts in films such as “The Good Earth” in the 1940’s. But might I point out several factors that people tend to overlook. 1) Airbender is a cartoon, a cartoon character tends not to ascribe to a certain “race” 2) it was made by white people writing about fictional kingdoms 3) the characters are not necessarily supposed to be “asian” at all or meant to be exclusively asian 4) Might I point out that you may want to read a bit about the history of Chinese in the USA and you may know why there were ver few if any Chinese actors around in the 1940’s to be in films such as The Good Earth.
    to compare:
    and might I point out that i haven’t noticed any white people getting angry when they replaced a white boy with an african american in the karate kid.
    I’d love to point out to these political hypocrites if they ever asked themselves what is the RACIAL RATIO of little kids who are trying to act? How many Asian parents are putting their children into arts such as acting? How many of those kids were in the city that they did the casting call for this movie? Then how many of them were qualified and skilled enough to get the parts? (Paramount Pictures had an open casting call for this film, Ringer( the lead) was picked not just for his acting ability he has a blackbelt and does several martial arts….) Perhaps the kids were picked based on their skills and availability as actors..NOT based on their race. If you look into the credits there are several Indians (aka ASIANS) along with three Koreans as well. Crying “racism” at every turn makes you rather ignorant in the first place.
    its weird that there is more anger over airbender using a couple of white kids than the “karate kid” using the word “karate” when its really Chinese wushu (very different) in the updated modern version….
    cough cough…
    As for Prince of Persia:
    That is more understandable..since Persia is a real historical place with a certain ethnic group. However, the video game is fictional. It would be nice to see some Persian actors in it, but lets face it. How many Iranians do you know would be willing to come over here to do a movie? Is the production company really going to go to Iran to find someone from there? (NO). Lets be honest..with ourselves..
    And what about Sex in The City 2?
    I don’t see people complaining about that piece of garbage and the way they portray Muslim women.. why not protest something worth protesting…

  39. Darrell Williams says:

    I think this article brings up a very valid point. It is time for hollywood to stop white washing the characters in films.
    I say BOYCOTT Prince of Persia, the Last Airbender, and any other movie that does not have a character of color in the lead role. It is 2010 not 1940.

  40. cknowles says:

    Ok Jake is Jewish, the Persian empire covered the whole mid-east including Israel, so it's not that far fetch. Liam is half Jewish and half Indian. This movie takes place before Islam was established and it's also based off a video game.

  41. Rina H. says:

    I find them making their ridiculous excuses much more offensive than the cast itself.

  42. hellen parks says:

    The question to ask is that is america really ready to see an asian in a commercial movie. The answer is yes and no. for once i do not understand what the hoopa is all about, we are not that tolerant of each other and i do not care if the actors are white, i just want to watch an awesome movie with my niece. and no i am not white.
    Asians need to stop complaining and start creating their own films, if they want to see themselves onscreen. Blaming hollywood is not gonna change anything.
    besides their complaining is getting tiresome.

  43. iu says:

    well DR, I guess you would support LOTR being played exclusively by asian-americans actors? If not, STFU

  44. […] their show less and less about their Asian Nikita. Then while the memory of The Last Airbender and Prince of Persia were still fresh, Christopher Nolan up and cast this English dude as the decidedly Latino Bane. […]

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  46. cjoness says:

    Both movies bombed. Ha Ha.

  47. rosa says:

    surley surley this movie was not made to scare the world about persians was it… meaning the blue eyed boy and the jewish princess have to get the weapon of mass distruction from the persians… REALLY ? come on . is this how political fantasy propaganda brainwashes people. the blue eyed white boy who is adopted by the persians is the prince of Persia… HAHAHA…. not the whole world is that stupid. maybe you can grass feed your racism to the obese Americans who are hooked on porn and reality TV , but the rest of us.. OH no. IN fact Persia , Persians need to be saved from the White man and its puppet Israel . It is you who is endangering the whole world. It is you who rules the media with guns , propaganda and lies. OH yes SAVE PERSIA from you blood hungry oil thirsty vampires. SAVE PERSIA. PERSIA is the historys prince and princess. PERSIA PERSIA PERSIA. no matter how hard you try you will never rule persia mr, blue eyed and imposter princess…. never.

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