Protesters Picket ‘Last Airbender’

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Protesters hold picket signs outside the Cinerama Dome on Thursday at a showing of “The Last Airbender” in Hollywood. (Photos by MARIO G. REYES/Rafu Shimpo)

BY SAMANTHA MASUNAGA
Rafu Intern

About 100 protesters carried signs and beat drums outside of the Arclight Hollywood Cinema Thursday evening, as they denounced the lack of Asian actors in Paramount Pictures’ newly released film, The Last Airbender.

Based on the Nickelodeon animated television series Avatar: The Last Airbender, the film has been criticized for its casting practices, since a majority of the main characters are Caucasian, in spite of the animated heroes’ Asian or Inuit ethnicities.

This alleged miscasting has resulted in a boycott of the film, called by the Media Action Network for Asian Americans, who also helped to coordinate the demonstration along with Racebending.com and the Korean Resource Center, said Guy Aoki, co-founder of MANAA.

“It was amazing,” he said, noting that protesters of all ages carried signs saying, “We are heroes” or “I am Katara,” referencing one of the lead characters who is Inuit descent in the series. “It’s great to see kids coming out and saying they reject this film.”

The protest comes at the end of a year and a half long campaign by MANAA that started with the group’s attempt to change the casting of the film last January, Aoki said.

After viewing the film at a Paramount screening earlier this week, Aoki said he told the film group’s executives that the movie was worse than he thought it would be.

While the film includes Asian extras, Aoki said few Asian characters actually speak, except when they are defeated in battle or are part of the warring Fire Nation.

A Paramount spokesperson was unable to be reached for comment, but the company has said director M. Night Shyamalan’s vision for the film “includes a large and ethnically diverse cast that represents cultures from around the world.”

Similarly, Shyamalan defended his casting choices in an interview with The Washington Post, saying the lead actors were the best ones for their roles and that he made a conscious effort to depict all races and ethnicities.

He added that The Last Airbender was “the most culturally diverse movie series of all time.”

But racial politics aside, the film has received negative reviews from critics.

While Roger Ebert condemned the plot and 3D effects, he also commented on Shyamalan’s decision to change the ethnicity of the characters, saying that it is a distraction to original fans of the television series.

Other critics, like Jay Fernandez of the Hollywood Reporter, predicted that interest in the film, though waning, was still present, though he acknowledged that negative publicity from Asian American groups did not help.

With this in mind, Aoki said Thursday’s protest was intended to “further depress turnout of the movie” and increase publicity of MANAA’s views.

“We want to see how well this movie does or does not do,” he said. “We’re trying to have an effect on future movies Hollywood makes.”

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12 Comments

  1. Pingback: Patrick Goldstein on the collision of entertainment, media and pop culture – Los Angeles Times

  2. I have seen this movie and not only is it racially skewed; evil Indian nation of fire, Northern white water tribe, southern Inuit water tribe with one white family living with them. It is also just plain bad. The story line has no consistency, what slapstick there was to lighten moods was poorly accomplished, and the script was so contrived it made what few good actors in the movie seem sad and mundane. It was as if they got the guy who does the 30 second bunny movies to write the script and they stretched it to two hours.

  3. I think the whole thing is stupid. While I agree that the cartoon series had a large number of Asian characters in it, how many other movies and series in film history have digressed from their original. Just because you have actors or actresses that are another race does not imply racism. Example: Kingpin from Daredevil was not an African American in the comic books and cartoon series. However the actor they chose was by far the best they could have chosen. He fit the role perfectly. In our culture we have become so politically correct that people see racism where there is none or try to use the claim for personal gain. If airbender had no Asian cast members at all or implied something negative about Asian culture you might be able to make a case. As it stands the movie was enjoyable but could have been much better.

  4. It’s sad to see the people in power in the movie industry hasn’t changed when it comes to casting an actor in a movie. They all believe that only Caucasian actors are better suited for leading roles even if the character in question is anything but Caucasian. Even Prince Persia casts an actor who is not of Middle Eastern descent to play a character who was clearly Middle Eastern. They refuse to accept that the world has changed the past several decades and practices of casting from the early days of film making no longer apply to today’s standards.

    It is even more sad that, no matter what I say on this matter, or anyone else, no one within the American Entertainment Industry will ever listen.

  5. Pingback: Last Airbender for Lovers. | The Bicycling Training Guide

  6. It’s true most white people are racists and therefore racism was rooted in America or worst than any places in the world. Even video games like Mortal Kombat character such as Kung Lao was depicted to look different…HE DOES NOT LOOK ANYTHING LIKE ASIAN even though his name is Kung Lao? Wtf…this is so retarded. That is why they had to name the Karate Kid, the KARATE KID and not Kung Fu kid…even though it has nothing to do with Karate. Why they do that?? Yea….cuz it’s WHITE RACISM. It’s complete joke if you think about it. I am glad i didn’t watch that Airbender movie…i didn’t know what it’s about. Seeing a white dude doing kung fu got me wondering what the hell is going on here. It’s stupid actually.

  7. Palama Silva on

    I would have preferred to see an Asian playing a main role, and this may happen next time.

    Having said that, when a Chinese guy played the role of jungle boy in Jungle Book, Indians had no complaint. Then, how come Asians have a problem here?

    How come they also did see a problem when a Chinese (who does not look Japanese) played the role in Memoirs of a Geisha?

  8. The Last Airbender Fan on

    Some people are stupid! Don’t the picketers have better things to do? What a great movie!!!!!

  9. Just saw the movie. It started off slowly but by the end of the movie I can say I am looking forward to the next two parts.

    Race of the characters? Didn’t really pay attention and didn’t detract from the experience. Hmmm….now that I think about it at least half the audience was Asian.

    See this movie! You won’t be disappointed!

  10. If you think racism started in America your a fool.
    I’ve traveled all over the world and seen racist people first hand.
    I’ve heard Chinese and Japenese say racist remarks about Africans.

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