BY SAMANTHA MASUNAGA
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.”