As an Australian-born Chinese (ABC), I have received the benefit of both cultures. I celebrate Western and Eastern holidays alike (and get plenty of presents and "red packet" money), and I have a wide variety of friends of all races. I enjoy barbecues as much as stir fry, and can use the knife and fork about as well as chopsticks. I speak and write both Chinese and English. However, unfortunately, despite my proficiency in English, we Chinese Australians, and really, all Asian Australians, have suffered and continue to suffer a degree of ignorance and intolerance. This ignorance dates back to the days of the Australian Gold Rush, when Chinese were charged higher rates to enter Australia. Significant progress has been made since then, but this ignorance had never been fully worn down. I believe what I said above applies to all Overseas Asians, including those in the United States, United Kingdom and Malaysia.
In my opinion, one of the best things about the original Avatar: The Last Airbender series was that white Americans, Mike and Bryan, had crossed these boundaries made by the ignorant and had given Asian culture a chance to be presented in a different and positive light to a wider audience. I was amazed by the depth of their presentation of Asian culture, including the drinking of (Asian, that is "no milk and sugar") tea, the universal use of chopsticks, the use of Asian fashion, the use of Asian architecture etc. etc. I thought this was a wonderful victory for Asians, a signal that we were now so acceptable within English-speaking societies that a TV show could present Asians in a positive light. I thought that ignorance and intolerance of different, but equally great cultures had been eradicated.
This is why the casting and the general attitude of the film production team for The Last Airbender disappoints me so much. It makes me feel that no victory has been made at all. It makes me feel that cultural equality (as opposed to economic and political equality) is still very far off for people of different cultures.
Let's take an in-depth look at the casting.
- Aang is white. Despite the clear-cut Tibetan and Chinese influences on the nature of this character and the nature of the Air Nomads, the film producers have decided to make Aang white. By deduction, it follows that the Air Nomads will be white.
- The Water Tribe are based on the Inuits in the original series, which I consider to be a significant victory for them also. But no longer for the movie. The cast members for the three Water Tribe characters cast so far are all white. I find this insulting to Inuit culture. Any insult to a culture in this world insults me.
- The Earth Kingdom, from what I've heard, will be a mix of East Asian and other world cultures. I'll explain more on my views on this later.
- Zuko, Iroh and Zhao are all going to be dark-skinned in the movie. Not only does this insult the Japanese and Chinese influences on the Fire Nation, I also find this a huge insult to those in our world with darker skin. It's racism - the black dudes are the enemies, the white kids are the allies, apparently.
I've heard some say that the movie will try to depict the Avatar world as a truly multicultural world. Explain then, why the white, American people for the Water Tribe and Air Nomads are the good guys, while people of other cultures inhabit the sometimes wobbly Earth Kingdom (which has more enemies than allies in the series) and the Fire Nation. Explain then, why the producers still think that Asian culture is unacceptable, and must be supplanted by other cultures in three (and a half) out of four nations in the Avatar world. Explain then, why only one single East Asian actor has been cast (in a minor role too), while clearly Asian parts have been given out to people from other cultures.
There is no explanation, and there is no excuse. There is no real reason why Asians can't be cast in the roles Asians really deserve. I see Asian actors everywhere - do the producers seriously think that the world's biggest race cannot act as well as any other?
I have never really come out about this issue, and it has built up over the past few months. The result is this blog, this potentially explosive blog, coming from a respected administrator of the only developed information wiki about Avatar: The Last Airbender. So go to Racebending.com and learn more about all this, and support this cause. For me and my race's sake.
However, before I close, I should really note that that I do not dislike the movie producers. I merely disagree with their views, and are unimpressed by their actions. I do encourage everyone to support the cause to give Asians what we deserve, but I will be similarly unimpressed by any derogatory remarks from my side of the fence. Also, even if we do not win, I do encourage everyone to watch The Last Airbender when it is released, because aside from the issues I have identified, I still believe it will be a great movie.