Network News

X My Profile
View More Activity
Posted at 9:25 AM ET, 07/ 1/2010

Talking with director M. Night Shyamalan about 'Last Airbender,' race and more

By Jen Chaney

M. Night Shyamalan has built his directing career on thrillers, ones that often involve supernatural elements and almost always promise a twist ending. But with "The Last Airbender" -- his big-screen adaptation of "Avatar: The Last Airbender," the Nickelodeon animated series with a devoted fan following -- he's finally going in a direction that doesn't involve seeing dead people or crop-circle signs.


M. Night Shyamalan at "The Last Airbender" premiere in New York. (Peter Kramer/AP)

Shyamalan took a few minutes to speak via telephone about the film, which opens in theaters today, how he deals with box office performance pressure and, of course, the controversy over whether enough Asian actors have been cast in a film based on a series with an anime aesthetic. And yes, Shyamalan has some very strong opinions on that last subject.

Jen Chaney: Obviously “Last Airbender” is a departure from the thrillers that have defined your career until now. Why did you decide that this was the right project to take on in order to move your work in a new direction?

M. Night Shyamalan: It’s been always bubbling, this idea of doing some kind of epic, a larger scale story that’s not contemporary and doesn’t stay in the thriller genre. And it kind of fell into place by chance with my daughter watching this mythology and getting kind of hooked, and then me getting hooked as well and feeling like somebody had taken all of my interests and put them into one movie.

JC: So your daughter helped in this department a little bit.

MNS: Oh my God, huge. Yeah.

JC: To what degree do you pay attention to: a. reviews or b. the box office? Do you feel any kind of – especially on that last point – sense of pressure as far as how much revenue the movie brings in?

MNS: Generally I’m pretty good about both of those things. I don’t really chase them. It’ll be what it’s going to be. I have kind of a belief in the movies, in my approach, in the integrity of my approach to making movies, and hope that that will win the day in a long-term way on the first point. And in the second point, that inherently the things that interest me generally interest people, you know, on a broader scale And they’re not as specific, let’s say. Those same interests – whether it’s aliens, the supernatural, however you want to put it -- they tend to interest a large group of people.

Everybody has an accent to the way – well, the true filmmakers have an accent, right? Sometimes that accent, it could be for a specific group and they love it, you know. So I know one thing. I’m not good at chasing. I don’t like to chase an audience. You can smell when someone is chasing an audience and it’s not good.

JC: I hear your point, but at the same time the studios want their films to make money. Everybody looks at a director’s track record and analyzes it and says he or she did really well with this film, but the next one didn’t do as well. Even if you know that your interests have an audience, it can potentially get tougher to convince a studio of that if they feel like this filmmaker isn’t bringing in the money that they want him or her to bring in.

MNS: Oh yeah, no, for sure. I take it very seriously that they make a profit, that every movie that the studio does makes a profit. The thing that’s protected me creatively is that the movies have made profits. Basically all of them except one have made a lot of profit. That’s been a great source of protection for my creative side, which then protects the commerce. So that cycle is a healthy cycle. It can go in the reverse way for sure, as you’re suggesting.

JC: So you feel comfortable that that isn’t happening at this point? That you’re still able to make the creative decisions you want to make and get the support you need without having to compromise those?

MNS: Yeah, no, I’ve been very, very lucky.

JC: I know you’ve gotten this question quite a bit, but I have to ask it because -- I’m sure other members of the press have told you this, too – I’ve been getting a lot of e-mails from the members of the Racebending group, especially in the days leading up to the release of this film. And again, they’re expressing their concerns about the lack of Asian or Asian-American actors cast in the film. What is your response to that at this point? Do you have anything further to say on that issue?

MNS: They’re misguided.

JC: Okay--

MNS: They’re aware I’m Asian, right?

JC: I would think so.

MNS: And that Dev [Patel]’s Asian, and Assif [Mandvi]’s Asian, and everybody’s, I mean – it’s incredible to think that there’s a correct Asian here. They don’t own this series. They don’t own all these cultures. The word Avatar is a Sanskrit word. So it’s all cultures that are put together. There’s no correct background here. They should ask: why does Noah Ringer look like a duplicate – a duplicate – of the cartoon guy? Why? He’s a dupe.

Anime is based on ambiguous facial features. It’s meant to be interpretive. It’s meant to be inclusive of all races, and you can see yourself in all these characters. My daughter saw herself as Kitara and now her friend who’s Hispanic sees herself as Kitara, and that’s totally valid. This is a multicultural movie and I’m going to make it even more multicultural in my approach to its casting. There’s African-Americans in the movie … so it’s a source of pride for me. The irony that they would label this with anything but the greatest pride, that the movie poster has Noah and Dev on it and my name on it. I don’t know what else to do.

JC: Does it offend you that they’re defining Asian in what you perceive as a limited way when you consider yourself Asian?

MNS: I think it’s convenient for their argument. Their issue isn’t with me. Their issue is with the artists that invented anime. The story of "The Last Airbender" is an ambiguous story. These cultures are not defined. There is no Inuit woman who looks like Kitara. That’s not the reality of things. That’s not the way they’re drawn. Talk to the people who drew them. So you’re talking to the wrong person. I’m actually doing a very culturally diverse movie. In fact, I believe it’s the most culturally diverse tent pole movie ever made. And the series will be, if we’re lucky enough to make all three, without a peer -- without a peer -- one of the most culturally diverse movies ever made. It doesn’t have, like, a token person. The entire landscape will be ethnically diverse. That’s the entire point of the series.

I just can’t even believe that having achieved this – I’m the one that fought to get this movie made – having to do all of this and the opportunities I’m getting to do this in this way, and bring all these cultures to the table and all these ideas to a mass audience. 85 percent of the audience will have not seen the show. Right? Around the world. And I’m going to introduce them to all of this. Like the Uncle Iroh character is literally the wisest person in the movie and I believe Shaun Toub [the actor who plays him] is Persian. I forget where he’s from, but he’s clearly not white. On and on.

And Dev is what the movie’s about, his character, where he goes is what the movie’s about. Just that I have to defend this is -- it’s outrageous.

JC: I want to ask you about Noah Ringer, who plays Aang, the Last Airbender. I know you found him via a casting call. What spoke to you about him?

MNS: My secret to all casting, and specifically kids, is cast good human beings. And if as a human being they match the colors that I want in the morning, then we’re going to be fine. With kids especially, I’m not casting Daniel Day Lewis. I’m not casting a chameleon who can become a million different things. I just want them to be them. And I want them to put themselves in these circumstances but I want their humanity to come out.

This kid is just a good human being. And literally I would give him my life, I think so much of him. And his parents, who are just amazing. That’s who you want there. He’s a homeschooled kid and he’s very pure, incredibly dedicated and thoughtful and loyal. Gosh, he’s everything we’d want. We wouldn’t want a kid pretending to do that, we want a kid who is that.

JC: You said something earlier about the sequels. The film is set up for the possibility of a sequel and obviously there is more to the “Last Airbender” story. How close are you to knowing whether there will be the opportunity to do the sequels, or does it really depend on how things go with the film?

MNS: It definitely depends. We’re all hoping and it’s meant to be one part of a three-part story. That was what drew me to it, was telling a long-form story. And I pray it all works out for us and it’s a successful venture for Paramount and they call me and say, “Go ahead. Do it up.”

JC: I know you’re getting asked this a lot, too, and I know you’re probably not going to tell me a darn thing. But is there anything you can say about the next project you’re working on? There are rumors that Bradley Cooper is attached, and Gwyneth Paltrow is attached, and that the movie will be a thriller about a man whose son gets kidnapped. Is there anything at all that you can say further about that?

MNS: (Laughs)

JC: Even if it’s just to tell me that what I’ve said is completely false?

MNS: I wrote another supernatural thriller and I’m trying to see, once I’m done this tour here for this movie, to see how everything is going to lay ou schedule-wise. Because of these movies being so long in prep, the "Airbenders" -- to do it properly you can’t just jam it to a date, you’ve got to really work it carefully. So I’m trying to be as responsible as I can to every flip. My dream would be to do the thriller and then go and do the second part of the series. That would be my perfect scenario. I don’t know if physically I will have the time to do all that. Hopefully in the next six weeks to two months I will figure all of that out.

By Jen Chaney  | July 1, 2010; 9:25 AM ET
Categories:  Movies, Pop Culture  | Tags:  Q&As, Summer Movies  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Tiger Woods divorce settlement reportedly finalized; 'Paranormal Activity 2' trailer pulled from some theaters
Next: More speculation about the alleged Tiger Woods divorce settlement

Comments

So, my humble comments: Great job on the bending and sticking to accurate scenery. It is kind of annoying that the benders have to go through so many moves to bend, but it's not that big of a deal. Also, the special effects were well done. I hate the way the actors say names that are clearly spoken in the show. For example, Aang is a hard "A" not a soft A like Aaaang. Avatar is not Ahvatar. Also, there was no development of Aang and Katara's relationship, or of Aang's funny and pranksterish personality. Did not delve into Prince Zuko's troubled mentality or anger as much, and Iroh (NOT earoh) is short and stoutly, but I did like the actor who played him. Also, why can't the firebenders create fire like they do in the cartoon?

The movie was good, but not great. 7/10.

Posted by: johnmilligan19 | July 1, 2010 10:50 AM | Report abuse

Roger Ebert absolutely trashed this movie; his review is beyond scathing. I have to say I'm disappointed because I love the TV series. (That said, I'll probably still take my kids to see it, and hope we're all not too disappointed.)

"I know one thing. I’m not good at chasing. I don’t like to chase an audience."

DING DING DING DING. That tells me that MNS is much more interested in his view of something than the audience's. And that's kind of a problem when you're making a movie that you want people to watch. And enjoy. And watch again.

As for the race/casting issue -- and based on the very little I've read about the so-called controversy -- MNS might want to step away from the Hollywood bubble and realize that big-budget, high-buzz movies aren't often made that feature Asian actors. So he might've done more work there to ensure broader diversity.

Posted by: td_in_baltimore | July 1, 2010 11:24 AM | Report abuse

"MNS might want to step away from the Hollywood bubble and realize that big-budget, high-buzz movies aren't often made that feature Asian actors."

This. I just feel like he missed a great opportunity here to give some new varied actors the chance to carry a big summer blockbuster and break a little further into the industry. I want to see something different.

Posted by: Bawlmer51 | July 1, 2010 12:05 PM | Report abuse

Wow, M Knight... did you watch the same show I did? It isn’t just the martial arts and obviously tanner/yellower-skinned character designs that made me believe those characters were East Asian-—what about the clothing designs (everyone in the Earth Kingdom wears traditional Chinese Changshans, and the Fire Nation army wear Japanese samurai-style armor), the food depicted (dim sum seems pretty obviously Chinese, don’t you think?), and even the names of the characters (Aang? Toph Bei Fong? Mai? Tai Li?–can you really say those names aren’t obviously intended to evoke a certain cultural identity?).

And it's great if M Knight wanted to open up the heavily Asian and Inuit world of the cartoon to other races--but with so few main character (especially good guy) roles for East Asian and Inuit actors in Hollywood films, don't you think it was a little cruel to take this cast--in which ALL the principle characters were East Asian and Inuit--and then not give a SINGLE one of those roles to an East Asian or Inuit actor? How is that not a slap in their faces? I'm pretty sure both groups of actors would trade the 500 faceless background character roles you gave to East Asians and Inuits in your film for just ONE of those main character roles.

You're the one who's insensitive and misguided, Mr. Shyamalan. Your adaptation so blatantly disregards the spirit of diversity of the original cartoon that it deserves to go down as a flaming box office wreck. May your career follow suit.

Posted by: redcrest | July 1, 2010 1:36 PM | Report abuse

Wow, M Knight... did you watch the same show I did? It isn’t just the martial arts and obviously tanner/yellower-skinned character designs that made me believe those characters were East Asian-—what about the clothing designs (everyone in the Earth Kingdom wears traditional Chinese Changshans, and the Fire Nation army wear Japanese samurai-style armor), the food depicted (dim sum seems pretty obviously Chinese, don’t you think?), and even the names of the characters (Aang? Toph Bei Fong? Mai? Tai Li?–can you really say those names aren’t obviously intended to evoke a certain cultural identity?).

And it's great if M Knight wanted to open up the heavily Asian and Inuit world of the cartoon to other races--but with so few main character (especially good guy) roles for East Asian and Inuit actors in Hollywood films, don't you think it was a little cruel to take this cast--in which ALL the principle characters were East Asian and Inuit--and then not give a SINGLE one of those roles to an East Asian or Inuit actor? How is that not a slap in their faces? I'm pretty sure both groups of actors would trade the 500 faceless background character roles you gave to East Asians and Inuits in your film for just ONE of those main character roles.

You're the one who's insensitive and misguided, Mr. Shyamalan. Your adaptation so blatantly disregards the spirit of diversity of the original cartoon that it deserves to go down as a flaming box office wreck. May your career follow suit.

Posted by: redcrest | July 1, 2010 1:38 PM | Report abuse

Wait, so let met get this straight.

M. Night thinks that the people complaining about the "whitewashing" of characters of color in his movie are upset with him because they don't think South Asian and Indian people are "real Asians?"

That couldn't be further from the truth. M. Night Shyamalan cast white actors to play Asian and Inuit characters, using casting language that preferencing Caucasian actors. He then cast people of color, but only in villain and secondary roles. The African American EXTRAS he cast are tokens--They are on screen for all of 15 seconds, praising the (white) heroes. The movie depicts communities of color unable to help themselves until the white heroes inspire them.

The characters in the animated series were not ambiguous. Nickelodeon advertised them as from an "Asian fantasy world" for years until Shyamalan got his grubby little hands on the franchise.

We understand that Shyamalan is Asian, but that doesn't give him a free pass for reinforcing generations of Hollywood discrimination.

If Shyamalan truly believes that anime is "ambiguous" and "inclusive," then why did his production unambiguously exclude actors of color from the three lead heroic roles?

Posted by: jedifreac | July 1, 2010 1:42 PM | Report abuse

I find it interesting that MNS chose to exclude East Asian (Japanese, Chinese,Vietnamese etc) looking actors from major roles but cast many Indian actors (Dev Patel,Assif Mandvi, even that guy from MTV) in major roles the film, even though the original show is almost entirely influenced by East Asian Culture. So he basically promoting Bollywood and ignoring other Asians.

Posted by: slanted1 | July 1, 2010 2:32 PM | Report abuse

I find it interesting that MNS has forgotten about the swamp hillbillies of Vietnam and the spaced-out hippies of Northern Tibet.

Posted by: jenm5004 | July 1, 2010 2:47 PM | Report abuse

People like to cry when it is convenient to thier cause. I didn't see anyone applauding when they did the remake of the Karate Kid in china and used an african american to star with a cast made up of all east asians except his mother and one friend. The remake was basically the same story but different place. It has been a big money maker. I think no matter what was done somebody would have cried about something that wasn't the same as the TV show.

Posted by: xntrikk | July 1, 2010 3:24 PM | Report abuse

This is crazy.

My hubby and I watched and loved the series. As a parent, I got to love the show all over again through my child's eyes.

So a director, that I greatly admire btw, sees this little gem for what it is and decides to take it on. And then I find out he's come to the same way, enjoying a storyline for yourself and for your child.

I'm thrilled he's done the movie, and I'm thrilled I get to go see it in a big theatre with great special effects. Of course it's his take. Of course it's going to be different, things are going to be left out.

But you know what, I'm not going to the movie theatre to watch the cartoon all over again. And I would be disappointed by MNS if I did.

And for those who are going on about the racial inequality of it all...get off the computer, the mass-mailing and drum-banging, and go volunteer in your community. How this man casts a children's sci-fi adventure movie isn't going to make a bit of difference in amending racial issues.

Posted by: rachelt2 | July 1, 2010 3:51 PM | Report abuse

@td_in_baltimore , i disagree. I think when a filmmaker is making any film they have to make the film the way they see it because there is no way he is going to please every fan of the cartoon. Every fan has there own idea of what the movie should be, so Night has to make it his way. And speaking of which, this is not the cartoon! So you should not be expecting to see a live action cartoon.

Every time Night makes a film, it seems there are critics just waiting in the wings to say something negative. But Night is doing the right thing by not chasing reviews and instead making films that he wants to see...regardless if the 'haters' want to come along for the ride.

Posted by: Alex1068 | July 1, 2010 4:12 PM | Report abuse

Give me a break. How backward can this guy be?!? I can't believe this guy.

MNS:
"Their issue isn’t with me. Their issue is with the artists that invented anime. The story of "The Last Airbender" is an ambiguous story. These cultures are not defined."

You take the story based on the anime story on East Asian based culture. You cast your movie with Caucasian actors. And you turns around and accuse the original anime author being racial and narrowly depicting the story in Eastern Asian background? How much more stupid can you be, MNS? Is that really your argument against casting criticism?

Your casting being creative choice, or target audience consideration, or you deal with studio, all acceptable. Tell it straight. Just don't find lame excuses like "blame the original author". What a freak!


You launch the movie based on the popularity of the Anime, and you tell people that you don't care about pleasing audience and box office. What hypocrite!

MNS:
"I’m not good at chasing. I don’t like to chase an audience. You can smell when someone is chasing an audience and it’s not good."

Posted by: Aokage | July 1, 2010 4:20 PM | Report abuse

Let's not be so sloppy with language. M Knight,nobody was actually asking for diversity. They were asking you to honor the cultural specificity of the original series. These are quite different things. So, while you may have succeeded in providing diversity within your individual film, you did not succeed in honoring the cultural specificity of the material. And in making your individual film "diverse" you decreased the overall diversity of Hollywood films, seeing as how there are not that many opportunities to represent this specific subgroup within the film world.
If you claim not to understand this, then you are being disengenuous and hiding behind sloppy language.

Posted by: Roxie1 | July 1, 2010 4:59 PM | Report abuse

Alex1068, I see your point, but there has to be better balance here. MNS is tilting too far the wrong way. I'm all for integrity, but not in a vacuum.

The almost universally negative reviews of this particular movie go beyond what surely must be a considerably smaller population of known haters of his work.

Posted by: td_in_baltimore | July 1, 2010 5:20 PM | Report abuse

Secret tunnel! Secret tunnel! Through the mountain!

...leaving aside the sadly racist casting, I doubt that song would make it in the movie. The film looks way too dark compared to the series. He's turned it into the "Ember Island Players" parody of itself--I wouldn't be surprised if Toph ends up being played by some big muscular dude because "Toph sounds like tough."

And by the way, I'm of South Asian heritage too, and you know what? It still doesn't make sense to me to cast a white kid in the role of an Asian-looking kid from an Asian-inspired culture, or white kids in the role of distinctively non-white kids from an Inuit-inspired civilization. The showmakers made very deliberate, specific decisions regarding the various cultures of the series, and while the show isn't technically anime (being of US origin), they used anime styles in the art; if you watch enough anime, you notice that there is a difference in facial characteristics between light-skinned Asian characters and characters of European descent. The light-skinned characters in ATLA were pretty clearly drawn as Asian. Most people in the general public wouldn't know that, but I have to hold MNS to a different standard--it was up to him to not be weird with his casting choices.

Posted by: dkp01 | July 1, 2010 5:20 PM | Report abuse

The controversy has never been over "how many" asian or inuit actors have been cast, but how many are leads.

For generations now, Hollywood has had no problem casting minorities as faceless and voiceless extras - the real question is when can we have lead roles?

It seems rather strange to brag about being an advancement in diversity when choosing to cast Caucasians in roles for characters who are Inuit, Tibetan, or East Asian, especially in Hollywood with a long history of replacing minority lead roles with that of Caucasians.

Having an asian director is no excuse, either, especially if the end result is the same.

As long as M. Night continues to ignore the core concern, dissembling and attacking strawmen, it will only serve to make his choices look more problematic and himself intellectually dishonest.

Posted by: yeloson | July 1, 2010 5:26 PM | Report abuse

I forgot to say, it ALSO doesn't make any sense to me that they cast South Asians in roles that were not South Asian-inspired in the show. Aasif Mandvi as Zhao? Really? It's a flippin' Chinese name, but it's an Indian guy playing the role?

Posted by: dkp01 | July 1, 2010 5:27 PM | Report abuse

@Alex1068, I disagree. If M. Night wanted to make HIS movie, he could have just come up with an original concept like he's always done. What's the point of making an adaptation if you're not going to honor the source material?

Posted by: nilaffle | July 1, 2010 5:37 PM | Report abuse

"Anime is based on ambiguous facial features. It’s meant to be interpretive. It’s meant to be inclusive of all races, and you can see yourself in all these characters."

Wrong. Shyamalan really needs to read the essay, "The Face of the Other" by Matt Thorn because the man breaks these assumptions down.

Going back to the series, it was based on Inuit and Asian cultures. It was only logical to cast Inuit and Asian actors to reflect the source material. Instead, what we got was three of the four main characters played by white actors (let's not forget that the fourth character was originally going to be played by Jesse McCartney), several dark-skinned actors cast as the antagonists, and Inuits, Asians, and African Americans were cast to play secondary characters and were basically there to be saved by their white saviors. This is not diversity. This just continues Hollywood's long history of discrimination against actors of color.

The movie is not only an injustice to the people who love the series. It's an injustice to young Asian and Inuit actors who should have had the opportunity to play these wonderfully complex characters. It's an injustice to all of the young people out there who saw themselves represented in a beautiful series.

Posted by: Janlee | July 1, 2010 5:45 PM | Report abuse

"They’re aware I’m Asian, right?"

Of course we're aware that you're Asian, sir. What does that change? Does that change the ethnicities of the original characters? Does it change the ethnicity of the actors you chose to play them? Does it change any of our complaints? No, not at all. That you are Asian does not excuse what you've done here.

"And that Dev [Patel]’s Asian, and Assif [Mandvi]’s Asian"

We are aware of that, yes. We're also aware that they're the villains and antagonists, and not the heroes. You have purely dark-skinned villains (you've admitted in other interviews that you cast the Fire Nation as specifically dark-skinned), and three white heroes. This not only reinforces the "dark-skinned is bad, light-skinned is good" message that permeates our culture, but is a complete reversal of the original show, where the siblings Sokka and Katara were dark-skinned and the Fire Nation villains were mostly light-skinned.

We're also aware that Jesse McCartney was your first pick for Zuko, and that you probably would have cast the rest of the Fire Nation as white to match him, had he not quit.

"The word Avatar is a Sanskrit word. So it’s all cultures that are put together."

There is a blend of cultures in Avatar, yes. Most of it is East Asian--with some Native American, Meso-American, and indeed, some Indian in there as well. But there is almost no European (nor African, for that matter). So why did you cast white people to play the heroes?

"They should ask: why does Noah Ringer look like a duplicate – a duplicate – of the cartoon guy?"

He doesn't. Aang is East Asian. Noah Ringer is not.

"Anime is based on ambiguous facial features."

No, it is not. The vast majority of anime characters are quite unambiguously Japanese. So too are the characters in Avatar unambiguously East Asian and Inuit. Their entire cultures are based on East Asian and Inuit cultures: their food, buildings, mannerisms, clothes, weapons, poetry, writing, paintings, art, plays, hairstyles, are all East Asian and Inuit. And so were the characters.

You knew that the Water Tribe was Inuit when you chose Inuit extras to play the Southern Water Tribe, when you constructed igloos for the sets, and when you hired Barry Howe of Lethal Lithics to recreate an authentic Inuit weapon for your movie. But when it came to casting the main characters, you claim that their race is suddenly ambiguous? That doesn't fly, Shyamalan.

"There’s African-Americans in the movie … so it’s a source of pride for me."

There are, for a scant few seconds. They show up in the background, without names or lines or any attention at all. I am astounded that you take pride in that.

Posted by: Skemono | July 1, 2010 5:56 PM | Report abuse

"The story of "The Last Airbender" is an ambiguous story. These cultures are not defined."

Did you even watch the show? Did you not see the characters dressing in hanfu and cheongsams, anoraks and mukluks, sporting topknots and queues, writing in Chinese, wielding jians and qiangs, eating with chopsticks and Chinese soup spoons, living in buildings with Asian architecture, furnished with Asian furniture? There was nothing ambiguous about it. The cultures were thoroughly-defined--they were East Asian and Inuit.

"Talk to the people who drew them."

We have. Dao Le, the animatics editor of the original series, said of the characters "I always believed they were Asian", and that in fact "some of the characters were even modeled after Asian members of the crew." And Giancarlo Volpe (not one of the animators, but a director on the series), said that Derek Kirk Kim "sums up [his] feelings exactly" when Kim wrote a blog post denouncing your casting for the film. Perhaps you're the one who should have spent more time talking with the creators of the series.

"It doesn’t have, like, a token person."

The African-American characters you boast about are nameless extras who appear for all of a few seconds, and yet you point to their brief existence as evidence of the diversity and multicultural nature of your movie. I think that's practically the definition of token people.

The Kyoshi Warriors, some of the few characters with names to be cast as Asian, have been cut from the movie. That's not even tokenism, there. Instead, we have "Earthbending Boy", so essential to the movie he does not even get a name.

Your vaunted diversity is strictly relegated to the background, Shyamalan. That's not good enough.

Posted by: Skemono | July 1, 2010 5:57 PM | Report abuse

"How this man casts a children's sci-fi adventure movie isn't going to make a bit of difference in amending racial issues."

Actually, it will. Movies and TV do not exist in a vacuum. They often shape and influence the perceptions of society. Night's whitewashing only serves to further the perception that white people are normal and the default.

I am afraid that Night continues to misunderstand racebending.com's concerns. The fact that he is Asian does not give him a free pass to commit discrimination against fellow Asians. Also, Night seems to be laboring under the impression that diversity and representation are about sheer numbers. He believes that sticking Inuits in the background as extras counts as representation. But it doesn't. You cannot stick black people in as extras and say that they are represented. He says that we are only looking at the principal roles, and that we should look beyond that. But, that's sort of the point. Night saying otherwise shows that he does not understand our position at all. All roles are NOT created equal. One million Asian extras do not add up to one Asian principal role.

If Night really wanted to represent white people, why not stick them in the Earth Kingdom or in the roles of more peripheral characters? Why did he have to take the titular role? Or the role of the two darkest-skinned characters in the cast? Inuits/First Nations people and young Asian males are some of the least represented POC in today's media, and it's not right.

Posted by: kim14 | July 1, 2010 6:01 PM | Report abuse

I'm just going to say something short and simple:

Cartoon - Uses Chinese Calligraphy

Movie - Uses nonsensical jibberish

Who is culturally ignorant?
Cartoon creator or movie creator?

end.

Posted by: MichiMinx | July 1, 2010 6:56 PM | Report abuse

You know what? Went to McDonald's tonight and bought me and my little one Happy Meals for dinner just so she could get two toys.

So, I'll see your pan-racial inequality and raise you a national obesity epidemic. This movie is an equal opportunity offender. Like They All Are!

You pick what you want to be offended about. And I'll raise my cheeseburger to you, my friend.

It is a sad truth that cultural highwatermarks are rarely found at the movies. I go to the Freer for culture, I go to the movies for entertainment. Do not presume that as an individual I am so stupid as to confuse the two. And if you are speaking in general terms, of populations, statistics and wee little children's minds being irreparably shaped by poor casting, then remember you are also trading in terms of the fantastical. Because those high-flown sentiments are just as unreal and intangible as the roles in that movie. The only real thing is the change you affect in those around you. That's it.

If you feel strongly about the lack of minority actors in Hollywood, then I hope you continue to work for this cause AFTER the movie comes and goes.

If you feel strongly about the lack of diversity in your community, then I hope you continue to strive for change AFTER this passes.

As for me, I do affect change in the world around me. It is good, worthwhile and tangible. And this movie has absolutely nothing to do with it. Pardon me, while I eat my cheeseburger.

Posted by: rachelt2 | July 1, 2010 7:42 PM | Report abuse

"If you feel strongly about the lack of minority actors in Hollywood, then I hope you continue to work for this cause AFTER the movie comes and goes.

If you feel strongly about the lack of diversity in your community, then I hope you continue to strive for change AFTER this passes. "

Fallacious argument. Who's to say that we aren't? I'm pretty sure you don't know me in real life.

Posted by: kim14 | July 1, 2010 7:45 PM | Report abuse

"If you feel strongly about the lack of minority actors in Hollywood, then I hope you continue to work for this cause AFTER the movie comes and goes."

Well, I'm about to fulfill your hopes and dreams here, because a lot of us have been complaining about whitewashing for years! ATLA happens to have gotten the most attention lately, but there have been complaints about whitewashing, yellow/black/brownfacing, "brown people as the enemy," etc. race-fail in films for quite some time. We complained when Joss Whedon's "Firefly" inexplicably had no main characters of Chinese descent despite the series taking place in a universe where the US and China were the two dominant shaping forces, for instance, and we complained when that Kevin Spacey movie about card-counting turned real people of Asian descent into white characters for the film. We also complain when book covers get white-washed cover art! And speaking of books, we also speak up against the ghetto-ization/lack of support in the publishing industry for books with non-white leads. It's amazing how well we can multi-task, really. Just because you've never noticed the conversations, doesn't mean they haven't taken place.

Posted by: dkp01 | July 1, 2010 8:16 PM | Report abuse

Here, by the way, is a statement from the animatic editor from the TV show, where she expressed dismay at the white-washed casting of characters who had been drawn as Asian. For MNS to claim, a full year after this statement was made, that the characters were drawn to be racially ambiguous is disingenuous at best:

http://www.racebending.com/v3/background/statement-from-dao-le-animatic-editor/

Posted by: dkp01 | July 1, 2010 8:39 PM | Report abuse

From the trailers I have seen why have they not gotten the hair right on the main charters?

Saka with long flowing hair?
Kitara with no hair loopies?

Come on these are the small details that many fans will not like!!

Posted by: imZandor | July 2, 2010 10:48 AM | Report abuse

M Knight, if he hasn't jumped the shark already, did it with the casting for this movie.

Actions speak louder than the color of your skin. The fact is - given the opportunity to cast the LEAD CHARACTER - M. Knight chose to chase market demographics instead of story accuracy. Claiming that he's got it right everywhere else is like Toyota saying "we've got some safety issues, but our cup-holders are first rate."

He placed the kid playing the lead in an awful situation that he and the other adults involved were too ignorant to anticipate.

Don't even get me started on the King of Persia.

Full disclosure: I'm south asian, own a Toyota, and still think "Sixth Sense" is a great movie. Despite all that, I'm not letting MNS skate on this - the casting was a mistake.

Posted by: shreds | July 2, 2010 1:25 PM | Report abuse

Why does Hollywood keep giving this talentless hack of a directory ANY BUDGET WHATSOEVER to make anything. The sixth sense was a one hit wonder for M. Night Shamalakaliakon. PLEASE MAKE IT STOP!

P.S.

Imaging sophisticated aliens who can build intergalactic star ships. These same smart aliens would go to a planet composed of 3/4 of a substance (water) that is poisonous to them? Now put some antisemetic racist as the main lead in this idiotic tale....
Talk about one stupid idea!

Posted by: gene11 | July 2, 2010 5:14 PM | Report abuse

You know this article just proves M. Night is in it just to make money, and he doesn't seem to care if he offends anyone as long as it makes a lot of money like his previous crappy films. I fully understand now why he chose non asian/native american actors for the leads while the rest of the cast particularly asians and native americans had very little dialogue.

Posted by: Walter14 | July 5, 2010 7:29 PM | Report abuse

OMG where was M.D.DeMartino when we needed him... at least as a consultant. For the true fans of the original series - this movie (interpretation or not) was a casting let-down.:( It really took away from the deeper meaning of the series. I noticed several possible Kataras playing as extras in the background & where was Toph?! (Ditto to jedifreac's comment!) Flashbacks to light heroes versus dark villains ... Booooooo!!
To give kudoes where due however, I did enjoy some of the special effects of the bending. Some of the actors/actresses did a pretty good job, but some just could not measure up to the character's we love & expected to see in "flesh".
FYI there was no applause after the movie. Too bad... this was a tremendous opportunity all botched up. As much as I love the original series we will not return even if there is a sequel to this movie.

Posted by: gailsmithgfeld2004 | July 6, 2010 9:35 AM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

 
 
RSS Feed
Subscribe to The Post

© 2011 The Washington Post Company