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12.22.2009

the last airbender: asian american groups meet with paramount

An update on the The Last Airbender situation (not to be confused with the Avatar movie currently in the theaters)... As you know fans of the Nickelodeon animated series Avatar: The Last Airbender are upset over live action movie adaptation, where the cartoon's mostly ethnically Asian characters were cast with white actors.

Racebending.com, which has been one of the leading online voices protesting The Last Airbender, just posted an account of the Asian American coalition meeting with Paramount Pictures last month: APA Coalition Meets with Paramount.

The meeting, which came out of a previous protest over The Goods, included leaders from groups like the Japanese American Citizens League and the Media Action Network for Asian Americans, and Adam Goodman, President of Paramount Film Group:
Public Concerns over the casting of The Last Airbender

In an April 2009 letter from MANAA in response to the producers of The Last Airbender, MANAA raised several questions regarding the studios' decision to cast white actors to depict Asian characters, the discriminatory language used in the casting calls, and the culturally ignorant language used by members of the production, including the casting director and one of the film's stars.

MANAA was also concerned about the implications of featuring a villainous nation with dark-skinned, partly South Asian actors and a heroic nation led by white heroes who liberate the "Asian and African" nation, as well as the cultural appropriation of Pacific Rim cultures and the franchise's core Asian concepts, despite a glass ceiling blocking off Asian American actors from playing lead protagonists. Eight months later, these concerns remain unaddressed.

MANAA's Conversation with Paramount

Goodman told the coalition that if a sequel to The Last Airbender is made, "it will focus on the Asian nation." (Those who have followed the protest and the film know that the Asian fantasy world of the franchise has been modified so that only one nation, the Earth Kingdom, will be populated with actors of Asian descent. In the animated series, the vast Earth Kingdom was one of four nations in the setting, based on over thirty different Pacific Rim cultures and time periods.)

When MANAA raised concerns about the "Caucasian or any other ethnicity" casting call that Paramount released to cast the four lead characters of color from the Avatar: The Last Airbender franchise, Katie Martin Kelly told MANAA that Paramount has since taken steps to make future casting notices more "consistent." Paramount's new casting policies now have more oversight over the breakdown services that draft casting calls.

Goodman told the Asian American community representatives that "Diversity is paramount to Paramount." Per MANAA's suggestion, Paramount promised to furnish the Asian American community with statistics on the number of Asian American actors, writers, and directors with the studio.

Goodman shared that after taking over for Lesher, he cleaned house and there is currently no head of Casting at Paramount. A new head of Casting will be hired early 2010, and MANAA and Paramount planned a meeting with this casting head next year to discuss The Last Airbender and Paramount's casting policies as a whole.

According to Paramount, M. Night Shyamalan is aware of criticism over the casting. Paramount promised to let the Asian American advocates at the meeting see a screening of the film before it was released. Goodman told MANAA that in all his years in the business, he has never seen such outcry over the casting of a character.
"Diversity is paramount to Paramount." That's a good one. At this point, production on The Last Airbender is a speeding train heading for the station -- the damage has already been done, and no one is changing a damn thing.

This movie is happening, and next summer, audiences are going to see what a ridiculous world they've created, where Caucasian heroes run around and fight, while Asians hang around in the background selling vegetables and weaving baskets and stuff.

If this makes you angry, and you'd like to join in the effort to raise awareness about The Last Airbender (and other projects like it), find out how you can help Racebending.com as a volunteer here.