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Racebending 101

Here’s a great video from my pal, Parry Shen—actor, voice talent, and managing editor of Secret Identities: The Asian American Superhero Anthology.

There's a great jab at the end regarding the new M. Night Shyamalan film debuting this summer, a live-action adaptation of Avatar: The Last Airbender (renamed The Last Airbender, to avoid confusion with James Cameron's Avatar film). In the film version, the Asian lead characters have…ta-da…magically become white people.

One of the reasons why I’m doubtful HOTEL will ever make it to the big screen. Unless you'd like to see Keiko played by Miley Cyrus. Nah, me neither.

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Reader Comments (9)

That's where the "I am Chinese" button will really come in handy.
April 20, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKatie Alender
True dat.
April 20, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJamie
Haha. Loved this!
April 21, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLydia Sharp
I'm so peeved at this. I was really looking forward to the movie and the little boy looked like a pretty decent fit. Now that I know who else is filling the roles of the main characters, I have no desire to see it. Thanks for letting us know Jamie. I would have wasted money on this travesty.
April 21, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterEric Stallsworth
That video is hilarious. And for the record, Miley Cyrus as Keiko had me spewing diet coke all over my keyboard. Thanks for that.
April 21, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLisa and Laura
I can't see the video here at work so I'll only comment on your commentary :)

It's a Shyamalan film though right? so in the last 30 seconds the actors will rip off their fake skin and all REALLY be Asian right? Or wait, that's not enough of a twist... maybe they'd all be African? or they'll all be blue Navi?

I'm a pretty big fan of the cartoon... and part of what I love about it is that they did a fantastic job of creating a mythology that felt steeped in a variety of Asian cultures, without aping specifically any one of them. Based on the look of the cartoon Aang seems plausibly played by a bald white kid (though he looks relatively light-skinned he could reasonably have been cast as a number of races I think, though his airbending "philosophy" seemed closer to Hindu than anything else).... Sokka and Katara (the waterbenders) seemed more Inuit/Eskimo-ish (though that seemed more their culture than their "look"... that seemed mixed with a middle-eastern/persian look)... the Fire bending nation characters seemed more Chinese w/ Japanese mixed in while the Earthbenders seemed more Chinese with Indian mixed in... So of course it MAKES TOTAL SENSE to make them all white... except for the bad guy.

That said, because it's the internet and I do this sort of thing, I went looking for further cast info and there is a bunch of back and forth on The Last Airbender fan sites over what the mix of races for given actors might be (mainly regarding Noah Ringer playing Aang).

And Jamie, I bet they would cast Brenda Song as your Disney-girl Keiko instead of Miley (still ruin it, but just in a different way). Then again... there's Jake Gyllenhaal as the Prince of Persia this summer... so maybe Miley isn't be too far off.
April 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterCharlesP
Yeah, a lot of back and forth regarding Airbender, the producer blaming the casting agent, the casting agent blaming...the other casting agent...etc.

And initially casting Jesse McCartney? I guess his 15 minutes came and went before they began principal shooting.

The weird thing for me is, when this happens they usually fill the Asian parts with known Caucasian actors, for their drawing power. But in this case, they replaced them with unknowns, so the normal argument doesn't apply. So why not cast Asian unknowns?
April 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJamie
Okay, this is going to seem totally out there and maybe reveal too much about my reading tastes. The Twilight movies (I know) have real Native American actors playing Native Americans. This was actually a condition made by the director of the second film. I think depending on who is calling the shots on the project, authenticity can happen. For the record I read your book too and enjoyed it.
May 24, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJassy
Thanks for the comment Jassy. You're right, sometimes it can happen. And the terrible thing is...the new Airbender looks really good. I'm sure it'll be a huge box-office hit, and no one will notice...
May 25, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJamie

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