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green slopes
A member of the AAW/Racebending team is currently conducting a survey over at racebending, and we'd encourage you to take a moment to go and participate. From her post:

I have been contacted by a group curious to learn about the demographics of our movement. It might be important to prove to the world that this issue concerns everyone, not simply Asian Americans or young people or Avatar fans, etc. As much as statistics 'pigeonhole' us, it can also help show how diverse we are.


You can fill out the survey here -- it doesn't require you use your real name, just asks about your race, gender, age, where you live and why you're supporting this movement. This is a great chance to let people know that this isn't just an "Asian" issue, but one that people from many different races and backgrounds care about.

Paramount Responds

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Earlier this winter, the Media Action Network for Asian Americans publicly spoke out against Paramount's casting policy regarding The Last Airbender. They posted an open letter to the producers on their site as well as sending it through more direct channels, offering to help Paramount Pictures steer this project in the right direction.

Nearly a month later, Paramount responded. You can read their letter in its entirety here, but it says, in part:

Early casting includes an Indian actor, born in Mumbai and raised in the UK and the US; a Persian actor born in Tehran and raised in the UK, Switzerland and the US; a Maori actor born and raised in New Zealand; a Korean-American actor, born and raised in Chicago; an American actress of Italian, French and Mexican heritage; among several others of varied nationalities from around the world.

The four nations represented in the film reflect not one community, but the world’s citizens. These societies will be cast from a diversity of all races and cultures. In particular, the Earth Kingdom will be cast with Asian, East Asian and Africans.


We would like to take a moment, here, to speak briefly about the real world cultures represented within Avatar: The Last Airbender. The only written language represented is classical Chinese. The characters' journey through the Earth Kingdom and Fire Nation reveals a wide variety of distinctive East Asian cultures, including Chinese, Korean, Tibetan, Japanese and Vietnamese. The Water Tribe draws from Inuit, Yupik and Pacific Islander cultures. This world features astonishing diversity from all across the Asian continent and all along the Pacific Rim, which is a part of what made it so unique.

There are no equivalents to African or European cultures in the Avatar world. There are no medieval French castles. There are no Egyptian temples. There are no Viking long houses. There are no Malian mosques. Including African American extras in the Earth Kingdom was a deliberate decision, intended to mask the whitewashing of the principle cast.

The MANAA found Paramount's letter as pandering and transparent as we did. They have written a response, which you can read here on their site, but certain sections seem particularly important to point out here:

Thank you for your letter. Because it raises important questions regarding your perceptions of diversity, we are again requesting a meeting to discuss the casting and depiction of cultures in the movie (and your future projects) so this film can truly be the success we all want. We are interested, for instance, in how your ideal of including people from “all corners of the globe” correlates with your casting policies. Specifically seeking out white actors and casting four white leads for what M. Night Shymalan admitted was an “Asian fantasy world” does not celebrate ethnic diversity. Re-casting the sole villainous lead with an actor of color is a concession that results in three heroic nations going to war against an evil nation of color.

After dealing with Hollywood studios for the past 17 years, we are more than familiar with the justifications used to cast white actors instead of actors of color. Other film productions have previously used the same pretexts, touting diversity through the casting of supporting roles--but only after first discriminating in casting the lead roles.

[...]

How can you, in good faith, say you are trying to honor the integrity of the television series by taking a story written with Asian themes, settings, characters, and populating it with white leads—especially when there are so few Asian roles available in Hollywood? You are continuing a generations-long practice of racial discrimination where the opportunity for actors of color to be heroes for a change is taken away (this time in the name of “diversity.”).


The MANAA intends to pursue this matter, but they would very much appreciate any support the Avatar fan community can provide. If you live in the Los Angeles area, their next general meeting will be on May 21st, and they would love to have more fans concerned with this issue attend and share their thoughts.

If you don't live close enough to join them in person, we would encourage you to take a moment to write them a note sharing your thoughts and your support. If you aren't of Asian descent yourself, they would appreciate being told as much -- it's encouraging to know that people of all races are standing by them!

Finally: as we mentioned earlier, producer Frank Marshall has an account on Twitter, which many fans have used to contact him directly regarding this issue. Unfortunately, some fans have chosen to behave in a rude, unhelpful manner, which casts a bad light on all of us and makes our concerns that much easier to dismiss. We would therefore encourage you to use this platform to send polite messages and questions about The Last Airbender and its cast -- perhaps we can drown out the unhelpful negativity and show the producers that we're serious enough about this issue to write about it respectfully.

Taking it to Twitter

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We have been told that Frank Marshall, one of the producers of The Last Airbender, has an account on Twitter. We've also been told that many of our supporters have been sending him harassing messages.

While we understand that this is a rare opportunity to communicate more directly with the producers, rude behavior reflects badly on all of us. It's far better for our movement if we are polite and precise with our words, and present a unified front.

If you have a Twitter account and want to help, you can use this message:

@LeDoctor I want Airbender to be successful, and so I'm asking you to address the public's concerns with its racially insensitive casting.


If you want to follow our own updates on Twitter and discuss the casting controversy with us in that format, you can do so here.
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Once again, we're presented with a case in which images are more eloquent than words.

The culture that Sokka and Katara hail from, the Water Tribe, is clearly modeled after real life Inuit cultures of the Arctic region. The Last Airbender's production designers obviously agree.

Here is a photograph of the film's set, from one of their locations in Greenland:



These are the Inuit skin tents that they're emulating:




These are the people who lived in those tentsCollapse )

Making ourselves clear

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First, we've set up another way you can help us make our voices heard! An online petition has been created, which will soon be delivered by hand to Paramount Pictures and the Kennedy/Marshall company. This is a great opportunity to let them know the scale of this movement, and we would strongly encourage you not only to sign it, but also to pass it along to friends and family you think may be interested.



We've also created a website, Racebending.com, with more information and resources about this movement, including a press release. Discussion of the issues surrounding The Last Airbender and its cast also continues at racebending.

There has been some confusion regarding the motivations and goals of this movement. As such we'd like to take a moment to make ourselves and our intentions absolutely clear.

We all very dearly love the original Avatar: The Last Airbender show. We want the live action adaptation of it to be successful, and for it to be a project we can wholeheartedly support. It has deeply saddened all of us to watch events unfold as they have. None of us want this project to fail.

However. We cannot support The Last Airbender if the production continues on its current path.

We believe the roles of Sokka, Katara and Aang -- the three heroes of this story -- should be recast to reflect the races and cultures of those characters. The current situation, in which three white heroes will be saving the world from a race of dark-skinned Firebenders, is one we cannot in good conscience support or endorse. On a related note, we would also urge Paramount to cast the remainder of the Water Tribe and Air Nomad characters with actors of Inuit or East Asian decent.

Ultimately, we would encourage Paramount Pictures to work closely with the Media Action Network for Asian Americans and the East West Players to find ways to make The Last Airbender a film we can all stand behind.

Casting calls in Virginia and New York

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First, there will be a casting call on February 28th, this Saturday, in Arlington, Virginia. If you're interested in attending a peaceful protest there with other supporters, a Facebook event has been created to help with organization.

From this article on the Washington Post website, the details are as follows:

The producers are looking for actors of Mongolian, Cambodian or Laotian heritage, which suggests the filmmaker is responding to previous criticism from "Avatar" fans about the cast looking a little too Caucasian. [...]

From 9 a.m. until noon on Saturday, an open call for Mongolian-American males and females between the ages of 5 and 85 will be held in the party room at the River Place Apartments, located at 1011 Arlington Blvd.

From 1 to 5 p.m., a larger call for Cambodian, Laotian and Mongolian actors -- again, male and female, ages 5 to 85 -- will be held at the Rosslyn Spectrum Theatre at 1611 N. Kent St. [...]

If you're interested, you should e-mail a photo, your name, phone numbers, age and availability to lastairbendercasting@gmail.com. You can get more information by calling 215-574-7878.


There also appears to be a casting call scheduled to take place in Flushing, New York. It will be from 11AM to 5PM on March 1st, this Sunday, at Flushing Town Hall. The address is:

Flushing Town Hall
137-35 Northern Boulevard, at the corner of Linden Place
Flushing, NY 11354

A Facebook Group has been set up to organize supporters who want to attend. The details were forwarded to us by several supporters and are as follows:


In detail, we are looking for individuals of Cambodian, Mongolian, Chinese, Korean and Thai Descent ... MARTIAL ARTS EXPERIENCE IS A PLUS!!! Anyone cast in New York will be traveled to Philadelphia, given housing and per diem as well as paid for their work. This is an excellent opporunity for anyone to work with an amazing cast and director. We would appreciate any and all your help in getting this information out to the communities in New York, as this is such a wonderful opportunity. [...] MARTIAL ARTS EXPERIENCE IS A PLUS!!!! Acting and Dance Experience are a PLUS!!!

Sarah A. Tirado
Casting Assistant
(215) 226-1939
The Last Airbender Casting
lastairbendercasting@gmail.com


UPDATE: Travel information for the Flushing Casting Call!Collapse )

If you live near either of these casting call locations and wish to organize a protest, please let us know and we'll direct our other supports to you!

Paramount is trying to put a bandaid on this problem by casting Asian actors in minor, background roles, in a world that will still be saved by three white heroes. Now is the time to tell them that that isn't good enough.

The pre-production window is closing. This is an excellent opportunity to show Paramount in person that their audience -- not matter what their own race may be -- won't support this project as it stands.
green slopes
Following the Media Action Network for Asian Americans' public announcement of their concern regarding The Last Airbender's casting -- which we spoke of in our previous post and encourage you to check out if you have not already -- we have more big news for you today!

As some of you may have heard, the East West Players -- an organization that works toward increased opportunities for Asian American actors in theater, film and television -- has written a letter to The Last Airbender's producers, publicly denouncing the existing cast and offering their services in helping to set things right again.

From that letter, which you can download in its entirety here, courtesy of jedifreac:

How exactly are the lead white actors going to represent ethnically and culturally diverse "nations," unless they resort to wearing makeup and/or prosthetics to try to appear "ethnic" [..] ? Or, if the lead actors will continue to appear white, what signal does it send that they are the leaders of darker-skinned and/or ethnic societies? And how can the casting of homogeneously Caucasian actors as three out of the top four leads possibly be consistent with a story whose overarching message is diversity and harmony between different cultures?

Given that AVATAR: THE LAST AIRBENDER is so clearly based on and inspired by ancient East Asian, South Asian and Inuit civilizations, it is a major lost opportunity for the producers not to have aggressively sought out Asian talent for the lead roles. The face that Dev Patel apparently has been cast in one of the four lead roles is a positive step but it certainly does not excuse the filmmakers from being insensitive to the negative ethnic and cultural implications of using whites to either "look like" ethnic peoples or to inexplicably lead such peoples as if they are white saviors.

[...]

Given the serious concerns that have been raised about the casting of AVATAR: THE LAST AIRBENDER, including furious debates that are taking place on the topic in cyberspace, we believe it would be beneficial for Paramount executives to meet with representatives of EWP and other Asian American organizations to discuss the matter.


For those unfamiliar with the East West Players, EWP is the nation's premiere Asian American theater organization and the oldest continuously operating theatre of color in the country. When EWP was founded in 1965, Asian Americans faced limited opportunities to play roles outside of stereotypical and often demeaning caricatures in mainstream American media, and many ethnically Asian roles were often given to white actors while Asian American actors were overlooked. In that respect, The Last Airbender is simply the latest page in a long Hollywood history of lost opportunities.

After experiencing first-hand the discrimination Asian Americans faced in Hollywood, the founding members created EWP to expand opportunities for Asian American actors, writers, directors, and producers. One of the founding members, and artistic directors, was Makoto "Mako" Iwamatsu--the voice of Uncle Iroh in Avatar: The Last Airbender.

Several members of the EWP family have performed in the animated series, including:

Dante Basco (Prince Zuko), one of the stars in EWP's latest play, IXNAY.
Tim Dang (Yon Rha in "The Southern Raiders"), EWP Producing Artistic Director
George Takei (The Warden in "Imprisoned"), Chair of the EWP Council of Governors
James Hong (The Mayor in "Avatar Day", an Air Nomad Monk in "The Storm"), EWP Founding Member
Daniel Dae Kim (General Fong in "The Avatar State")
Lauren Tom (Joo Dee)
James Sie (The Cabbage Merchant!)
Sab Shimono (Monk Gyatso, Master Yu)
Tayako Fischer (Lo and Li)
Tsai Chin. (The Fortuneteller)

The East West Players are currently hard at work at their newest play, IXNAY, which features actor Dante Basco. Southern California fans-- let's support these Avatar: The Last Airbender actors and the organization they belong to! IXNAY is running through March 15th; Tim Dang directs and Dante Basco is part of the featured ensemble cast, playing character Eric Galindo. If you're interested, you can find information on ticketing here.

For those of you who aren't local to Southern California but want to financially support either of the excellent organizations helping us with this fight, you can donate to the East West Players or to the Media Action Network for Asian Americans online. If you know of or belong to a similar organization dedicated to supporting Inuit or Native American actors, please let us know!

One further bit of news that more directly concerns all of you: someone has set up a livejournal community dedicated to news about and discussion of The Last Airbender's casting controversy: racebending! We encourage all of you who have been active here in the comments of this journal to join -- the community will provide a more relaxed format for discussion, as well as the ability to make posts of your own! Check out the community's profile for more information -- it's a big step toward keeping this conversation going in the fan community and providing a safe space for those who want to talk about this issue.

Some good news and a few reminders

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First of all, we want to announce that the Media Action Network for Asian Americans has spoken out publicly against the casting of The Last Airbender. They've posted an open letter to the producers on their site, offering to help Paramount Pictures steer this project in the right direction. From that letter:

The Asian American community, and the movie-going public at large, is used to seeing Asian men depicted as villains and rarely get the opportunity to see Asian heroes they can get behind and cheer for. This is also an historic opportunity to give Asian American actors a chance to shine in a big-budget film franchise which would bolster their careers for future projects. You will get deserved credit for launching those careers and can break down barriers by understanding that the audience that loved the television series is ready (and expects) to see Asian Americans playing those characters on the big screen.


You can read the letter in full here, and their ongoing blog on this and other issues can be read here. We're thrilled that the MANAA has decided to become involved in this issue, and we look forward to seeing where that involvement may lead.

And of course, the support of all of you continues to be an incredible thing to watch! By all reports, the February 7th protest in Philadelphia went very well! Ten people were able to make it and maintained a presence all day, distributing fliers and answering questions about the controversy. We're very thankful to all of them and incredibly proud -- they got up early on a cold Saturday, spent all afternoon talking to strangers about a controversial topic, and conducted themselves with professionalism and poise. They also quite clearly got the attention of those running the casting call -- a production assistant was sent out with a video camera to film the protesters. djinnj did a very nice writeup which you can read here, along with replies by other supporters who were able to attend. Thank you so much to everyone who was able to make it!

However, we would like to take a moment to mention that as fantastic as it is that ten people were able to come, nearly one hundred had previously RSVPd via Facebook or on this journal. This highlights how every single person is important and every individual makes a difference. Please don't assume that someone else will act for you -- we all have to work together and stay involved!

Finally, we want to remind all of you that as things stand, The Last Airbender is scheduled to begin filming in mid-March. Your support and your involvement are therefore more important than ever! We'll be updating this journal again early next week with more suggestions for what you can do, but in the meantime -- keep writing, keep talking, keep the conversation going.
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From day one, we've accepted that we may fail to change anything. We knew it was a long shot -- that we'd have to fight hard to be noticed at all, and that our efforts were as much about raising awareness of Hollywood whitewashing as they were about changing the cast.

But things are changing.

On Monday, Variety published an article announcing that Jesse McCartney, previously slated to play Prince Zuko, has withdrawn from "The Last Airbender." The role will now be played by Dev Patel, an Indian actor who recently starred in the film "Slumdog Millionaire."

From the article:

Patel, meanwhile, steps into a role that Jesse McCartney had all but locked up until the actor's second career as a musician got in the way.

"Jesse had tour dates that conflicted with a boot camp I always hold on my films, and where the actors here have to train for martial arts," Shyamalan said.


We have a lot to say about this.

First of all, we want to stress that we're very happy for Dev Patel. He's an excellent young actor and well-qualified for the role -- in addition to his recent film, he's a Taekwondo champion, and we're glad to see an Asian actor join the cast.

However, we are in no way satisfied with the current state of this production or its cast. This isn't the time to stop fighting. If anything, it's a sign that we should fight harder than ever.

• The reasons given for the casting change are dubious at best. As recently as January 30th, McCartney was giving interviews about his intensive Kung Fu training and his excitement about the project. His abrupt departure and immediate replacement with an Asian actor is an obvious reaction to the public outcry regarding the casting. Paramount is trying to pretend that they aren't reacting to your letters, your protests and your criticisms.

This move reeks of tokenism. Paramount thinks that by including one Asian actor, they'll derail our efforts to push for appropriate casting and to protest their whitewashing of the other three main characters.

• Their choice of Patel specifically -- the only young, male, Asian actor currently in the public spotlight -- displays a "one size fits all" approach to casting. Patel is Indian, whereas Zuko's culture puts him much closer to Chinese. This is not unlike equating Britain with Italy, and has angered and insulted many of our supporters.

• Assuming the rest of the Fire Nation is cast in kind, we're now presented with a world in which a race of dark-skinned South Asians are the villains. While Prince Zuko is later redeemed, in this first film Zuko is still very much the "bad guy," who will be chasing and threatening three white heroes.

We still have two white actors playing Inuit teenagers. And changing the appearance of those actors so that they more closely resemble their characters, which actor Jackson Rathbone has already suggested, would be offensive and completely unacceptable.

• While no confirmed photos of Noah Ringer have yet surfaced, we also appear to also have a film in which the world is saved by a white boy dressed up as a Tibetan monk. It's worth noting, as well, that we suspect that if Ringer were Asian then Paramount would have said as much by now.

- Staff associated with this production, including casting director Deedee Rickets, have made offensive and ignorant statements regarding this film and their casting policies for it. The lack of any apology whatsoever, for those statements and for those policies existing to begin with, is also unacceptable.



In short: White actors are still playing Asian and Inuit characters. Excuses and token casting are being used to try to avoid controversy without making an official statement or apology. The fact that Zuko has been recast in this way makes it crystal clear that Paramount knows there's a problem, that the cast is not as final as they would have us believe, that they are worried about the negative attention this issue is attracting, and that they want us to sit down and be quiet.

It's more important than ever that we keep talking, keep pushing, keep protesting. Now is not the time to back down. We've already pushed them to recast one of the four main characters. We have Paramount Pictures in a corner. Let's keep them there until they aknowledge what's going on, apologize for their actions and take steps in good faith to set things right.

If you're in the Philadelphia area and are free this Saturday, we encourage you to join the protest taking place that day. If you can't make it, we have some suggestions for other ways to broadcast your support for this cause.

So many ways to speak out

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We've updated our post about the February 7th casting call in Philadelphia with specific information as to the time and place, and several local volunteers are helping to organize a protest. If you're interested in joining in, please do so -- the stronger a front we present, the harder it will be for Paramount Pictures to continue to ignore us.

Even if you can't make it to the casting call, you can still raise awareness of this issue in style! One of our supporters, the talented and generous glockgal, has set up an online store where you can buy shirts, postcards and buttons to broadcast your support of this cause in person. All items are being sold at cost, and none of us will profit from these sales in any way. If you want to make your own shirt or poster, you can download the highres versions of the images here.

While we ultimately decided against handling any money ourselves, we encourage you to donate to the East West Players. From their website: "As the nation’s premier Asian American theatre organization, East West Players produces outstanding works and educational programs that give voice to the Asian Pacific American experience." One of their primary goals is "increased opportunities for Asian Pacific Islander artists on stage and in other media," which is very closely tied to what we're trying to do here. In addition to this, many of the Asian American actors who provided voices for Avatar: The Last Airbender were associated with this group -- including Mako, sadly deceased, who was the voice of Uncle Iroh.

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