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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On Monday, Variety published an article announcing that Jesse McCartney, previously slated to play Prince Zuko, has withdrawn from "The Last Airbender."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.

Comments

( 119 comments — Leave a comment )
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(Deleted comment)
aang_aint_white
Feb. 5th, 2009 07:09 am (UTC)
One step at a time <3
(Deleted comment)
(no subject) - aang_aint_white - Feb. 5th, 2009 05:27 pm (UTC) - Expand
upstart_crow
Feb. 5th, 2009 07:15 am (UTC)
Fabulous update, thanks folks :)

I'm planning on taking some postcards to a convention in a very white area of my home state, so we'll see how that goes. Utah has to have more than just one Avatar fan, after all.
aang_aint_white
Feb. 5th, 2009 07:16 am (UTC)
Any help you can offer would be very much appreciated!
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pikabot
Feb. 5th, 2009 07:26 am (UTC)
I was wondering when you guys would make a post about this. Keep up the good fight!
aang_aint_white
Feb. 5th, 2009 07:27 am (UTC)
We just wanted to make sure we were saying exactly what we wanted to!
(Deleted comment)
aang_aint_white
Feb. 5th, 2009 07:50 am (UTC)
It's certainly more than we expected!
irishgal487
Feb. 5th, 2009 11:12 am (UTC)
It's a step in the right direction indeed! And he's definitely someone who knows what he is talking about.

Just have to see what happens next..
(Anonymous)
Feb. 5th, 2009 03:08 pm (UTC)
Noah IS white
If you go to the M night fan site and click on The Last Airbender you will see who they more then likely will be having play the young Aang and he is white. SO my thoughts are that Noah is white.

Good Luck to everyone on Saturday may God be with you all for fighting this fight. I back you 100 percent!
caterfree10
Feb. 5th, 2009 03:24 pm (UTC)
Now if only they'd actually admit the problem. Time to write a follow-up letter!
aang_aint_white
Feb. 7th, 2009 01:38 am (UTC)
That's the spirit! :D
(no subject) - caterfree10 - Feb. 7th, 2009 04:15 am (UTC) - Expand
tryxkittie
Feb. 5th, 2009 03:36 pm (UTC)
Wow I really wish I could be in Phili this weekend. I hope there's extensive coverage by the protesters. I also hope it gets mentioned in at least the local media.

Yay
artisticdoodle
Feb. 5th, 2009 04:25 pm (UTC)
From http://www.philly.com/inquirer/magazine/39129757.html -

"'Slumdog' star coming here
Dev Patel
, star of Slumdog Millionaire, has been cast in The Last Airbender, the M. Night Shyamalan action film that gets under way here in March. For Saturday's open casting call at the Independence Visitor Center at Sixth and Market Streets from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., producers are looking for hundreds of people in good shape, particularly for people of Asian Indian descent. Info: http://go.philly.com/airbendercall."

... Looks like they'll be building their Fire Nation this weekend. Wonderful.

Also (I'm searching for this article) a friend of mine's dad was in Philly last week for some family business. One of the mornings when the family was watching the news there was a segment/report about the casting. I'm still looking around and trying to find it... but with no success. D: It has to exist... 'cause now all of her cousins are horrified beyond belief.

At some point Paramount/Viacom has to comment on this.... I'm afraid it'll be when every media outlet has some report about this (and it'll be some lame generic "we're doing the best we can" comment).

Great job guys!
tryxkittie
Feb. 5th, 2009 04:44 pm (UTC)
Wow, so it's true. They are planning on making the Fire Nation The Land of Evil Indians With Their Strange Accents and Scary Dark Skin.

Wow. Just...wow.
(no subject) - artisticdoodle - Feb. 5th, 2009 05:11 pm (UTC) - Expand
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nthdraft
Feb. 5th, 2009 04:29 pm (UTC)
...and the real downside is that this also adds credence to the rumor that MNS plans to cast himself as Uncle.

Crapitty crap crap crap.

Kudos for pointing out the "yeah, you recast one PoC, but surprise, it's the villain! Who didn't see THAT one coming?" aspect.

Rock on.
nthdraft
Feb. 5th, 2009 04:31 pm (UTC)
(oh yeah, and forgot to add more than one person I spoke with points out that Dev look a LOT more like Sokka than Zuko. Now THAT would have been a WIN. *sigh*)
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chaobunny
Feb. 5th, 2009 09:10 pm (UTC)
You put it very well and very maturely. I couldn't have said it any better.

I'm happy that we have at least made a small difference, which I have to admit I doubted would happen. I may now see this movie if only for Patel's sake; the guy seems genuine, good hearted, and very, very skilled as an actor.

But I'm also not ready to give up. Now that we know they're aware of our anger, we have a better chance than ever for changing things further. One Asian actor who isn't even East Asian isn't going to satisfy us. Patel will make an awesome Zuko, but we still need to see some ethnic casting for the water tribe.
tryxkittie
Feb. 6th, 2009 01:30 pm (UTC)
we still need to see some ethnic casting for the water tribe.

Er...you should probably rethink that phrase. With the word 'ethnic' you may be referring to people who aren't white, but ALL people have ethnicities, even white people. The term kind of feeds into the 'white = default and everyone else is different' mentality. Just a heads up.

I won't see the movie, even for Patel's sake. In fact, probably FOR Patel's sake, since he's obviously just being used here to quelsh cries of racism. Some changes have been made, but not the right changes and not for the right reasons. In fact things might now be potentially worse. I think for me, as long as they keep the same people for Katara, Sokka and Aang, I'm not going to see this movie no matter how bad I feel for the actors.
(no subject) - chaobunny - Feb. 6th, 2009 09:34 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - aang_aint_white - Feb. 7th, 2009 01:47 am (UTC) - Expand
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(Anonymous)
Feb. 5th, 2009 11:24 pm (UTC)
W00T! Now it's time to make even more changes! 8D
cerviel
Feb. 5th, 2009 11:31 pm (UTC)
Thank you so much for this.

It bothered me when Patel was cast and how a lot of people that are completely against the casting actually supported him as Zuko.

No. It's still wrong. Sure, he isn't white, but he's South Asian. East Asians and South Asians are so completely different. You cannot accept one for the other. In fact, Europeans and South Asians are more closely related as opposed to East Asians and South Asians. South Asians and Europeans are Caucasoids while East Asians are Mongoloids. Even their languages are completely different. Hindi, for example, is part of the Indo-European/Indo-Aryan language group.

Just because South Asians and East Asians are both found on the same continent, that does not mean they are related. South Asians are CAUCASIANS, though they are not "white." It not only describes Europeans but North Africans, West Asians, and South Asians.

So it's a bit tougher for us as a whole since his casting as Zuko isn't agreed upon by everyone that is a part of this "movement."

Thank you so much for this. Really. :3
kogas_chick
Feb. 6th, 2009 01:52 am (UTC)
you hit the nail on the head about patel my friend. I am sure he is a wonderful actor and could play a part in the film, but as Zuko it is wrong.
(no subject) - jedifreac - Feb. 6th, 2009 08:56 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - kogas_chick - Feb. 6th, 2009 09:38 pm (UTC) - Expand
wonder_gurrl
Feb. 5th, 2009 11:33 pm (UTC)
Hi everyone, I'm a long time reader, first time poster and a huge Avatar fan. My question to you all is; since New York Comic Con is taking place this weekend, is there anything planned in terms of a protest? There were a few Avatar panels at last year's con and I'm fairly certain that Nickelodeon will have a prescence at the con this year, so is anyone going to take this issue home to them? Thanks.
cerviel
Feb. 5th, 2009 11:42 pm (UTC)
There's going to be a protest in Philadelphia during a casting audition for the film.

It's the same day as the NYCC. There isn't going to be an Avatar panel, but one regarding superheroes and Asians. I'm also part of the Facebook group and I know at least one person is going to the Comic Con.
kogas_chick
Feb. 6th, 2009 01:50 am (UTC)
thank you for everything you and everyone is doing here. I wish there was more i could do. I am a white avatar fan and i think everything paramount and M. Night are doing is very wrong. I am engaged to a Japanese man and will one day be the mother of mixed asian children, and it is highly offensive even to me that they would do any of this. For the future of my fiance's race and culture and for my children's future as well. thank you from the bottom of my heart.
sapphire_fuego
Feb. 6th, 2009 02:34 am (UTC)
We have got to keep up this FIGHT!
I completely agree that the switch to Patel is better than Jessie but in no way does it make what Shyamalan is attempting to do right. I just cannot imagine why any true fans of Avatar are praising Shyamalan for this. Reading the comments on "The Last Airbender" site from those who love the switch or who miss Jesse make me wonder what is wrong with these people. Do they even care about the blatent message a nearly completely whitewashed cast sends out to the public?
It is so wrong, disturbing, and sad.
(Anonymous)
Feb. 6th, 2009 09:19 am (UTC)
Re: We have got to keep up this FIGHT!
The thing is... everyone of these people WANT a live-action film version of this beloved series. And I know most (if not everyone posting here) wants it, too. But to do so in such a way that would severely compromise the integrity of a series that is so loved in part BECAUSE of it's wide diversity, is completely unacceptable.

I can only wonder... how do you think Mako would feel about all this? The reason he helped create the East West Players is because so many doors in the entertainment industry were closed to Asian-Americans. How do you think he'd feel seeing roles that could have gone to any young, talented Asian-American, Inuit or Native American actors and actresses get handed to a bunch of white kids?

How much of a slap in the face would that be to a man who (very) likely endured supreme prejudice in Hollywood and elsewhere, devoted his time and energy to helping capable and talented Asian entertainers get their break into Hollywood and just when we've elected our first Black President and breaking down many racial barriers... only to be essentially told that Asian-Americans aren't 'marketable' enough to be cast into roles that were practically DESIGNED for POC?

Anyone who has an account on that site can pose that question; it would be interesting to hear the responses.
Re: We have got to keep up this FIGHT! - madbonkers - Feb. 6th, 2009 12:44 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: We have got to keep up this FIGHT! - (Anonymous) - Feb. 7th, 2009 03:52 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: We have got to keep up this FIGHT! - madbonkers - Feb. 7th, 2009 08:26 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: We have got to keep up this FIGHT! - rrainey - Feb. 7th, 2009 07:56 am (UTC) - Expand
(Anonymous)
Feb. 6th, 2009 11:22 am (UTC)
Dev Interview
Has anyone read this?

http://www.mtv.com/movies/news/articles/1604338/story.jhtml

It seems Dev knows more than Jesse knew about The Last Airbender. Except he doesn't know Aang's name as you can see the writer having to fix the quotes. Although he did describe Zuko pretty ok. Still I don't like him in Zuko's shoes. Zuko is too great to mess up. I can see Family Guy, Simpsons, SNL and various other shows already making fun of ATLA after this movie. =[ Imagine them redoing the animation of Zuko to make him look Indian and having an accent. The ridicule, the horror. =[


Push this last month guys!
xneoninja
Feb. 6th, 2009 11:23 am (UTC)
Dev Interview
Has anyone read this?

http://www.mtv.com/movies/news/articles/1604338/story.jhtml

It seems Dev knows more than Jesse knew about The Last Airbender. Except he doesn't know Aang's name as you can see the writer having to fix the quotes. Although he did describe Zuko pretty ok. Still I don't like him in Zuko's shoes. Zuko is too great to mess up. I can see Family Guy, Simpsons, SNL and various other shows already making fun of ATLA after this movie. =[ Imagine them redoing the animation of Zuko to make him look Indian and having an accent. The ridicule, the horror. =[


Push this last month guys!
avalonestel
Feb. 6th, 2009 04:04 pm (UTC)
Should we write new letters to the same people now that this has happened, and take into account their character choice? I really think this was all deliberate and planned, and that it is in response to us, even if they're not saying it. I agree with everyone else; this is even more of a reason to keep fighting.
aang_aint_white
Feb. 6th, 2009 04:21 pm (UTC)
If you have something to say, you absolutely should!
baku_girl
Feb. 7th, 2009 02:19 am (UTC)
I kinda mentioned this on your "save the world with postage entry," but I just saw this entry, so I'll mention it here too....
PICTURE OF NOAH RINGER ALERTNESS ---->
http://web.mac.com/avatar_ftw/iWeb/The%20World%20of%20the%20Avatard/PortalCast%20-%20A%20Podcast%20for%20Avatar%3A%20The%20Last%20Airbender/2D8930D3-06DF-425F-8CE5-FFE6F0582CF0.html
(although the website says it's an old photo ^^; )
(Anonymous)
Feb. 7th, 2009 05:39 am (UTC)
I wouldn't say the casting of Patel is a victory for this movement; if anything, it's a slap in the face. So they got someone from the Asian continent--nevermind there being nothing in Zuko's character history, from concept drawings to final in-show exemplification, to suggest Indian cultural (clothing, architecture, vehicles, weapons, and martial arts, as well as the political, social, or educational systems depicted) or ethnic (appearance, language or accent, family and personal traditions) heritage.

What was done with Zuko was akin to announcing a Mean Streets remake, and then proceeding to fill the cast with people from Utah. Utah is a part of America, and Mean Streets is an American story, but the story in question focuses on a very specific, idiosyncratic part of American life, which Utah does not traditionally represent or associate itself with (perhaps to its credit). The Zuko character represents very specific, precisely researched and portrayed pieces of Asian culture and ethnicity, which the casting of Patel does not respect or reflect.

If anything, what the inclusion of Patel in the movie leads to is less of an example of this movement having a positive impact, and more of it being tossed aside as inconsequential. "Yes, there's an Asian here, now," M. Night, his casting department, and Paramount are saying, "but he's only here because the film he was in previously is the movie of the moment and has a very good chance of winning Best Picture, and maybe even gobbling up some of the other biggie Oscars (Director, Screenplay, Cinematography)." I think it's pretty clear; they're striking while the iron is hot with Patel, and finding him where he is in a position of trying to gain more mainstream blockbuster exposure to make more money for himself.

What's worst for me about this turn of events is it logically presents the Fire Nation as India (unless Patel is the dark-skinned anamoly of the Nation surrounded by inexplicable Whiteness, which would be hysterical). The most insulting part of this ill-fated transformation is the in-roads it gives Night to play Iroh. Sure, he gives himself an ego boost by putting himself in his movies, which he has carte blanche to do since they're his movies. Up until now, though, these have been bit parts. Iroh is not a bit part, and M. Night is not Iroh.

If M. Night as Iroh happens, the sheer hubris of it, and not the disrespect it shows to the T.V. show the movie springs from, or the cultural and ethnic lineage the show springs from, will make me detonate any association I have to any scrap of Avatar, be it future seasons after the movie lands ("where is my mother?"), the dvds, this movie, any successive movies, toys/games for my nephew, spin-offs. etc. M. Night as Iroh will destroy any affection I have for Avatar, and casting Patel as Zuko and India as the Fire Nation are crystalline sign posts pointing the direction M. Night is leading in.
rrainey
Feb. 7th, 2009 07:28 am (UTC)
I can't say that I'm happy with Patel. First, I don't think the replacement was made due to our outcry. Slumdog Millionare is really popular right now and they probably wanted a more legit actor in the film. (Jessie and his "conflicting singing career" Give me a break) Second, I still see a problem with casting, since Zuko is probably more of Chinese decent, not Indian. While I would still be a little upset, I would have pefer Patel to play Sokka, especially since I think that would fit Patel's acting more then playing an angst-ridden teen. I guess if they rewrite the fire-benders to a more Indian culture, then I guess it would not be a problem. Although I would think that Zuko's name would have to change as well. Not metion, Iroh, Azula, Mai, Ozai, and so many other firebenders. Anyway, if this really was a respone to our outcry, they would have cast Zuko's actual heritage. Not to mention that this totally disrespects Patel's heritage as well. And don't even get me started on the whole notion of the heros being white and the villians being dark-skin scenario.
undeadfish
Feb. 7th, 2009 07:34 am (UTC)
When my friend told me that Zuko's part was recast, I was very happy... until I heard that Dev Patel was chosen to replace Jesse McCartney.

Dev Patel looks more like Sokka than any other character. I mean, WTF?!

And that casting director really pisses me off. She needs to go back to school and take classes in the history of various cultures around the world. In fact, I think Hollywood should make it a requirement that all personnel in the casting department have a degree in cultural studies, because I'm getting sick and tired of seeing the repeated history of cultural/racial insensitivity.
(Anonymous)
Feb. 7th, 2009 07:41 am (UTC)
While it's wonderful that Paramount is seemingly starting to pay attention to this cause (and as much as I LOVE Dev Patel in Skins and Slumdog Millionaire,) I actually find his casting to be another disappointment. Yes, he is talented and it's fantastic that a member of the main cast is Asian but I find it hilarious that suddenly Zuko and the Fire Nation have gone from what is obviously far eastern Asia to southern Asia. Frankly, it's insulting to assume that South Asia = East Asia just because they're on the same continent. It's akin to going "Hey, let's have Dev Patel play Harry Potter! Hell, he's British!" Being on the same continent alone doesn't mean they're the same and the far eastern influences on the Fire Nation are absolutely undeniable.

And besides all of that...honestly speaking, besides both having dark hair and being male, does Dev Patel really bear ANY resemblence to Zuko appearance-wise? I agree with the others who have mentioned he looks like Sokka, but really, has anyone ever confused Sokka with Zuko in the show before?

But I still agree that this is a sign that we should all keep trying even more. To be honest, I never expected (call me cynical) a fully Asian cast, but I had figured that given the obvious Asian influence on the show, at least half of the main cast and would be non-white. At least Dev Patel's casting (as misdirected as I think it is) is a sign that it's not all completely in vain?
rjohns6
Feb. 7th, 2009 02:56 pm (UTC)
Haha...I just realized something. Deedee Rickets worked on location casting in Tropic Thunder. I just think it is funny that in that movie they made fun of a white actor trying to play a black role. Wow the irony.
wickedwatch
Feb. 7th, 2009 08:13 pm (UTC)
And asians were purposely made to be the villains in tropic thunder too. To prove a point there. And Avatar is just continuing to prove that movie right.
(no subject) - caterfree10 - Feb. 7th, 2009 09:11 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - rjohns6 - Feb. 9th, 2009 04:16 pm (UTC) - Expand
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