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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.

Comments

( 19 comments — Leave a comment )
socchan
Feb. 23rd, 2009 06:02 pm (UTC)
Asdlfdkjsf racebending appears to be full of love and win and awesome (much like THE BOULDER himself!) ♥_♥ I had been thinking of writing a more Jonathan Swiftian open letter to the producers/casting directors, and the Fire Nation Man post seems to be the perfect place to put it! I should go start writing it now...
teh_boulder
Feb. 24th, 2009 01:35 am (UTC)
The Boulder is pleased that you enjoy his blog, little "fan-girl." THE BOULDER ENCOURAGES EVERYONE HERE TO POST CONTENT.
(Deleted comment)
tallycola
Feb. 24th, 2009 05:30 am (UTC)
She's also Amy on Futurama!
(Deleted comment)
tallycola
Feb. 25th, 2009 07:18 am (UTC)
It's called acting baby! ;-)
caterfree10
Feb. 23rd, 2009 07:30 pm (UTC)
WHOO~! It's so awesome to know that we have more big organizations getting in on this! Here's praying we get more done! 8D
drmoonpants
Feb. 23rd, 2009 07:38 pm (UTC)
yessssssssssss

You know, this was pretty much my highest goal in mind a lot of the time -- "get Asian-American media representation activist groups in on it." Those are the voices that are going to get heard, by news media if nowhere else.
(Anonymous)
Feb. 23rd, 2009 09:03 pm (UTC)
If Mako were alive...
Wow, it's nice to know that the East West Players have also participated in our protest along with the MANAA agency getting in on the action, it seems that all our hard work in contacting interest groups have finally slowly start to pay off!

But there is one thing that has really got me wondering, if Mako were alive today, would he no doubt support our cause without hesitation? Sorry about that it's just that I am wondering that since he does have close involvement with the show, the co-founder of EWP, and is the man who would no doubt fight for equal rights for equal opportunities for Asian American actors in Hollywood.

If he could be with us today, I am sure he will help us with this terrible predicament and wouldn't it be awesome if high profile actors/actresses come support our cause? That would be awesome!

Before I end my message, I have looked at the list people who signed up on Derek Kirk Kim's industry professional petition who are swearing to boycott the film if nothing changes and I found one notable name that might be familiar to you, it's one of Avatar's very own directors, Giancarlo Volpe!


What do you think?









xneoninja
Feb. 23rd, 2009 11:25 pm (UTC)
I read about this last night at like 2 A.M. It was definitely something to get you pumped up and anxious all night. I had no sleep really. But to be frank GO EAST WEST PLAYERS!

Regardless of the optimism though, we can't take a break because these organizations have stepped up and have more power than us. Ultimately we need to do what we do best, spread the word, write letters, hand out flyers, protest and continue to branch out. This is the time to really show what we're made of and fight the good fight.
chaobunny
Feb. 24th, 2009 02:30 am (UTC)
This is unbelievably awesome! EWP is a pretty prominent organization so I really hope Paramount listens. And EWP is even more involved with Avatar, which definately helps.

opal_skies
Feb. 24th, 2009 04:25 am (UTC)
This makes me so, so happy. What a huge step to have such big organizations supporting the cause. This only makes me more excited to fight for this with a vengeance.
tryxkittie
Feb. 24th, 2009 04:35 am (UTC)
YUSS!

Now I'm really, really pumped and I want to know, what's the next step for us?
tryxkittie
Feb. 24th, 2009 05:03 am (UTC)
PS I just read EWP's letter
brb crying.
xneoninja
Feb. 24th, 2009 06:10 am (UTC)
I think we just gotta keep doing what were doing: Continue to spread awareness on this issue and get our newspapers involved. Also keep sending letters, each one will just strengthen our argument.
nthdraft
Feb. 25th, 2009 06:32 am (UTC)
More Media Coverage
FYI, this article from the Asian Pop column of the San Francisco Chronicle, as posted to SFGate.com: mention of the Avatar protest is the last paragraph, but the whole article is relevant to the overall message:

http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/g/a/2009/02/25/apop022509.DTL
chaobunny
Feb. 25th, 2009 10:17 pm (UTC)
New Casting Call
http://voices.washingtonpost.com/goingoutgurus/2009/02/be_in_the_next_m_night_shyamal.html

I found this on a google search. There is going to be another casting call for extras, this time in Arlington.

From the article:

"Two open casting calls for Shyamalan's next film, "The Last Airbender" -- based on the Nickelodeon series "Avatar: The Last Airbender" -- will be held in Arlington this Saturday. 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.

Anyway, details are as follows:

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."

They're still looking for Asian extras I see. They're trying to cover up their tracks, but we won't stand for just Asians in the backgroun. But I think it would be great if we could organize another protest. Again, I live too far away, but if we advertise this maybe we can get some people out there to spread the word. It's Saturday, so we'd have to organize pretty quickly.

aang_aint_white
Feb. 25th, 2009 10:28 pm (UTC)
Re: New Casting Call
It's quite a good sign, actually, that this particular WP blogger is aware of the controversy and felt it worth mentioning, if only in passing.

That said, if there's any local interest in organizing a last-minute protest of some kind, we'd certainly be happy to publicize it here.
xo_azngrl_xo
Feb. 25th, 2009 11:51 pm (UTC)
Re: New Casting Call
Maybe you should make a post about the Flushing open call and see if there's any interest in having a protest there?
amore_di_libri
Feb. 26th, 2009 12:44 am (UTC)
Hey,

Just wanted to give a heads up. The M. Night Fans website has some info on an upcoming casting call in Flushing, NY.

Last Airbender Casting Call: Flushing, New York
25 Feb 2009 by Specter
I just received word about another casting call for The Last Airbender: They will be coming to Flushing, New York on March 1st specifically to look for Asian Americans to cast in the movie.

In detail, they 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 opportunity for anyone to work with an amazing cast and director.

Remember: MARTIAL ARTS EXPERIENCE IS A PLUS!!!! Acting, Dance and Gymnastic Experience a PLUS!!


tryxkittie
Feb. 26th, 2009 02:36 am (UTC)
Wow. Philadelphia, Arlington, now New York. They're really working hard to bring us a diverse group of background fodder.
( 19 comments — Leave a comment )

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