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Paramount Responds

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.


( 26 comments — Leave a comment )
Apr. 23rd, 2009 02:00 am (UTC)
Firestorm of comments in 3... 2... 1...
Apr. 23rd, 2009 02:26 am (UTC)
I sent Manaa my support letter. Paramount's letter...
Apr. 23rd, 2009 03:48 pm (UTC)
EEEEE adorable cosplay in your icon! *flails* Is that from Disney official?
Apr. 23rd, 2009 05:24 pm (UTC)
That's me and my Fiance dressed up as Jasmine and Aladdin :)
Apr. 23rd, 2009 05:51 pm (UTC)
NO WAY. *falls in love with you both*
Apr. 23rd, 2009 05:54 pm (UTC)
Aww thanks :D we both worked really hard on those cosplays and it was only our second ones we made. We are going to remake it this year (although I'm doing her street rat version so I can have some arm movement)
May. 11th, 2009 09:13 pm (UTC)
I just have to say, that is an awesome cosplay. You, especially (sorry to your mister! he's still good), are Jasmine.
Apr. 23rd, 2009 04:47 am (UTC)
Thanks for linking to those letters.

I'm definitely going to send a note to MANAA.
Apr. 23rd, 2009 06:38 am (UTC)
I wrote my letter to MANAA last week, and of course I'm still getting good links back to that guest blog I wrote about this mess (which Colleen Doran was kind enough to RELINK to it on today's post so people could find it! Thanks!)

It's here, if you haven't seen it: What's Wrong With This Picture?

I wish I lived closer to LA to go to the next meeting. But I will certainly send another letter of support.
Apr. 24th, 2009 12:43 am (UTC)
Thanks again to you and Colleen for that well-written article. I know her blog is getting a lot of traffic these days and the more people who are aware of the situation the better. I wonder if Colleen has had any time to watch ATLA yet.
Apr. 23rd, 2009 03:16 pm (UTC)
I sent them an e-mail last Thursday as well. I think I'll send them another at some point, to thank them again and to let them know that they've got support from people of other non-white races. :D
Apr. 23rd, 2009 10:15 pm (UTC)
Thanks so much for keeping us up to date and putting this all so clearly. As soon as I can stop fuming at Paramount's insipid response I'll definitely be writing a note to MANAA. :/

(Ah! When I made a Twitter account I swore I'd never actually update it, only use it to follow a few people. Oh well, this is important enough to change my mind. :P I'm going to get addicted now, aren't I?)
Apr. 27th, 2009 07:04 am (UTC)
Just to educate you, Avatar is hindi for livign God, and agni as in agni kai is the hindu god of fire and destruction. Much of asian culture is derived from india, as is most of the avatar. Just sayin.
Apr. 29th, 2009 12:37 pm (UTC)
Re: Indian
Yeah. We can see the India influences very notably in the later half of Season 2 (the avatar concept itself notwithstanding, though in this case, there's no god/s as much as being a human embodiment of the planet itself, material and spirit). Gives even more emphasis to the injustice of the casting.
Jun. 11th, 2009 04:44 am (UTC)
I really agree with MANAA, because we don't have many Asians in the Hollywood scene. Most people only know Lucy Liu and Zhang Zhi Yi and that's it. I think that Paramount needs to see that their idea may cause a lot of money lost. I mean take a look at Charlie's Angels. That movie was a box office hit (I think) and the characters at least the heroines were quite diverse, in terms of actually adding in Lucy Liu. What about Rush Hour? Box office hit, Jackie Chan, Zhang Zhi Yi in some of the movies!
You know there are more people who would support this and the Asian community will always fight at inequality.
Jun. 12th, 2009 02:03 am (UTC)
Accctually, the reason there are African Americans as Earth Kingdom extras is because soooo many African Americans showed up for the second extras casting. You can't deny these people the opportunity to be in the movie just because there is no African American culture in Avatar. That too would be direct discrimination.

Not trying to start anything, just saying is all.
Jun. 24th, 2009 02:10 am (UTC)
Has anyone seen the teaser trailer on Youtube? Just type the last airbender, you will find it. I don't know what angers me more, this film being made or Avatar fans actually supporting and defending this movie. Can they call themselves true fans? And to only defend themselves with comments like, "Aang looks white," or "I'm not Asian, so I can't understand," or MY personal favorite, "Well YOU'RE being the one that is racist, why does he skin color matter?"
GOD! I have lost faith in ALL humanity. This is IT! I'm DONE with people!
Jun. 26th, 2009 08:40 am (UTC)
I can't believe this. I really can't.
My heart is broken over all of this BULLSHIT taking place.

I love the series, and for them to butcher it like this is completely BOLLOX.

All I can do is pray that the actors provide an accurate representation of the cartoon -- because after seeing the trailer in theaters? It looks like there's no going back.

I. Am so. Worried.
Jun. 29th, 2009 09:45 pm (UTC)
Hey everyone, I'm rather new here and I have a general question...I found this lovely video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JT7LIzCmJ4Q on youtube that is against our cause...I posted as effectively and respectfully as I could but I'm not so sure I made much of and impact (that and I typed up three response comments but only two made it out...so either I screwed up or youtube did)

So here's my question...what would your rebuttle be for thsi video?
Nov. 17th, 2009 05:22 am (UTC)
Does anyobody actually know anything about the Avatar series?
"three heroic nations going to war against an evil nation of color."? Does nobody realize that the Fire Nation is not evil? Before the war they were almost as spiritual and about peace as the Air Nomads were.

But then they got a bad leader. And that bad leader did bad things. Firelord Sozin groomed the nation to want to do this. He groomed his son Azulon to carry on in his steps. And by the time Ozai became Firelord. the nation had been whipped into a frenzy by it's leaders.

Saying the Fire Nation is evil is like saying Germans are evil. Hitler got in power, and he did bad things. But Hitler is gone now isn't he? The bad influence on the country is gone, and the country isn't like that anymore is it? The bad influence on the Fire Nation is gone now in the series, and without that bad influence, things will go back to normal.

And what about Chin the Conqueror? He was an Earth Kingdom General. He took over every square inch of the Earth Kingdom except for Kyoshi Peninsula and Ba Sing Se. If he is mentioned in the movie, does that mean that Paramount is racist because chances are, any actor who played him would be Asian?

Anyone seen the episode "The Avatar and the Firelord"? Remember the end? Toph said "It's like these people are just born bad." But Aang disagreed. He said the Fire Nation wasn't evil, but just that anyone is capable of great good and great evil.

What about Avatar Roku? In reality he is the same person as Aang, and he was from the fire nation. Like Aang said, Roku was just as much Fire Nation as Sozin was. He was the same nationality and the same race as the person who started the war.

What I'm trying to say is, it's not racist to choose Indian actors for the Fire Nation. They're not "The Bad guys", they're the antagonists.
Apr. 25th, 2010 03:48 am (UTC)
Re: Does anyobody actually know anything about the Avatar series?
You're totally right, but since the movie portrays only the events in season 1, all we know of the Fire Nation is that they, under their leader who was obviously a horrible person, committed genocide against the peaceful Air Nomads. Much of the depth and complexity of the Fire Nation peoples came in seasons 2 & 3. So, for people who only watch the live action movie, it really does come off as "3 heroic nations going to war against an evil nation of color." And frankly, even if you don't want to go so far as to say "evil," why should it be the case that the Indian actors play the antagonists, while white actors play the protagonists? Why can't Indian actors be protagonists?
Feb. 5th, 2010 08:30 pm (UTC)
Has anyone seen the Super Bowl TV spot yet? It looks so great!
Feb. 14th, 2011 04:19 am (UTC)
*Sighs and facepalms at Paramount's letter*

Note to self: Avoid the studio at all costs if I want to sell an ethnic movie. :(
Apr. 9th, 2011 09:39 pm (UTC)
Excellent post I must say.. Simple but yet interesting and engaging.. Keep up the awesome work!

Apr. 14th, 2011 10:30 pm (UTC)
Excellent post I must say.. Simple but yet interesting and engaging.. Keep up the awesome work!

Nov. 3rd, 2011 02:17 pm (UTC)
excellent articles, useful for me. keep writing and happy blogging.

( 26 comments — Leave a comment )


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