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.