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On Monday, Variety published an article announcing that Jesse McCartney, previously slated to play Prince Zuko, has withdrawn from "The Last Airbender."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