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.