Race and Identity in 'The Last Airbender'

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“The Last Airbender” is the live-action feature film based on the highly successful animated series on Nickelodeon. It’s also the center of a growing controversy about casting and race. The series features Asian settings, costumes, architecture, and character and location names that incorporate Chinese, Japanese and Southeast Asian phonemes — such as “Aang,” “Fong” and “Sing.” And yet, when casting the motion picture, the studio chose four white actors to play the leads. When one of the actors dropped out, he was replaced by Dev Patel of “Slumdog Millionaire” fame, but it’s still the case that three of the four leading actors are white.


Mike Le, whose organization, racebending.com has been leading a boycott of the film since 2008, explains why race is not incidental in the film. And  Jeff Yang, who’s been writing about “Airbender” for several months for the San Francisco Chronicle, explains the complications of race in a movie whose characters were originally animated and created by two white men.

Is casting white actors for non-white rolesoffensive or just colorblind casting?

Comments from Facebook:

"It would arguably be color blind if an ethnic actor was hired to play a role that traditionally goes to a white actor. I think casting white actors in 'Prince of Persia' and 'The Last Airbender' may be an attempt to pander to the presumed mainsteam audience that will see it, which is strange considering how much negative attention a fanbase can generate nowadays and how succesful movies like 'Lord of the Rings' or various comic book movies have been when they placate fans." —Mark Hershberger

"I find it annoying on one hand as you have black and ethnic actors/actresses who are worthy of the role, fit the part (in terms of genuine looks) and DESERVE the opportunity. On the other hand, a good test of an actor's/actresses ability to morph into character and act any part (a la 'Soul Man' and 'Tropic Thunder'). So I'm a bit conflicted on the issue." —Tyrone Thorpe

"I wonder why this even matters. As long as one can play the part well it really does not bother me who is in the role." —Carrie Perez

"I think when it really come down to it, if we are going to get upset about a white actor playing a non-white role, we need to get upset about a Japanese actor playing Chinese, or an Arab actor playing Persian, or a Mexican actor playing Colombian. As hokey as it sounds, true art transcends ethnicity, and if a white actor can portray a non-white character, getting upset about it is myopic. I agree that Downey Jr.'s role in Tropic Thunder actually went pretty far in bringing this topic to a mainstream conversation. Which we're obviously still having." —David Ring