Blog By Barry

January 26, 2009

“Caucasian or any other ethnicity”

Filed under: Uncategorized — Ampersand @ 12:44 am

Derik Kirk Kim has been posting about the upcoming movie based on the animation Avatar: The Last Airbender. Although in the original series the four lead characters seemed to be Asian, in the movie the parts have been cast with white actors.

Back in my Drama days in high school, I used to dream of being white so I could pursue acting.

With discrimination like this “Avatar” casting continuing to happen uncontested in Hollywood, my future kids will nurse the same pitiful wish.

And it infuriates me.

If my future kids feel a passion for acting, I want them to be able to pursue it just like any other American. If they’re forced to give up that passion due to a genuine lack of talent or hard work, fine. But I don’t want their dreams to be clipped at the bud by some unassailable, universally accepted dismissal of their existence on the face this country.

Derek also includes this infuriatingly clueless quote from one of the white actors cast:

Due in theaters in summer 2010, “Airbender” has already begun to face a bit of controversy over the casting of white actors like Rathbone, Ringer and McCartney to play Asian characters — a concern the actor was quick to dismiss. “I think it’s one of those things where I pull my hair up, shave the sides, and I definitely need a tan,” he said of the transformation he’ll go through to look more like Sokka.

Excuse me, I must go pound my head against my desk for a little while.

Okay, back.

Derek, who is an excellent cartoonist, is encouraging everyone to write letters to the producers, but is also collecting the names of arts and entertainment professionals:

Since the outraged fans seem to be getting ignored by Paramount, I am starting a petition for professionals in the arts and entertainment industry who want to condemn this move and boycott this discriminatory film if it isn’t recast. If you’re involved in the Film/TV/Animation/Comics/Literary fields in any way and you find Paramount’s racist actions even the least bit reprehensible, please leave your name and occupation in the comments. Or email it to me if you know me personally. If you’re a media or political figure who could also make a strong statement by adding your name to the list (Mr. President?), please do so. I will continue to collect the names as long as they come in and eventually make a comprehensive list to distribute publicly and send to Paramount.

So if you’re an arts or entertainment industry person, please go over and leave your name.

In a follow-up post, Derek quotes the original casting call for the Airbender leads. All four of them begin with the same phrase:

AANG: 12-15 years-old, Male, Caucasian or any other ethnicity.

This is hardly a race-neutral style of casting (not that it should have been race-neutral at all); it implies, as Derek suggests, that they always intended to have a Caucasian lead cast. And as Derek points out, when they sent out a casting call for Airbender extras, suddenly the “Caucasian or any other ethnicity” language was missing; instead, applicants were encouraged to come “in the traditional costume of your family’s ethnic background.”

* * *

In theory, I’m not against race-blind casting. If the entire geek-movie industry had a strong, consistent tradition of race-neutral casting — if movie producers were open to casting people of color as Buttercup and Wesley, as Aragorn and Gandolf and Frodo, as Buffy and Angel, as Susan and Peter, as Mary Jane and Peter Parker — then I think there’d be a much better case for a race-blind casting of Airbender. I’m confident audiences can accept good actors of any color in the leads of fantasy adventure movies (and other movies, as well, but I tend to focus on geek culture).

But in practice, “race-blind” casting seems to mean that the best roles for people of color are reserved for actors who appear white — and the best roles for white people are also reserved for actors who appear white. It’s ugly, and it’s racist. And it creates a view of the world, in our movies and TV shows, that’s impoverished and narrow.

* * *

In Derek’s comments, a couple of people criticize Derek’s protest, on the grounds that the movie studio is just doing whatever it thinks will make a profit.

I have to admit, I’m not sure what their point is. Certainly, it’s possible for a decision to be both profitable and racist. Does that mean we shouldn’t protest the racism?

Bringing up “profits” doesn’t lead to the conclusion that we shouldn’t protest this sort of thing. It leads to the conclusion that we should be protesting as much as we possibly can. The more protesting we do, the more the buzz for this movie is hurt, the more producers will understand that racist casting choices aren’t profitable. If there are fans outside a hundred opening-day theatres passing out flyers saying “please don’t see this racist movie,” that might convince movie producers to avoid whitewashing adaptations in the future.

January 5, 2009

“From a Distance” is depressing and creepy.

Filed under: Uncategorized — Ampersand @ 12:43 am

I know it’s supposed to be inspiring, but really:

From a distance we are instruments
Marching in a common band.
Playing songs of hope, playing songs of peace.
Theyre the songs of every man.
God is watching us. God is watching us.
God is watching us from a distance.

From a distance you look like my friend,
Even though we are at war.
From a distance I just cannot comprehend
What all this fighting is for.

"God Saves The Sea," uploaded by ePi.Longo with a Creative Commons license. Click on image for details.Shorter “From a Distance” lyrics: “God is too far away to realize how much everything here sucks. So rejoice!”

My friend Sara pointed out that the right vocalist could turn this song into a subversive critique of theism, just by singing it with a bitter, cynical tone.

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