Measuring a drop in a bucket
It’s International Blog Against Racism Week again, and boy do we have things to choose from — at levels of fame ranging all the way from Sonia Sotomayor and Henry Louis Gates, Jr. down to things like the U.S. cover of Justine Larbalestier’s Liar. (And quieter things than that, no doubt, from one corner of the world to the other, in every city and town.)
Riffling through my brain to see what I might have something to say about, I landed on, of all things, movies. Specifically, the live-action adaptation of Avatar: The Last Airbender.
Most of my Avatar news has come via anima_mecanique, who has been posting off and on about the head-desk moves of the filmmakers in whitewashing their source. Avatar, if you don’t know, is an animated series set in a fantasy world that I tend to think of as western Pacific Rim in inspiration: the various elementally-themed societies are mostly different varieties of Asian in basis, with the Water Tribes blurring over into northern Pacific natives/Inuit. In other words, not Eurofantasy. But along come the filmmakers with their live-action movie, and suddenly not only is the whole cast white, they’re committing cultural blunders right left and center, like telling people to show up for casting calls in their “traditional cultural ethnic attire. If you’re Korean, wear a kimono.” <headsplode> Well, they backpedaled a little to cast some brown people, like that nice boy from Slumdog Millionaire since everybody likes him, right . . . only last I heard, that nice boy and all the other non-white actors are playing members of the Fire Nation. Who are, y’know, the enemy.
Oh yeah. That fixes everything.
The problem is, I’m not sure what I can do to protest this problem other than make a blog post. Boycotting the movie? Not effective. My one lost ticket sale won’t make anybody take notice, and if a lot of people boycotted it, enough that they did notice, Hollywood wouldn’t say “oh, I guess we should cast Asian actors next time.” They’d say, “oh, I guess we should go back to Eurofantasy.” I can buy the animated series, and I’m going to (I’ve seen the first season and loved it), but after that, it seems like all I can do is talk.
Which isn’t totally ineffective. After all, it was fan outcry that got them to cast Dev Patel (even though he would be way better as Sokka than Zuko). And now that I look on the IMDb, it seems they’ve got a Korean actor for one of the Earthbenders, so hey, there’s one who isn’t on the wrong side of the war. At least some of that has happened because people talked about the problem.
I just wish I knew how to do more. I’ll probably end up going to see the movie, because I suspect that I’ll achieve more by supporting baby steps toward non-Eurofantasy than holding out for perfection, but it’ll annoy me. Especially since it’s pretty obvious that the filmmakers don’t even really get where they went wrong.