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Race fail 2009.

This past Monday, on Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, on the eve of Barack Obama’s inauguration, I discovered that the casting of the four leading characters for the upcoming live-action movie, The Last Airbender (based on the TV show, Avatar: The Last Airbender) had gone entirely to white actors. I want—no, need—to say something about this.

Derek Kirk Kim

“—and I definitely need a tan.”

Following Jackson Rathbone’s footstep in addressing fans’ criticism over The Last Airbender casting, pop singer Jesse McCartney comes to MTV to share his response towards fans’ protest of the “all Caucasian” [sic] casting. The 21-year-old who is tapped for Prince Zuko part tries to assure hard core fans of the animated TV series that he will do his best to do justice for his character.
“I heard a lot about this online,” the singer who fills the voice of Theodore in Alvin and the Chipmunks explains. “There’s a lot of hard-core fans out there [who] probably know more about it… I’m still learning. This is M. Night’s vision and this is what he wants. To all the fans, I can tell you I’m putting my best foot forward.” He further adds, “I’ve been in kung-fu training for the last month and half-learning all the moves. I’m looking forward to it.”
The casting controversy came out after reports surfaced that karate-trained Texan Noah Ringer, Twilight actor Jackson Rathbone, Deck the Halls actress Nicola Peltz and singer Jesse McCartney have been offered the roles of Aang, Sokka, Katara and Zuko respectively. The casting of the four Caucasian actors brought out negative reaction from fans with accusations of racism.
Earlier, Rathbone has responded to the complaints, stating that it is his chance to show his range of acting. Speaking to MTV, he added on what he will need to do for Sokka’s transformation, “I think it’s one of those things where I pull my hair up, shave the sides, and I definitely need a tan. It’s one of those things where, hopefully, the audience will suspend disbelief a little bit.”

—“Jesse McCartney Answers The Last Airbender Casting Criticism,” ACESHOWBIZ.com

  1. Johnnie    Jun 25, 10:45 PM    #

    Actors are chosen by their popularity at the moment of the film, not by their race. Aren’t you just racist towards Caucasian people?

  2. Kip Manley    Jun 26, 11:57 AM    #

    Which means I suppose that the next inevitable Michael Jackson biopic will star Zac Efron? (Actually—)

  3. Lucia    Jul 7, 10:45 PM    #

    I don’t think that just because someone is upset that the casting went to white people instead of Asian that that means they are rascist. It would be ignorant to say that. Understandably, one would expect that Asian characters would be played by Asian actors, and not white ones. Especially if you’ve seen the show or have been a fan of the show for a long time. It’s just disappointing. Duh.

  4. Ray    Aug 8, 10:02 PM    #

    The casting choice was ridiculous. The actors clearly don’t even look anything like their characters. Obviously, if the makers of Avatar made the characters look that way, it was for a reason. I’m a fan of the show and I am definitely disappointed for sure.
    Plus Jessie McCartney isn’t even playing Zuko in the film. That one guy from Slumdog Millionaire is. So, yes, one of the most popular white characters in the series is going to be played by a very dark actor. WTH.

  5. Raul Perez Silvent    Oct 6, 02:12 AM    #

    The casting is just lame. Aside of the kid that plays Aang, the rest of the casting is stupid.

    Racism is what this movie is doing, disrespect the characters is the most horrible error that can happen. So, if the character looks Asian, you would expect to find an Asian playing that role, and it’s the same with brown characters… man… this is like a deja vu, I’m having images of Dragon Ball Evolution right now… yuck!

  6. theneslink    Dec 21, 07:45 PM    #

    wait, jesse mccartney plays both aang and zuko? WTF?

  7. Zuku=Hottie    Jan 31, 03:12 PM    #

    They dont look ASIAN! Holy cow they’re not tryin 2 b racist, they picked people that you KNO! There not gunna get some unknown dude 2 do it! WTF!

  8. Carol    Mar 5, 07:24 AM    #

    1st thing: Zuko is NOT played by Jesse. I don´t know where this comes from, but if you´ve seen the Trailer u know, that´s not him.

    2nd I watched Avatar myself (not all eps though), and the charas are animated, so mostly they don´t look really asian to me (it´s often like that in mangas and animes), so spare us with that. Naturally I can understand, that u expect them to cast a part of them with asian background, or rather suitable actors. And though I really like Jackson (recognized him imediately), he´ll never will look like Zuko.
    And yes, I´m disappointed in Zukos choice, but we´ll see. Maybe they will act it all out.

  9. Erica D.    May 10, 05:50 PM    #

    Oh God, I’m getting sick of all the people that are, more or less, telling understandably pissed off minorities (of which I am one and will be MARRYING AN ASIAN) to “get over it”. This is bullsh**, okay? The cultures in the Avatar are based off of Asiatic influences: the Water tribe are Inuit (which is an off-shoot of Asiatic peoples) or aboriginal tribes such as those that exist in icy regions. The Fire Nation = Japan, the Earth Kingdom = China and the Air Nomads = Tibetan Monks. If you idiots can’t see that, then get a clue! The film is racist! Even if the cartoon’s executive producers and headliners are white, they made a conscious decision to base this entire series on Asiatic influences. If say, a traditional ballad from Europe—such as Beowulf—had been cast with actors of a different race, then all white people would be in an upraor over it and it would be changed quick. Matter-of-fact, it would’ve even gotten past the secretary at the front desk.

  10. Emily H    Jun 18, 10:17 PM    #

    Ok, people are taking this whole racism thing waaay too far. the casting of the actors was not racist! they are just trying to get people who they know are good in front of a camera so that this movie will totally kick butt! if you hire a newbie actor or actress then there’s always the chance of them not being very good or having other problems. they are trying to stick with people that they know are good so that they can just focus on the movie. what’s the big deal? and btw, I’ve watched the animated series more than once and the characters on that show don’t look Asian either so cool your jets about that. also, Jessie isn’t playing zuko, it’s some Indian looking guy. you guys seriously need to stop looking for ways to point fingers. this casting isn’t freaking racist!

  11. M.Night Uses Reverse Psychology    Jul 22, 09:10 AM    #

    The actual genders and races of what the elements represent are in Rodney St.Michael’s book, Sync My World: Thief’s Honor GA SK. (myconnected.webs.com)

    Air = Yellow “race” = Males = Scholars.

    Water = Small Browns = Females = Shamans.

    Earth = Blacks = Lesbian = Social Ubuntu Business Class.

    Fire = Whites = Gays = Military, Militant Business Class.

    Ether or Metal = Big Browns = Bisexuals = Working Class, Bi-military
    (females & bis go together like Katara & Sokka or brown females and males).

    Therefore Aang should be Chinese.

    Katara should be a Malay like a Filipina.

    The Earth Kingdom should be African.

    Zuko should be White like Hitler, Alexander the Gay or Gen. Arthur McArthur.

    The Fire Nation’s army should be like the fiery Sacred Band of Thebes (an ancient elite gay army that Don’t-Ask-Don’t-Tell troops would be envious of) or the Sturmabteilung, the much-feared homosexual stormtroopers of Hitler.

    And the Slumdog Millionaire (casted as Zuko) should be Sokka.

    This film is just as messed up as the movie Angels and Demons. The branding of the priests were incorrect.

    But anyway, from the guy who gave you the Sixth Sense, which did not portray childhood schizophrenia accurately or anywhere near the real world, what do you expect?

    Bisexuals love horror and terror. They also scam people, just like the Wizard of Oz. The old Oz film which is also about the Elements is understandably all-white because they were ignorant back then. People have higher standards now, and realism is a must.

    But M.Night, the Wizard of South Asia also has lessons for everyone after conning them:

    1) Clearly, when people don’t play roles that fit them, everything is messed up. (e.g. “male” clergy in what should be a female realm, forbidding gays in the military which is their territory)

    2) Whites are not fit to play the leading roles of Air and Water in the world scene. Leave that to the ASEAN+3 (China, Japan, Korea and South East Asia).

    3) Arabs are not necessarily the greatest evil in the world. Occasionally, they float like Ether to the ranks of Water. It is fiery whites that fit the role of Lucifer or Satan.

    4) By acquiring objective reviews from leading critics, they have agreed themselves that these are all factual objective realities.

    Thus, the Wizard, even if he is a con man, is also an accidental pseudo teacher. Partly, it’s called sunyata or “emptiness.”

  12. Rubadubadoobag    Aug 16, 06:24 PM    #

    Christ, how can one even begin to argue in the face of such ignorance? If you are too self-centred to notice that there is massive racism in Hollywood then I am not even going to bother talking to you in case your stupidity is catching. Incidentally, Emily, that is why non-white actors are often unknown, its because they never get a chance to become known, you freaking idiot.

    There’s a documentary called ‘the Slanted Screen’ where Asian actors or script-writers relate how they were explicitly told by studio heads that ‘if the hero is Asian the villain cannot be white’. I might add also the unwritten rule that non-white heroes can also never fall in love with white girls (e.g. Will Smith, Jet Li).

    If these two rules aren’t racist then nothing is, and the likes of Johnnie and Emily are either self-centred to the point of imbecility or racist themselves.

  13. kenmeer livermaile    Sep 5, 11:27 PM    #

    It is an imaginary realm, this upcoming TV show. It plays to an audience that, while it probably isn’t predominantly white, was formed from a historical audience that was primarily white and saw itself as the central source of all TV/movies. (Early to middle-late 20th century USA.)

    I personally find it hard to be bigoted, much less merely racist, toward imaginary beings of imaginary races, and look forward to seeing a dark-skinned actor with decidedly non-Negroid features wear whiteface as he portrays Michael Jackson in his later years.

  14. rokky92    Oct 3, 02:33 PM    #

    its not even about the racism in this situation (it is too but thats not it) the problem is they cast the wrong people point blank. and i watched the series i refuse to sit through that movie. the characters are ALL wrong.

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