Live Action 'Avatar' NOT Asian

December 15, 2008

This is gonna kill me.

One of my favorite TV shows of the past couple years has been Nickelodeon's anime-inflected cartoon drama Avatar: The Last Airbender. Although most of the names responsible for the show are not Asian names, the show takes place in an all-Asian-Pacific fantasy world that actually WORKS. The world is divided into nations modeled on Inuit, Tibetan, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Indian, and Pacific Islander cultures. That means ALL of the characters are some kind of Asian Pacific. There are no other races/ethnicities.

Aside from this wonderful fact, the show is beautifully done. The music is good (if a little ching-chongy at times), the art starts out good and gets fantastic as the show goes on, and the stories are well-written and full of complex character development. It's really good work.

And then, I found out that M. Night Shyamalan had been tapped to direct a live action film of the series. How cool is that?

So the news this week that the main characters -- who are from Tibetan, Inuit, and Japanese-based cultures -- have been cast and are being played by white actors ... well it just stuck a knife in my heart. It's been done many times before: most notably in the recent casting of white actors to play the distinctly dark-toned characters  in Ursula le Guin's classic magical bildungsroman A Wizard of Earthsea.

But Avatar is different. It's not being adapted from a book. It's being adapted from a television show where the audience has already seen the characters' ethnicities -- and they are distinct, as you can see in the fan video above. Furthermore, the Avatar generation is less fussed about race, and more used to diversity. Casting Avatar all white is just so ... unnecessary.

Why? Why are they doing it? Argh!

I'm sending a letter.





"more white than asian"You need to get out more. You never seen an asian with a light complexion?How many bald headed white monks do you know? The air nomads were based on Tibetan monks.Noah Ringer. HA! No acting experience but he is known as a "karate star"So not only do they get the ethnicity wrong, they get the martial art wrong.They broke down the avatar nations to specific styles of Kung-Fu,Tai Chi = WaterbendingHung Gar = EarthbendingNorthern Shaolin = FirebendingBa Gua = AirbendingKarate is a Japanese martial art. The only Japanese martial art expressed in the Avatar Universe was Aikido by the Kyoshi Warriors."best suited for the roles"Yea, caucasians are best suited for the leading roles. There is no way white middle america will identify with an asian hero.There are no caucasian characters in the Avatar Universe. They simply do not exist! Just like there are no minorities in the Lord Of The Rings Universe.The creators, Mike DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko, researched East Asian martial arts, religion, philosophy, mythology, have Asian or Inuit features, dress in Asian or Inuit clothing, and write with Chinese characters.Why couldn't they have spent that same kind of energy finding the roles of these asian characters?Asian characters in a world built from Asian cultures should be played by Asian actors.
TKD, Aang isn't white. From the way he's drawn, he could be any ethnicity, but it's clear from his clothes, his spirituality, and pretty much all the other contextual clues that his character was modeled after the Tibetan monks. He's even vegetarian! With such a huge part of Aang's character coming from that culture, how could the default ethnicity for him be white?
tkd: i agree with you, but actually there ARE poc in the lord of the rings universe ... they're the bad guys that ally themselves with sauron, and they're modeled on persians.the thing is that the fantasy genre in the US and england tells stories that take place in secondary fantasy worlds that are based on european cultures during feudalism. naturally, all the actors who play these characters are of european here is a fantasy story that takes place in a secondary fantasy world based on asian, pacific islander, and inuit cultures of the late nineteenth century. so why shouldn't the actors who play these characters be of european ethnicity?
Even if Aang was white the series opens up with the genocide of his entire peoples. So yea if he is white he is the only white person left in that world a la the title "the last Airbender"
Well its not really an anime per say because it is made by Americans but I can see why some are offended by what some are calling the "whitewashing" of the series.Personally I don't mind the casting so much if they translate the themes of the series well but it makes me worried about how much effort they are going to even put into transitioning the Avatar universe into a film one.The original creators did their research. They did the leg-work. They hired historical consultants to help them fashion, they hired martial arts masters to work with their animators, they researched architecture & cuisine and in the end created one of the most nuanced, challenging universes in contemporary speculative fiction.I really really want this to work out but I fear something as cheesy as "Dragonball Evolution" in the end.
Well, I'm Hispanic, and I'm still annoyed out of my mind at an all white completely non-diverse cast. If friggin High School Musical could find a few minority singers/actors, why on earth couldn't Avatar find a few minority actors/actresses to play Katara and Sokka at the least.I can't believe the excuses that are being's almost laughable.Asians and white people can't work and make a good movie together. REALLY?So cuz Forbidden Kingdom sucked, that makes all movies with both asians and whites bad?Oh, and FK sucked cuz the Asians had an accent due to English not being their first language.REALLY?! It had nothing to do with the scriptwriting, directing, special effects or the juvenile dialogue (something that still would've been lame regardless of accents).Didn't Mako (the VA for Iroh in Avatar) win an academy award for a movie he was in with white people? The man had an accent. Clearly I must have imagined reading about that bit of history."Best suited for the roles..." LOL, yes, because Pop singer Jesse McCartney and Twilight's Jackson Rathborn are in talks solely for their acting talents and not for anything else like attracting their rather big female teenage fanbase.I wonder whatever happened to Shyamalan's claim to hire unknown actors.Unreal. lol, I wanted to take my neices who look like Katara (they're half black/half mexican) because I figured they'd love seeing a young actress that looks like them. There are so few minorities on television, nevermind films.Well, so much for that! Guess my girls will have to continue watching Hannah Montana and the Suite Life of Zach and Cody (or whatever its called) and all other series and movies on television with white actors/actresses in the leads. Or they could watch High School Musical, there's a few minorities there.I find it funny when people say that Avatar was made by just Americans, and therefore should only be for Americans.Right, cuz white people are the only Americans, Forget Asian americans and other non-white americans. They don't count. or maybe I should clarify, white people are the only Americans with money, which is what the studios are ultimately after. Nevermind that Avatar was a success in other countries as well. Hm, true it's not exactly anime, but it'd be a lie to say its entirely by Americans. Sure, the stories and VAs were done in the US, but the animation was done by a Korean animation company. It's funny how people seem to overlook that. Guess not completely American after all!
I don't think it matters what nationality the actors are, as long as they are not black(not racis just making a point), make up can be added so they can be made to look like the character's nationality. Plus, They should be more focused on the acting skills and being able to match personality for personality than the color of one's skin.
Rachel, your comment IS racist. Your ignorance to the fact that its a racist comment is even more disturbing."I don't think it matters what nationality the actors are, as long as they are not black"Apparently, it does matter.Let's just say that you said, "as long as they are not black" because the characters' complexion is not as dark as Africans. Well, from my perspective I should say, "as long as they are not white" because the characters' complexion is not as light as Europeans. You obviously can not see it from my perspective because the characters' complexion was not painted the correct shade of yellow.Maybe Nickelodeon should have learned from the WB and used this as a reference for Aang's character design,'s to be expected from a non-asian. There is no way you can understand how offensive it is if they used "yellow" make-up to make Jesse McCartney look more asian.No one (well, maybe some) is questioning the casts' acting ability. The Avatar characters' personalities are well developed in the series and any actor/actress can work off of that. I just can not believe that they could not find any minority actors/actresses to play the parts. Saying that this cast was chosen based on their talents is not only naive but it is also saying that there are no talented asian-american actors/actresses worthy enough to play the roles of what could be the next Harry Potter franchise.I have been googling news articles and blogs about this casting and I found this quote by Ursula LeGuin which explains perfectly why non-minorities can not see why this cast is so offensive,"I think it is possible that a good many readers never even notice what color the people in the story are. Don't notice, maybe don't care. Whites of course have the privilege of not caring, of being 'colorblind.' Nobody else does."
OMG!!!!!!!! AAng, Katara, Sokka, AND Zuko are WHITE IN THE SHOW!!!!!!!!!! AND YOU ALL HAVE NOT SEEN NOAH(the one set to play Aang), HE LOOKS EXACTLY LIKE AANG!!!!! AND HE KNOWS MARTIAL ARTS!!!!!!!! My only question is WHY ARE PEOPLE COMPLAINING?!?!?!?!? Do not critisize this cast Until YOU SEE THE FREGG'N MOVIE!!!!!!! JEEEEEZZZZZZZZZZZ!!!!!!!!!!!!
I really thought M.Night took on this project because he had a personal connection with the story. This whitewashed cast proves he is just in it for the money. He sold out his fans and his heritage. He defended Lady In The Water and went against the producers to keep the artistic integrity of the film. I thought he would have done the same for The Last Airbender.M.Night could have gave asians and asian-americans a piece of artwork to be proud of. Instead its just a product he needs to sell and make as much profit as possible. Well, I hope they will learn their lesson when Dragonball Evolution epically fails.
That is what the crud I'm talking about. Have you not noticed how freaking white ZUKO, AZULA, AANG, TOPH, and ALL of the fire nation and earth nation ARE WHITE in the cartoon. Darn it. And they wouldn't put 'yellow' make up on them. You would be amazed at the technology of today. AND! I swear, every time I turn around it's something about whites! What the crud?! It seems to me that every other nationality is prejudist against whites and they think we owe them something. I use to couldn't stand hearing people say something about blacks or mexicans or asians, but I find myself thinking the same way now. I had an Asian/American by friend and he was a total loser!Ugh! and I said not black because they would be too dark to add make up to. I guess it could be possible but still.
Rachel,Here is something to educate yourself, you can just continue living your blissful life.
Dear Rachel,If the Aang, Katara, Sokka and Zuko were "white" why didn't they name themAndy, Kathy, Steve, and Zach?
Katara acts like an adult in the anime, i cant see Nicole Pelts acting like that in the movie. I honestly think Kristin Kruek is a good actress for Katara's role, shes darker, beautiful, and just looks more serious for katara's role. the latest street fighter movie is a great example of Kruek showing her fighting skills. i'd say she'll pass for looking like a teen.
and i also agree that Avatar series should be more based on pacific island/asian characters.. kristin kruek is also half asian. at least have the 3 main characters to be what they should really be according to the anime (katara better be hot LOL LOL) I just dont want another fail like dragonball live action.i hope your letter helps change this.
Rachel, I suggest you google the term 'blackface' and see how many hits you get. It's what white actors did back 100+ years ago in order to 'portray' black characters. Mostly they were inaccurate, stereotypes of blacks that by todays standards would be downright derogatory and racist. Any attempt to make these young actors 'look more Asian' will be tantamount to the blackface of those days. And I can NOT see that boding well with the Asian community. Can you?
Yeah... I didn't watch Dragonball: Evolution because of yellowface and I'm not gonna watch this movie either. There are tons of Asians in North America, but they keep casting Caucasians first. I didn't watch The Last Samurai either. I think it's an insult that they would make a white guy the last samurai.
Does anyone know what the co-creators think of this all-white cast? Do they agree/disagree?It would be great if they casted a mix of ethnicities for the film--Caucasians, Asians (including Indians), Hapa (Kritsin Kreuk would be great as Katara).
Pete, why would that be great? All the characters in the cartoon are Asian/Pacific. Why should the film compromise with white and Asian and hapa characters? And if there's going to be a compromise, why not Latino and black and Arab characters?Also, Kristin Kreuk is in her twenties and Katara is fourteen. I know Hollywood has older actors playing teenagers, but that's a little too much of a stretch. Can't they cast an unknown Inuit or Native American girl?
Hi Claire,I completely agree that in a perfect world, the actors playing the characters should all be Asian and Inuit. Unfortunately, if this were the case, Paramount would never make the movie--and in a larger sense, children (of all cultures) would not get an insight into Asian culture. The movie business, as in all businesses, are For Profit organizations and casting an all Asian/Inuit cast would probably not generate the box office revenues as a more Caucasian cast would. It is sad but true. It doesn't make me as mad that Paramount is casting Caucasians in the film, but that ALL of the characters are Caucasian. This is a Blatant disregard for the original intentions of the cartoon and a clear disrespect of Asian and Inuit Culture. I for one will be writing to the studio.
You know, this is totally white washing. This show is so Asian. The title of the show has Chinese words in it, and everyone reads Chinese characters throughout the show. There was another show based on an Asian character about 30-40 years ago. But Bruce Lee was replaced by David Carradine in "Kung Fu" because Bruce Lee would be less acceptable by white people. If this show was done about African cultural things, and they didn't choose Black people to play the characters, people would be in an uproar. We need to stand up against this type of racism. It's pure and simple. How weird is it going to be in this Asian movie in a land where people all dress in Asian clothes and do kung fu, but actually everyone in that land is white. This movie will be horrible. And the creators are reportedly making sure that the movie really correlates well with the cartoons except for the most important part, the true cultures of the actual characters.There are tons of examples of movies that are based on Asian themes but all replaced by white people:"Firefly/Serenity": in the future where Chinese and Americans are the only cultures left where everyone speaks Chinese and English, yet the crew of the Firefly has no Asians aboard whatsoever and there are no Asians in the main cast.Forbidden Kingdom: the first movie with martial arts super stars Jackie Chan and Jet Li revolves around a white kid who's the lead character? And you think the white kid had better acting than Jet Li or Jackie? Please....21: a movie about MIT students who use black jack and card counting to make big bucks. The main character, teacher, and most of the cast are all white. Based on a true story except for the fact that original story involved 4 Asian students and an Asian teacher who was teaching them. What happened to those facts in the movie translation?People say that racism and that white washing stuff doesn't exist anymore like Bruce Lee had to face 30-40 years ago, but we're still facing it today. When was the last time we saw a movie with Asians who didn't do marital arts or was part of the mafia? Now there's a big TV series based on Kung Fu and Asian culture that is making a movie that now is played by all white people?! That's not right. And this whole thing about how if the cast were all Asian kids, it wouldn't make money is all crap. People would still watch the movie, and they would appreciate the movie more because they would feel there was some realism there. But now there will be another movie about Asian culture that Asians are pushed out of the cycle, and this cycle will continue for another 30-40 years. This is just another David Carradine taking the place of Bruce Lee.
M Night has really moved past his prime. It's sad. I really hope this movie isn't a shipwreck, or as bad as the Dragonball movie is going to be.
Lol I couldn't stop laughing Just couldn't stop laughing. how RETARDED do Hollywood take us people for. When I told my Teach and friends this what clothes do the characters wear ASIAN..What writing system they use ASIAN...Environment ASIAN...Religion ASIAN. When my friends heard and read about the movie.They ask; WHERE ARE ALL THE ASIANS
I wonder how M. Night is gonna make a cameo in this movie? I guess he could be one of the fire benders wearing a mask or better yet, maybe a kiyoshi girl? lol...they can paint his face and cover it up...or even better, the cabbage guy...yeah he'll be the cabbage they already picked the cast so we will have to see how it turns out like. Unfortunately hollywood = white, so that just suxs for minorities.
"It doesn't make me as mad that Paramount is casting Caucasians in the film, but that ALL of the characters are Caucasian."---Dev Patel is starring as ZukoCliff Curtis is starring as Fire Lord OzaiShaun Toub is starring as Uncle IrohAasif Mandvi is starring as Admiral ZhaoAs we can see, not all of the actors are Caucasian. There are plenty more names that could be added but these, seeing as they are more prominent roles, will have a bigger impact for the point being made. Sure, the people playing Sokka, Katara, and Aang are Caucasian, but the entire cast is not.
Oh there will be minorities in the movie!! Just watch out for the thugs and the armies.
Why can't they at least give Asian actors a chance...jeez.
If you are upset about the casting, please join the letter writing movement at
Im Asian myself and I must disagree with u guys (sorry). Although casting an all asian cast would best fit the genre it would be unlikely to find such a cast with the acting skills to accurately portray the characters (evident in forbidden Kingdom, action great, dialouge horrible). I know what ur thinking why not do a mixture of whites and asian. I have heard alot of people say why not make the fire nation an asian cast. The problem there is that it would be stereotypical to portray asians as evil (which has been done so many times and also noting this will be aimed at the younger demographic). So the way I see it Night has only 2 options to look harder or find a white cast thats not jesse Mccartney
actually, the cast so far is all children and teenagers. although there are occasional child actors who can really act, hollywood regularly accepts a much lower standard of acting from children, especially in children's movies and adventure movies, both of which this one will be.there's a huge generation of asian american children out there right now who want to act and are getting little gigs here and there: commercials, supporting roles. and there's a huge number of asian american children with martial arts skills. why not give some of them a chance?just because you're asian doesn't mean you're not prejudiced against asians. perhaps you simply have never tried to support asian american filmmakers, playwrights, and performers, and that's why you're propagating a harmful stereotype. there are TONS of good asian actors out there, they're just rarely given a chance.I'M not only asian, but also part of a rich and talented community of artists and performers. anyone looking to cast asians would have their pick of talent. these people are just not looking to cast asians.
The ONLY reason you're mad is because you're Asian. Hate to break it to you, but look at Aang, he's more white than Asian. Y'all need to stop with this, if you want to get on to the casting for getting people you think will not do a good job then fine, but you're calling them racist for not picking asians, you're racist for saying they should only have asians. M. Night and Aibel picked who would be best suited for the roles, and just because the parts got offered to Caucasians only means that they were the best suited for the role. Face it, out of the thousands of people who auditioned, there must have been hundreds of asians, and they got beat, plain and simple, they were not the best choice. And as for Noah, stop talking about him when you do not know him, he looks exactly like Aang and is an amazing martial artist, and you have not seen him act, perform martial arts, you haven't even seen a picture of him! Until you see him in action, you have no room to talk.
Michael, the acting in the Forbidden Kingdom was horrible partially because the Asian actors they cast, such has Jet Li and Jackie Chan, do not speak English as a first language. They could easily resolve this problem by finding Asian American or other diverse actors who are fluent in English.The film the Forbidden Kingdom is not demonstrative of all Asian American actors because they did not cast Asians from America, they cast Asians from Asian countries. It is demonstrative, however, of the incongruity of having a white protagonist amidst a flock of Asian supporting characters in a film set in fantasy-China.
Why all the talk of hiring American Indian actors for the roles of Katara and Sokka if the entire argument anti-racebenders put up is founded on the entire Avatar setting being "Asian". Why should Natives (doesn't include Inuit if they're clearly so Asian and therefore NOT Native American) care? Oh yeah, the Sun Warriors. Seems they were based on Mesoamerican cultures, Maya by the looks of it (in this case an actual Native peoples unlike Inuits). Of course the only American Indian-like people take a back seat to the overly "Asian" atmosphere (since the Sun Warriors are supposed to remain secretive) so it seems Natives have taken a backseat yet again.