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The casting of M. Night Shyamalan’s “The Last Airbender” — racist or not? Ask ten fans of the original anime, and you’ll probably get one of three answers: “Hell yes!”, “Hell, no!”, and, “Wait, is this the movie about those blue aliens living in the jungle by the guy who did ‘Terminator’?”
As for Shyamalan himself, he’s perfectly fine with the accusations of racism when it comes to the casting of “The Last Airbender”, a film that Shyamalan envisions as the first part of a proposed trilogy. The writer/director tells SciFiWire as much:
It’s a compliment when everybody is up my ass all the time, it really is. You’ve got to look at it as, if they dismissed you, they weren’t paying any attention to you. They’re trying to dissect you to show you why you’re not that great, which is wonderful thing for them to try to do for my entire life. My job is to just keep making movies. It’ll go away, or I’ll prove them right or wrong, right? So time will tell. I’m fine with that. Your critics are … you want your hard teachers to tell you, ‘You’re no good, you’re no good because of this and this,’ even if they secretly believe the opposite. It’s good to be tough on yourself.
He goes on to explain/justify his casting choices:
Anime is based on ambiguous facial features. It’s part of the art form. You got a problem with that? Talk to the dudes who invented anime. It’s not my issue, OK? That girl (Katara), looks like my daughter. That boy (Aang) looks like Noah (Ringer). There is no Inuit that looks like Katara. It’s not true. It’s just not true. She looks like my daughter. My daughter is a dupe of Katara. Our family saw ourselves in it. A Hispanic family themselves in it. My daughter’s best friend is Hispanic. She saw it and their whole family thinks they’re all Hispanic, and that’s true. That’s the beauty of anime, (that) we all see ourselves as incredibly ambiguous and diverse. I wanted to be diverse. I wanted to more diverse. I had to (build upon) whoever came in, the cultures that came in. This wasn’t an agenda for me. It was just very open to me.
But for those who still believe that the world of the live-action version of “Airbender” is too white, or not Asian enough, Shyamalan assures them that there will be plenty of rainbow coalitions in the second movie, which will take place mostly on the Earth Kingdom and will, apparently, include tours of a Mongolian town, a Korean town and an African American town. Those scenes were supposed to be in “Airbender”, but Shyamalan decided to save them for the second movie.
And for those hoping to see Suki (played by Jessica Andres) in “The Last Airbender”, Shyamalan has bad news for you: the character’s storyline has been cut entirely from the movie.
So what do you think? Does Shyamalan’s defense of his casting process hold water? Or is it all, ahem, wet. You can answer that brilliantly phrased question yourself when “The Last Airbender” opens this Thursday.