Casting: the case for race

M. Night Shyamalan has a massive plan in mind for “The Last Airbender” -- a patient film trilogy that presents a fantasy epic and also grows progressively darker as its young characters (and actors) mature in front of moviegoers.

That brings to mind both “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy and the “Harry Potter” franchise, and, as you might imagine, that has stirred excitement among executives at Paramount Pictures who would love to have a magical franchise that pulls in billions of dollars at the box office. But because the stakes are so high, there has also been considerable behind-the-scenes hand-wringing because of a nasty fan backlash on a touchy subject -- race and casting.

Shyamalan recently responded. In a breakfast meeting with a circle of journalists and bloggers, the director said he has always cast his films with an open spirit, and that anime, such as the movie’s source material (“Avatar: The Last Airbender”), is about blurring the race boundaries of the real world and embracing something more uplifting.

Here, for instance, is how he was quoted by Meredith Woerner at in a lengthy post: “The great thing about anime is that it’s ambiguous. The features of the characters are an intentional mix of all features. It’s intended to be ambiguous. That is completely its point. So when we watch Katara, my oldest daughter is literally a photo double of Katara in the cartoon. So that means that Katara is Indian, correct? No, that’s just in our house. And her friends who watch it, they see themselves in it. And that’s what’s so beautiful about anime.”


He also says: “When I was doing ‘Sixth Sense,’ if you literally read the script he [Cole Sear] has dark hair, black eyes. I always pictured the kid from ‘Searching For Bobby Fischer’ as the lead for ‘Sixth Sense.’ And I said, ‘We are not hiring any blond L.A. kids, OK? Don’t even bring them in.’ Then Haley [Joel Osment] came in and I said, ‘You’ve got the part.’ How can you not have him play this part?”

Readers sound off: a little ear-bending about ‘Airbender’

“Okay . . . let’s put it this way. Can these people seriously stand there and tell me that if a King of the Hill movie was made into a live-action movie . . . and Hank Hill was played by a brown, dark, or even black actor. . . . No one would find it out of place? What about SUPERMAN?


It has nothing to do with affirmative action . . . it’s the principle of the matter. Why not stick true to the characters? Why take such a leap? It starts to feel disrespectful at some point. The reason the two were left out of the trailers is because kids will know that Sokka and Katara are not pale . . . but warm-colored, like the earth -- which only attributes to their capacity to control the elements.”

-- I won’t pay to see this

“Can M. Night Shyamalan explain why NONE of the main characters are EAST ASIAN in a movie that is clearly about CHINESE MARTIAL ARTS with other EAST ASIAN CULTURES mixed in for kicks???????? and when he doesn’t give the part to a WHITE person, he gives it to an INDIAN person. Nepotism much????

By ignoring a perfectly good chance to introduce young east Asian actors into the American film market, M. Night Shyamalan pretty much ruins Avatar for me because he doesn’t maintain the spirit of the cartoon which really celebrated Chinese martial arts in a way that wasn’t stupid or a caricature of the culture and philosophies behind them . . . and your name [M. Night Shyamalan] is a pain to type out repetitively.”


-- nepotismsucks

“I wonder what Shyamalan’s daughter would think seeing the Water Tribe character suddenly white-washed due to the Hollywood industry wanting to make it “palattable” for “American” tastes.

The casting is terrible and racist.”

-- Ori


“I pity those who pretend they wont see the film, based on the story they claim to love, just because of the race of the actors.

Yeah, it would have been nice to have a more racially diverse cast, but the important thing is if they can carry the roles.

I would be a lot more worried about Night’s abilities to make the film work.

He has a very uneven string of films behind him. He had better stick to the story and not add any of his juvenile creepiness or goofy twists. If he messes up this one too, it is not only his immediate family that will be very very mad.”


-- czarnian

“Someone allowed Shyamalanfreude to make another film? Awesome!”

-- Polomoche