Put On Your Yellowface

January 23, 2009 § 1 Comment

Ever since Paramount Pictures and Nickelodeon Films decided to produce a feature film version of the TV show Avatar: The Last Airbender, there has been controversy over the announcement that the cast would be all-white. According to Entertainment Weekly, even Jesse freaking McCartney was considered to play one of the characters. It doesn’t get any whiter than that, folks.

If you look through this series of images, it becomes clear that Avatar is entirely comprised of Asian characters [except, maybe, the weird girl with blue eyes], with a setting inspired by Asian and Inuit cultures. I used to watch this show with my brother when it was in its first season, and it was very enjoyable [except for that stupid crush between Sokka & the princess], containing action, comedy, and beautiful artwork.

This is basically the same thing that happened with the movies 21 and Dragonball Evolution. It’s as if there are no English-speaking Asian people that film producers can pull from what I’m sure is a teeming pool of actors just dying to get selected. What is probably closer to the truth is that those people simply don’t care how offensive it is to Asians and Asian-Americans that this movie will not be led by any Asian actors or actresses when it so obviously calls for them.

Cartoonist Derek Kirk Kim wrote a poignant piece on this controversy that I urge you to read. He draws an effective analogy to illustrate his point:

Imagine if someone had made a “fantasy” movie in which the entire world was built around African culture. Everyone is wearing ancient African clothes, African hats, eating traditional African food, writing in an African language, living in African homes, all encompassed in an African landscape…

…but everyone is white.

Americans would simply not stand for that! People would complain, and things would probably change. But filmmakers assume that they can just bulldoze over the dignity of Asian-Americans once again without retribution. Well, we – and by we, I mean Asians and non-Asians alike – need to get angry. This instance simply represents how mute Asian-Americans have been as a group. If we don’t use our voices, what else do we have? So at the very least, don’t go see the movie. Please.


PS. Tom & Jerry are getting a movie? YES!!!! It’s going to be live-action/CG? WTF NO!!!


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