Do me the courtesy of reading this post. Forgive me its length, because I am not going to cut it.
Two years ago, a group of my friends introduced me to Avatar: The Last Airbender, an animated television series by Nickelodeon that first aired in 2005. By the time I was sitting on the floor of my friend's cabin, clustered around the screen with my friends, it was almost time for the series finale to air. I watched two or three episodes from the end of season three, and then I went home to start from the beginning, because this was a show unlike anything I'd ever seen on North American television, and I couldn't wait to see more.
Here was a fantastical Asian world, full of well developed and delineated countries, each with a distinctive culture and a carefully developed mythology born from real world Asian traditions, art forms, myths and religions. Here was beautiful Hànzì adorning the walls of temples and restaurants. Here was the food I loved best from my childhood, eaten with chopsticks by the heroes of the show.
And here were the Heroes: Brave, noble, beautiful, strong, and Asian.
On July 1st, Paramount's live action adaptation of Avatar: The Last Airbender opens in theatres across North America.
All of the principal cast members are White.
Or almost: when the cast of the movie was originally announced sometime in 2009, the four main characters Aang, Katara, Sokka and Zuko, were all cast as white kids. An uproar occurred from the outraged fans--Asians and non Asians alike--because how, in 2009, could such a blatantly racist, discriminatory casting exercise in old school Hollywood whitewashing be justified? High budget Yellowface slated for release in 2010? It seemed almost too ridiculous to be true.
And so, Paramount responded by re-casting for one role. They re-cast Dev Patel, a young Indian actor, as Zuko. None of the other lead roles were re-cast.
Zuko is the villain. A villain, mind you, who switches sides and joins forces with the heroes to defeat the ultimate villain of the story, who just happens to be Zuko's father.
So now, we've gone from a completely whitewashed cast of heroes (supported by faceless, dark-skinned background noise otherwise known as extras, otherwise known as collateral damage, otherwise known as set decoration on par with that exotic vase from somewhere no one cares about in China), to a whitewashed trio of heroes who will eventually show our poor, misled brown child the light so that he can help them save the world from the rest of The Evil Brown People.
If you can't see why this story is now deeply disturbing and problematic, if you can't imagine how this could be damaging and wrong, then we are going to have problems.
The full and grisly details are here: Racebending.com.
Everything from the discriminatory casting call and the outlandishly ignorant and offensive comments from the casting director herself, to the ridiculous comments on 'irony' from M. Night Shyamalan are featured there. Please visit the site. Educate yourselves on how and why this film is the latest in a long tradition of Hollywood erasing the people who created the cultures it is so desperate to steal and re-package for the only audience they believe counts: White People.
Boycott this film. I am asking you with all of my heart not to give it any money. Please, just don't. If you knew nothing about the casting controversy before, and were considering a trip to the cinema, please reconsider and remember what you will be supporting. If you pay for this movie, knowing full well why its cast and its production are racist and problematic, then you are actively, in good conscience, supporting institutionalized racism. Period.
Yesterday, I asked a very dear friend with whom I was huddled on the floor two years ago not to see this movie. I begged her not to pay to see it. I'm pretty sure I hurt her feelings and caused her no small amount of distress, and for that, I am sorry. I really, truly am. But the one thing I will not apologize for, the thing about which I will no longer be silent, is the way this film and the relentless system of bigotry and racism that produced it makes me feel. It's ugly, it's angry, and I am not going to hide it.
For anyone who thinks that this issue is silly, or that my reaction is overdramatic, or that the relevance of a movie or popular media--especially that which is intended for children--to the collective social consciousness of our world at large is negligible at best, I'd like you to watch this recent incarnation of The Doll Test.
And if this post leaves you at all flustered, upset or defensive like the parents who were later shown videos of their own children spouting the racist rules of engagement as they already know and recognize them to be without specifically being taught them, I ask that you check your privilege and think very carefully about why you're upset.
Maybe you still want to see this movie. Maybe you will download it, which at least means that Paramount will suffer the loss of your revenue. I have no desire to watch this disgusting film even to mock it. I find no strength in the prospect of seeing another white kid parading around in the raiment of my ancestors, pretending to save the world. I find only rage and revulsion.
We in fandom are a community of storytellers. We love the stories in literature, in film, in our history from all over the world. Words, images, videos and music are our currency, and we value them highly. We prize the connections we make through the intagible, the familiar rhythms of the stories we read and the stories we write vibrating through our chest like a heartbeat.
Stories feed us. Stories sustain us. They tell us who we are, who we could be. They tell us where we've been, and where we are going. Stories are what we leave behind.
If you think that stories are not important, if you think a movie that just removed real world people from the landscape of a source material that respected and loved their 5000 years of culture and history is no big deal, if you've never known what it means to be erased from your own world and told to be thankful for it, I want you to do something for me.
Stop thinking. Stop feeling. Put down your books, put down your pens, forget your stories. Close your eyes and plug your ears. Forget what your story sounds like. You have no myths. You have no history. Stop breathing with your heart and living in your head. Your dreams are worthless, because they are not real. They are not tangible. You can't sell them. They are worthless. Go outside and consume, consume, consume. But never question. Never speak. Never dare to feel that you've been malnourished or mistreated. Never, ever admit that you have been poisoned. Be satisfied; you are well fed.
Remember: It's no big deal. It doesn't matter. And neither do you.
I don't want to lose friends over this, but I can't stay heartsick over it, either. This is me, raising my Colours. They are important to me. They are written on my skin. They help me tell my story. I am Biracial. I am Chinese. I am Scotts-English. I am Canadian. These are my Colours.
[Edited to add my request not to be linked on Facebook. I appreciate all the support and the signal boosting, but please keep it to blogs and journal sites. Call me paranoid, but I am just not comfortable with Facebook. Thank you.]