Race Bending Missing The Point

A lot of discussion has stirred over M. Night Shyamalan's casting for the up coming movie The Last Airbender.  SCI FI Wire came out recently with posts for both the YES position and the No position.  I applaud them for putting forth conversation on both sides and would love to spend several posts refuting points of issue in those posts but we must keep perspective.

The Conversation to this point has boiled down to this:

  • Shyamalan cast white-skinned heroes and brown-skinned villains for the movie based on a show which has distinct ethnicity in its characters except for the Avatar.

  • He claims that his casting was color blind and those actors & actresses were the best that showed up for the role.

The main arguments have hit a point of impasse until we watch the movie and see how the acting pans out.  If the acting is brilliant then maybe it was just an unfortunate set of events that caused the casting to be the way it is.  That helps with most of the arguments except it still does not deal with a particular problem that fandom is very much against.

The Real Beef

Speculative Fiction for all of its progressive thinking tends to fall short when it comes to cultural sensitivity especially on the topics of race, gender, and homosexuality.  This sensitivity is best described by Gene Roddenberry.

Humanity will reach maturity and wisdom on the day they begin not just to tolorate but to take a special delight in difference in ideas and differences in life forms.

We tried to say that the worst possible thing that could happen to all of us is for the future to somehow presses us into a common mold where we begin to act talk think and look alike.

If we can not learn to actually enjoy those small differences, take a positive delight in those small differences between our own kind on this planet then we do not deserve to go out into space and meet the diversity that's almost certainly out there.

Avatar The Last Airbender is an incredibly culturally progressive SF show.  Instead of going for characters with no particular cultural background they featured many specific cultures.  It celebrated the cultures even of the Fire Nation demonstrating an amazing level of cultural sensitivity.  The movie's casting erases that entire level of the show.

Blind casting in this case is an attempt to press all of us into a common mold, wiping away those cultural diversities that should be celebrated.

Inaction is still a choice just as harmful as action.  A lack of cultural diversity is still distilling a society down to one common race.  We need to embrace the cultural diversity and celebrate it.  Avatar the Last Airbender is a brilliant example of how you can have villians of a particular race and still celebrate their cultural diversity.

As for me I will watch the film and hopefully find the performances brilliant to distract me from the show's lost opportunity.  Maybe by the second movie M. Night Shyamalan will be able to put back in the celebration of different cultures.

For more read: