But Is It Racist?

There is a mutiny afoot in the Sepia Mutiny bunker. About half of us think that Joel Stein’s piece published in Time on Edison NJ was ill-humored garbage. The other half thinks it’s RACIST ill-humored garbage. I’m of the camp that thinks it’s racist. In the past few days the Desi blogosphere, twitterverse and facebookdom have been in uproar over this piece but what I find the most striking is the debate – “Is it or isn’t it racist?” What is it about the “R” word that makes us recoil and run to words like “stereotype” “bigot” or “xenophobic”? Why are we scared to call things racist?

I thought the article “My Own Private India” was racist – but then again, I come at things from a Critical Race Theory perspective where racialization is an inherent part of our history and narrative. It permeates through every aspect of living in the U.S., whether in how public policies and laws are implemented, healthcare is accessed or in a simple Time satire article. I think a lot of things are racist, more so than the average brown person, whether it be internalized, institutional or blatant. I think implicit biases are real, and people can be racist without intentionally doing so.

But instead of dissecting the Stein piece again, I wanted to highlight another racially controversial piece in the news. Today is the official premier of the M. Night Shyamalan movie The Last Airbender. The movie is based on the Nickelodeon anime-styled cartoon series “Avatar: The Last Airbender,” which is a cartoon heavily influenced by East Asian philosophies, there’s martial arts in it, and the cartoons are brownish Asian looking kids. But the controversy has been around the casting process of the movie. White kids were cast as the main three roles, and the evil people? Why they were cast as the Desis: Dev Patel (as Prince Zuko), Summer Bishil (Princess Azula), Aasif Mandvi (Commander Zhao) and Persian actor Shaun Toub (Uncle Iroh). Question is, is it racist?

Floating World had a fantastic piece on their blog about the history of face painting in the industry, and the use of white people in the entertainment industry to play people of color.

…”The Last Airbender” offends even more [than "Prince of Persia"] with its casting of newcomer/lesser known White actors over equivalent Asian actors to portray its starring Asian characters. The marketing reasons attached to famous actors does not apply here; instead, the marketing assumption is that White actors are more “capable” than Asian actors for pulling in viewers, with a possible secondary assumption in their “superiority” in acting abilities. This overarching assumption is the basis for an institutionalized racism innate to Hollywood’s long, long history of ethnic narratives. [floatingworld]

The blog goes on to show the casting call flyer where it states, “Who we are looking for: Boys, Age 12 -15 – Caucasian or any other ethnicity.” From the get go, the studios are setting an implicit preference. If it really didn’t matter what ethnicity Aang was supposed to be cast, why did they bother to name it in the flyer at all? It goes on to argue the good vs. evil angle of the casting for the movie.

Perhaps the greatest offense that the “heroic” characters are portrayed by lily White actors while the “villainous” characters are portrayed dark-skinned Indian actors in lieu of the fact that all the characters have distinctly Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Indian and Inuit characteristics regardless of their “good” or “badness.” [floatingworld]

Good vs bad. White vs. Brown. If you watch the trailer – this is literally what it looks like – the good white characters are dressed up in light colored clothing and the dark evil characters are dressed up in dark and sinister clothing.

If the casting of the characters Aaang, Katara, and Sokka were so purposefully based on race blind casting – then how is it the casting of the evil characters just happened to be brown? In the cartoon version evil guy Zuko has a far lighter complexion than Sokka and Katara. Yet in this movie, Dev Patel is far darker than his cartoon counterpart. The people of the same tribe of Sokka and Katara are Native American and were cast with a distinctly East Asian/Native look to them, yet Sokka and Katara stand out in the tribe not looking at all like the tribe they are from.

The Last Airbender Cast.png

Desi, please.

This purports my conceit that Paramount blatantly reinforces racism at the institutional level, driven by innately racist assumptions and an ethnocentric desire to bundle Eastern culture – rich in history and human stories – into a big old Yellowface bowtie. Make it as pretty and shiny and “Asian-y” as you want – in the end, this movie is racist and a disrespectful slap in the face of the Eastern heritage it so wishes to profit off of. [floatingworld]

The kicker to all of this is that the director of the film is M. Night Shayamalan, a South Asian American. He should know better. Fine, maybe it’s wrong of me to hold fellow South Asian Americans to higher standards. Fact of the matter is he cast brown males that looked like him as the evil-doers. And that alone says a lot.

Dev Patel.jpg

So I’m calling it. I’m saying this movie version adaptation of The Last Airbender is racist. There was no outright hate speech said about one race to another. No name calling was had. But an event does not need to be outwardly explicit for racism to exist. When the studios chose to adapt an “Asian” cartoon and yellow-face the White cast, that was clearly an example of institutional racism. When they had an “open” casting call but chose White actors and actresses, it was a form of implicit bias towards White people. The casting of Asian Americans as secondary roles and backdrop was clearly a form of tokenism, or in other words, let’s cast people of color in lesser parts to make those protesters happy. Throw them a bone, give them a token. As for casting brown people as the evil fire-bending peoples, its clearly taking a stereotype and running with it. Finally, as much as it hurts me to say this, clearly Shyamalan has some internalized racism issues he has to deal with. Especially if he’s going to be influencing millions of people world wide with his movies.

Back to Stein’s piece. It was anti-immigrant, clearly a xenophobic piece. But was it racist? To me, yes it was racist. By virtue of it being a xenophobic piece, it was a racist piece. There was institutional racism with the way Time magazine let a piece like this through their filter and published. There was blatant stereotyping of the Desis living in Edison NJ, as well as the perpetuation of the model minority myth. Just because it was a satire didn’t give it a free pass to not be called racist – satires can be racist, too. Just because it was unintentional doesn’t give it a free pass, either. Our American history is wrought with unintentional racism.

Why does all this bug me? Why did I let the debate around one word affect me like this? Because, change needs to happen, now. We need to voice our dissent, now. We need to not shy away from words like “racism” and instead name it like we see it. Then move the dialogue forward. In the end, this may be a minor issue. The Last Airbender will be on the Blockbuster shelves within no time considering the reviews for the movie are that bad. Stein’s article will get lost in the recycling bin. In the end, these really are minor issues and we should be focusing on the bigger and badder fights out there. But I don’t just write on Sepia Mutiny because I like brown people. I write on Sepia Mutiny to tell the counter narrative of our South Asian American community. We are putting words in the form of a blog to narrate our community. These two incidents have had a profound affect on the South Asian American community, if only reminding us how the outside mainstream America perceives our community.

I’ll respect our differences. I understand that your definition of what is racist is different than my definition of racist. But I’m going to continue to call it like I see it. And promote the petition put out by SAALT to Time magazine. As well as personally boycott The Last Airbender and encourage others to do the same.

Don’t just take my word on not going to watch The Last Airbender. Angry Asian Man did just did a review on the movie, and his take away message? “You might not have to boycott this movie — it’s so bad, it could boycott itself.”

Things got heated on ANNA’s blog post on Stein’s piece. Let’s play nice in the comments here and have a fruitful dialogue.

This entry was posted in Community, Film, Identity, Musings by Taz. Bookmark the permalink.

About Taz

Taz is an activist, organizer and writer based in California. She is the founder of South Asian American Voting Youth (SAAVY), curates MutinousMindState.tumblr.com and blogs at TazzyStar.blogspot.com. Follow her at twitter.com/tazzystar

205 thoughts on “But Is It Racist?

  1. i don’t see this being a “racist” decision by the film makers vs. an economical decision. the fact is that minorities don’t sell in the u.s. they just don’t. how many caucasian kids in iowa are going to scramble to see a film with asian actors? so the real issue is – why does our society at large not crave diversity in films?

  2. Surprising Manoj lost the plot on this one. He has worked with Udavum Karangal (udavumkarangal.org) and should better than to deal in prejudice. Harold and Kumar was written by two Jewish guys from Jersey, starring two Asians in lead roles, and Manoj can’t do the same? Shame!

  3. i just watched the first episode. so….

    . The people of the same tribe of Sokka and Katara are Native American and were cast with a distinctly East Asian/Native look to them, yet Sokka and Katara stand out in the tribe not looking at all like the tribe they are from.

    i think this is misleading (at least it was before i watched the episode), though i can see the interpretation. the people of sokka and katara are a mishmash which have no counterparts in our world. this is obviously what in fantasy is called a ‘secondary world.’ it’s not earth. the tribe lives at the south pole of their world, and those they have olive-brown complexions, their eyes seem to be blue. similarly, the fire nation people seem to be racially variegated.

    arguing that the casting was problematic is fine. but i didn’t understand before watching the show how alien and exotic the peoples and places of the world of the last airbender was. there are no generally dark-skinned blue-eyed populations in our world (there’s a genetic reason for this, but that’s not relevant here). the people of sokka and katara don’t look european, but also don’t look like any non-european people, because they have a trait (light eyes) which is generally found among europeans (yes, i’m not aware that some non-europeans have light eyes, but the tribe of sokka and katara are mostly light-eyed, which only occurs in northern europe).

    anyway, the discussion i’ve seen so far (aside from amardeep’s comment) didn’t point me to the deeply alien cultures and contexts being discussed here. talking about “type casting” loses a lot of its force because of that.

  4. Razib–keep watching, because the cultures each of them come from do become represented in distinct ways, and while they are somewhat mishmashed, you can clearly see the influence. Katara and Sokka are definitely influenced by various Inuit and First Nations/Native American tribes. And yet, the movie has two white leads standing in front of a bunch of Inuit extras. Beyond just cosmetic influence, their upbringing in that culture is important to their characterizations, and, subsequently, to the plot. Similarly, Aang’s upbringing in what’s essentially a Buddhist monastery influences his character. The Fire Nation’s tactics actually pull from tactics used by the Japanese during WWII. And so on and so forth.

    Just because it’s a fantasy world, that doesn’t mean there is no parallel to ours. And that certainly doesn’t mean it’s okay to cast all whites (which was originally the case–Jesse McCartney was slated to play Zuko, the role that Dev Patel now plays, but after fan outcry they pulled out McCartney and brought in Patel again). And while Patel’s character is a brilliant and complicated one, that still doesn’t excuse the white-hero/nonwhite-villain angle.

    Another thing: Shyamalan was drawn to this series because of his daughter. She introduced him to it when she asked if she could dress like Katara, because Katara was one of few characters on TV who actually resembled her. And then he goes and casts Nicola Peltz as that same character? What?

    And just because the show is a mishmash that is seemingly only possible to create by westerners, that doesn’t negate the fact that they were very faithful to the cultures they did pull from. There’s actually a guru character at the end of season 2 who’s surprisingly awesome–I was bracing myself for stereotyping and there was none. They had multiple cultural consultants on hand to make sure this was a respectful tribute to Asia.

  5. samo, yeah, man. THIS SHOW IS GOOD! where were these cartoons when i was a kid? (ok, they were in japan :-)

    anyway, i was going to post before your comment. after watching 6 episodes, the asian influence is really, really, evident. the inuit/eskimo (some eskimo prefer that term cuz they’re not inuit btw, though most ‘eskimo’ really hate the term cuz it is a term of aspersion to them) cultural influence is really obvious. but…i totally disagree with this: Just because it’s a fantasy world, that doesn’t mean there is no parallel to ours. And that certainly doesn’t mean it’s okay to cast all whites (which was originally the case–Jesse McCartney was slated to play Zuko, the role that Dev Patel now plays, but after fan outcry they pulled out McCartney and brought in Patel again)

    i am actually MORE OK with the casting of whites, insofar as i have an opinion, after having watched the show. like a lot of japanese influenced animation you have a lot of white-looking people running around who are obviously asianesque in their culture. whereas i was generally neutral before watching the show, now i have to say that i’m leaning toward those who think people demanding racial correctness are totally out of line here (though there are bigger issues in society where the tendency to portray savages/evil people as colored does exist and may be recapitulated in the film).

    yes, the nations of the world of ‘the last airbender’ are pretty obviously pulled together from eastern motifs, south and east asian, as well as the aboriginal arctic aspect. there’s relatively little that’s culturally european at all. but in terms of physical appearance there’s a lot that’s european, though it seems that there’s a lot of physical mixing and matching, and you can’t really put a finger on it. this is not totally abnormal in fantasy literature (i know books, not visual media). in janny wurts’ and raymond feist’s ‘empire’ series the world of kelawan is drawn from asian sources (feist explicitly credited a visit to korea in daughter of the empire). a majority of the people seem to be asian looking, but a minority are totally european looking as well, and some are mixed. but culturally there’s no distinction.

    now, if i was steeped in critical race theory or something perhaps i’d still be outraged and demand that this fantasy world comport to my prerconceptions of the connection between culture and race (e.g., people with a japaneseque culture must look japanese-like). but as someone who is more of a science fiction/fantasy nerd i don’t see it that way at all, the beauty of the genre is that it breaks out of preconceptions, and yet remains familiar and appealing its fundamentals (almost all authors have to steal from real societies in their world-building). for example, in r. scott bakker’s fantasy series a medieval european like civilization engages in a crusade against a middle easternesque civilization which is rigorously monotheistic. the analogs between northern europe, the byzantine empire, etc., are made totally explicit. but the religion of the white european analogs is basically rooted in hinduism!

    the main caveat to all this is as i said outside of the context of the last airbender there is the manichaean duality between the forces of colored darkness and the white west in narratives of the fantastic. this goes back to tolkien. the nations of the east and the south, who obviously resemble all the non-european peoples from asians to black africans, were all under the power of sauron. since much of fantasy is a rip-off of tolkien it’s often recapitulated, though there are plenty of exceptions (see the avaryan rising series of judith tarr, where the protagonists are generally black-skinned, and the white-skinned populations which are viewed as alien and marginal. and of course le guin’s earthsea series is another classic case of racial inversion, where the marginal savages are european-like in appearance, and the central societies are dark-brown or red-brown in complexion).

    anyway, all this stuff is subject to interpretation. i don’t begrudge peoples’ offense. but i wanted to admit that after watching 3 hours of the cartoon i’m less sympathetic to the demands for precise race casting. though even if the racial identities were more clear in the world of the last airbender, i think hollywood would have cast whites.

  6. @razib I really respect that you took the time to watch three hours of the cartoon before formulating your opinion. A lot of people have been saying how great it is – I just may have to follow suit.

    The more I read comments interviews the less, for me anyhow, it is about white kids being cast as Aang, Sokka & Katara and more about the process – i.e. the casting flyer that said “white + other ethnic groups” the casting of Jesse McCartney initially as Prince Zuko, and the casting of brown people as the evil people (though I totally understand that the characters are more complex as the series moves).Less about precise race casting, more about process it went about doing it.

  7. I really respect that you took the time to watch three hours of the cartoon before formulating your opinion.

    lol. let me be honest. i was going to watch one episode. but i ended up wasting my evening. but yeah, it’s a ‘smart show’.

    i.e. the casting flyer that said “white + other ethnic groups” the casting of Jesse McCartney initially as Prince Zuko, and the casting of brown people as the evil people (though I totally understand that the characters are more complex as the series moves).Less about precise race casting, more about process it went about doing it.

    i agree that that’s obnoxious. and i won’t defend the bigger pattern in hollywood which does perpetuate dichotomies which i as a colored dude am not a big fan of (though to be fair, the ideal hero is a dark-haired white guy, blonde guys are usually sidekicks, or the evil/arrogant quasi-nazi villain). i think i would have more sympathy though if the weight of outrage was toward the big picture issues, instead of deconstructing the details of the last airbender, as i saw at some of the links. to me the physical ambiguities as to the races of the characters is pretty striking, though less surprising if you’ve ever watched japanese animation.

  8. Stein’s recent twitter entry: “Didn’t meant to insult Indians with my column this week. Also stupidly assumed their emails would follow that Gandhi non-violence thing”

    Also in the cartoon god Shiva is depicted as demolition man (The dude with a middle eye & shoots fire from it :) who comes to kill Aang

  9. I thought the article “My Own Private India” was racist – but then again, I come at things from a Critical Race Theory perspective where racialization is an inherent part of our history and narrative. It permeates through every aspect of living in the U.S., whether in how public policies and laws are implemented, healthcare is accessed or in a simple Time satire article. I think a lot of things are racist, more so than the average brown person, whether it be internalized, institutional or blatant.

    Taz if you seem racism in alot of things against brown people in the west. Do you also see racism in the muslim world against non-muslims. You can’t have both ways and I would like to see you discuss racism in your own community.

  10. Razib–I’m glad you did see the influence eventually. :) But how was the show supposed to make the characters seem any more Asian, short of exaggerating their features and skin tones? The creators intentionally stayed away from that, but you can still see it in their facial structure and bodies. They did have a young Chinese boy as the visual reference for Aang, too.

    I’m not after tokenism and wanting Asians there “just because”–rather, the characters just do not look white to me. And it could’ve been a great chance to prominently feature Asians in American cinema, which happens only rarely. Instead, it became this bastardized case of cultural misappropriation, taking the “exotic” stuff and twisting it just enough to diminish its Asian quality. (Like the writing system in the movie vs. the show. In the show, they never had a scrap of English writing–they hired a traditional calligrapher as a staff consultant. In the movie, they used this horribly offensive “gibberish” language that looks vaguely hanzi/kanji-inspired.)

    The thing with anime–just because they’re all drawn without Japanese features, that doesn’t mean they’re all intended to be westerners. Not by a long shot. It’s just a visual style–it’s not meant to be read literally.

    And really, the Racebending movement (as I guess it is now) IS aware of the bigger issues. But since this all spawned over this one movie, and the movie’s release was just this week, that’s where it’s all centered for the moment. But their reach is beyond that and they’re focusing on the general “plight” of Asians trying to break into Hollywood, but usually without success.

  11. People here don’t know much about Anime and Manga. Japanese art is for a niche audience, that doesn’t look for Hollywood’s approval. No casting pearls before swine. The trouble is much of it have multitextured, complex storylines that would be lost on an audience dulled by Bollywood. The Japanese are bad at marketing the brilliant stuff they make, and that is where they lose out to inferior western animation.

  12. Do you also see racism in the muslim world against non-muslims. You can’t have both ways and I would like to see you discuss racism in your own community.

    Good lord dude, how far do you think “her community” extends? Can we hold you accountable to speak out against violence against Dalits in Punjab?

  13. If I tell you the kind of racism a northie experiences in Bangalore or Medras, you will be shocked.

    Its not racism per se. It is just holding down your nose at uncouth people slumming around breaking the rules. I have worked in those towns with Northies, they flatly refuse to integrate, make fun of the local language, ridicule the local food. Punjabis tend to be the worst, they are willing to migrate to Canada, Australia for petty blue collar jobs but will writhe in horror at the mention of picking up a decent white collar IT job in Chennai.

  14. [quote] I… I have worked in those towns with Northies, they flatly refuse to integrate, make fun of the local language, ridicule the local food. Punjabis tend to be the worst, they are willing to migrate to Canada, Australia for petty blue collar jobs …. [end quote]

    This is so much in-line with the “comment policy” of this blog that it should be turned into one of them banners.

  15. Taz if you seem racism in alot of things against brown people in the west. Do you also see racism in the muslim world against non-muslims. You can’t have both ways and I would like to see you discuss racism in your own community.

    Suki Dillon,

    Really? I should delete this comment – but I’m going to leave it up so people can see what a douche bag you are.

  16. Taz if you seem racism in alot of things against brown people in the west. Do you also see racism in the muslim world against non-muslims. You can’t have both ways and I would like to see you discuss racism in your own community.
    Suki Dillon, Really? I should delete this comment – but I’m going to leave it up so people can see what a douche bag you are.

    Probably Suki has had the pleasure of interacting with our brothers with a lighter shade of sepia. A airport transit experience through Dubai, Abu Dhabi or any other airport of the ‘Emirates’ would provide an invaluable perspective on “the brotherhood” if you are a South Asian.

  17. People here don’t know much about Anime and Manga. Japanese art is for a niche audience, that doesn’t look for Hollywood’s approval. No casting pearls before swine. The trouble is much of it have multitextured, complex storylines that would be lost on an audience dulled by Bollywood. The Japanese are bad at marketing the brilliant stuff they make, and that is where they lose out to inferior western animation.

    My God you’re a weeaboo too? Could you possibly become more unpleasant?

  18. The thing with anime–just because they’re all drawn without Japanese features, that doesn’t mean they’re all intended to be westerners. Not by a long shot. It’s just a visual style–it’s not meant to be read literally.

    agreed. i’m not a big anime fan, but i am aware of the ambiguities. but that’s why i am really skeptical of considering the issues in ‘the last airbender’ clear & distinct. it would be different if this was a historical themed enterprise, as in the case of replacing bruce lee with david caradine. but it’s a fantasy world. pick your battles i say.

  19. “My God you’re a weeaboo too? Could you possibly become more unpleasant?”

    My God you repeat obnoxious 4chan memes too? Could you possibly become more unpleasant?

    razib,

    I hear this “pick your battles,” “focus on the bigger issues” argument a lot… So please do tell, what are these more important battles we should be picking? There’s nothing ambiguous here dude, the series is bursting with Asian culture out of every orifice, but apparently that doesn’t matter because the characters don’t look like canary-yellow slanty-eyed Asian stereotypes? Why is it okay to appropriate Asian culture just because it’s a fantasy world?

    I think TLA is a fine place to rehash that age-old discussion about the marginalization of Asians and Asian-Americans in US media, so I really don’t understand people like you who want to focus on other things.

  20. wunderbar @ 45

    Reason is but the handmaiden of passion (and justice is the bitch of identity.)

    This (and justice is the bitch of identity.) seems nonsensical to me.

    Can you clinique … errr critique this?

  21. Renu @ 46

    To “deep” and others assuming Edison is trash – have YOU ever been there in recent times, besides in your imagination of an imaginary ghetto? I live in New Jersey and work at NYC, and I find this whole assumption about Edison ridiculous!!

    . . .

    Smell is like taste, you idiot, just because you don’t like spices doesn’t mean its trash.

    Deep @ 52, 58

    darth — yeah, i guess i do feel a little entitled. i blame it on my ivy league education.

    Deep,

    I had to lol out loud. Education is a privilege. An ivy league one is even more so. It should make you humble. Then again, you’re in your 20s so to me you’re a Junior desi. I can’t take this statement of yours in post 52 with a grain of salt:

    i don’t think you’re familiar with the change in the indian population in america that has occurred in the recent years. to put it bluntly, the new wave of indian immigrants is largely composed of a bunch of slumdogs trying to become millionaires.

    Baby, you are rude! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZMcK2rdBc5c (chorus)

  22. @Sulabh “Probably Suki has had the pleasure of interacting with our brothers with a lighter shade of sepia. A airport transit experience through Dubai, Abu Dhabi or any other airport of the ‘Emirates’ would provide an invaluable perspective on “the brotherhood” if you are a South Asian.”

    Well, Taz isn’t Arabian, so I don’t see how this is appropriate at all. Yeah, they are douche bags to everyone not Arabian or White. But that’s not the issue at hand right now.

    But yeah, don’t know why she dismissed Suki’s comment.

    (Hey Suki, by chance, do you star in the Indian version of Tru Blood?)

  23. Why is it okay to appropriate Asian culture just because it’s a fantasy world?

    ? how do you think fantasy as a genre emerges? everything gets appropriated in fantasy? are you a big fan of fantasy, because it sounds like you’d be really offended that they distort and make stuff up all the time using aspects of real cultures :-) do you think finns are offended that tolkien stole t

  24. What a great blog posts. Racism is so prevalent in todays culture, but it is looked away from as though it is not there. Someone needs to acknowledge all the racism occurring in America for what it really is and stop trying to pretend that everything is alright.

  25. Racism in both cases. And don’t give me this “victim mentality” stuff. There were plenty of apologists in every colony for every empire. Doesn’t make them right.

  26. Vivek

    The username you replied to probably shouldn’t be automatically assumed to identify w Punjab, the better remark may be to ask to account for the Canadian treatment of First Nations people. The primary bent of the comments from the above are to provide admittedly true but one sided instances where Punjabis have done bad things

  27. If it makes anyone feel better, this movie is currently at an unbearably laughable 9% on Rotten Tomatoes.

  28. Yeah, I did get carried away. I apologize. But all this complaining about racism from people from the north doesn’t go down well when Delhi is one of the most hostile cities in the world to any one who is not typically northern or white. Ask any of the numerous african, south indian and north eastern students in the city. There is a sense of entitlement at work here, and one form of racism is no less egregious than the other. Remember it takes two hands to clap. If you don’t like working south india, create jobs in your hometowns. It is a long shot until your attitudes change. Remember many parts of north india are lawless cesspit. And Yoga Fire, it shouldn’t matter to you if I think Animes like ghost in the shell, L.A.M.B and robotech are a superior form of entertainment to the insulting crap that is peddled out by bollywood year after year. Since you are learned in Hindutva theories maybe you should take time to do a bit of research on other topics before commenting. Your associating Anime with tentacle porn is the similar to laymen associating Nabokov’s Lolita with paedophilia.

  29. Alright, I saw the movie. M has kept close to the story line of the cartoon, but the biggest problem i think was the kids can’t act. Even Dev Patel is not impressive. Actually I didn’t feel it was racist are anything after seeing the movie(The powerful villains are desis :-) . My buddy who was sitting beside me was screaming ‘ara, aa manoj ko kya hua, sara desionko dal diya’

  30. What is sad is that even Desis can’t back each other up. M night Shyamalan is probably the most successful Asian director in Hollywood out there and the whole weight of the western media has been trying to bring him down for years. Why? My feeling is that there is more than a hint of racism in their approach. They need to bring the “uppity” Asian guy down for being too successful.

    To level the accusation of racism at Shyamalan himself is laughable and ridiculous, especially when coming from Caucasians.

    You, as Desis, should be standing behind Shyamalan and supporting him, especially when the Western world is trying to bring him down.

    I would recommend that everyone join rottentomatoes.com and imdb.com and give the movie a top rating.

    Of course, you won’t, because Desis are lazy and won’t stick up for each other. And we wonder why our countries got colonized.

    Wake up DESIS – stick together – it’s the only way we will win in the end.

  31. When I first met the jews, I thought they will all superb businessmen. Then the lesser cousins from russia arrived, and I realized why jews are the most hated people in the World.

  32. politics:

    The username you replied to probably shouldn’t be automatically assumed to identify w Punjab

    Not assumption. Based on commenting history.

  33. “you won’t, because Desis are lazy”

    No we won’t because Desi’s have good taste.

    MNight has been a hack from day 1, you’re obviously too blind to see it ‘real one’

  34. Exactly, that is the type of attitude I am talking about. Your ancestors would be ashamed of you. You are so keen on looking the part and saying the right things to keep the Caucasian people happy, you have lost your way. It truly is a sad state of affairs.

  35. Based on commenting history you are asking him to be rhetorically accountable for the bad actions of a community the username does not particularly identify with, but one it might be assumed he does? From taz’s commenting history the two don’t seem to be the same. Anyway as long as it registers the function of the above username is not to present a balanced presentation of Punjabis, whatevs

  36. Really? I should delete this comment – but I’m going to leave it up so people can see what a douche bag you are.

    Wow, I’m a douche bag cause I want you to cover racism from all different sides. Glad to see some people take criticism so well.

  37. Good lord dude, how far do you think “her community” extends? Can we hold you accountable to speak out against violence against Dalits in Punjab?

    I have no problems speaking out against violence and many other types of racism that people in my own community do to lower castes groups back in the place where my parents are from.

    But if some people want to hate me. Due to the fact that, I think immigrants from Middle Eastern/South Asian when they come to the west over play the race card and at the same time ignore racism that people who share the same ethnic background or faith practice back in there homeland. Then there nothing I can do about it.

  38. You know what, I think the real one has a point.

    The label of racism on Shyamalan is actually ridiculous. The whole western media has been against him for some time now. Then when he is really getting it in the neck, desis join in. Do you think other races would do the same?

    We really do need some solidarity here.

  39. “do you think finns are offended that tolkien stole”

    Finns are white people. There’s no history of Finnish culture being appropriated in a racist way, there’s no history of Finnish actors being barred from starring in movies that prominently feature Finnish mythology (or any mythology, for that matter). You would do well to familiarize yourself with the history of ‘yellowface,’ which goes back to the dawn of Hollywood and continues uninterrupted to the present day.

    And yes, I think fantasy is often appropriative in a disrespectful and racist way, particularly so-called “Asian” fantasy, which often feels like the author’s id spitting up every possible Orientalist cliche and stereotype. Avatar was much better in this respect than most, because the characters were largely three-dimensional and not stereotypes, and the Asian culture featured in the show was generally accurate. They actually employed cultural consultants–e.g. a martial artist and a calligrapher–to make sure things were authentic and not some insulting pastiche. The same care was not taken with the movie, where they (for example) replaced the Chinese characters with some insulting gibberish writing that looks vaguely like hanzi or kana.

  40. Taz, I’ve been reading your posts here for a while, and I really appreciate what you do. I’ve learned a lot from your posts, but I think you’re wrong about The Last Airbender.

    I’m a huge Airbender fan, and while I was disappointed that they cast white actors for Katara, Sokka, and Aang, I didn’t think it was racist. The people in Airbender belong to impossible races that just can’t be cast. There’s no way you can find Inuit boys and girls with blue eyes that know Tai-Chi. There’s no way you can find Chinese boys and girls with bright hazel eyes that know Northen Shaolin Kung Fu. The movie makers probably had to settle either on acting ability or martial arts ability.

    When I heard Zuko was cast as Dev Patel and the other Firebenders were cast as Indians/brown people, I was really proud! I’m a big fan of the Zuko character. His story is really beautiful, and I even dressed up in costume as him when I went to go see the movie with my friends. Uncle Iroh, who’s played by Shaun Toub, is another fantastic character that has a really rich story. When you listed all the “evil” characters in your post, you were wrong to include these two. Aasif Mandvi’s character really is evil, but he plays an important part in the movie. I think it’s good for his career to land that role even though he’s so evil.

    I understand that Hollywood has a lot bias against people of color. It’s really unfortunate the way they cast. That definitely has to change, but I don’t see how this movie is racist. The movie stars many many minority actors in really cool roles. My guess is that those actors will go on to get even better roles in the future. Moreover, the movie has a lot of Asian-influenced art (though the TV series does this a lot more). I think this will help show people the beauty of Asian culture and get people somewhat more familiar with Asian culture.

    I read some of the Joel Stein article. I don’t know if it’s racist or not, but that guy’s definitely an idiot. Regardless, there’s no way you can equate the stuff he writes in that article with The Last Airbender. And I don’t really know much about M. Night Shyamalan’s background, but I really don’t think his defense of casting white actors indicates his internalized racism. Like Amardeep, I agree with Shyamalan’s argument

    Amardeep, I hope you and your kid enjoy the movie! The martial arts scenes are beautiful, and Appa’s super cute.

  41. Seems like a comedy routine that falls flat due to ignorance about South Asian culture and customs. …perhaps the Time article author (along with a lot of us) needs to consider living in the present – maybe this article would help: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/tom-ferry/self-help-are-you-addicte_b_631620.html

    Still, his response showed the point he was trying to make about “the other side of the argument” for immigration…but, there’s too little of that, a healthy dose of historical narrative in the “back then we thought…” spirit, and too much showing of cultural ignorance.

  42. I am with Jaz and real one. In fact, I just signed up to rotten tomatoes and imdb and gave the film an outstanding rating. Come on guys, if we aren’t going to stick up for each other, who is? At least do it anonymously online – at least there is no risk to you.

  43. Come to think of it, it is funny how this race thing has escalated just now when this type of thing has been going on for decades. Why has this movie and M Night taken so much heat at this particular moment? Can anyone explain that?

    I can see why some might think that it is a campaign to bring him down – the media and critics have been against him for a long time now. They seem almost happy to kill his career.

    It won’t help other asians break in to the business, that’s for sure.

    And why has nobody said anything before about racism in Hollywood when it has gone on for a long time?

    The real key will be if the critics and journalists keep making noises about other perceived miscastings and stereotypes in the future. otherwise, it will be obvious that it was just a plot to bring M Night down.

    That would be a truly shameful outcome.