deshypothequiez: (Default)
你有几个bitches几个hos? ([personal profile] deshypothequiez) wrote2009-01-17 07:01 pm

on the Avatar controversy (also: omg public post!)

i know i run the risk of sounding like a total nerd here, but hear me out. if you didn't know, there's a controversy concerning the casting of white actors in the upcoming live-action version of the nickelodeon cartoon avatar. specifically, jackson rathbone, cast as sokka, is getting the most flack for supposedly saying that, with a tan, he will look more asian. for the full quote, see here:

first i will say, from what it looks like to me, his quote is taken largely out of context. not once does he say the word "asian". for all we know, he could mean, "i'll need a tan to look more like sokka," because sokka is (surprise) tan.

semantics aside, this is my major beef with this whole controversy: since when are the characters in avatar identified as asian? yes, the series contains elements of chinese mythology and hindu philosophy (as the very title "avatar" suggests). yes, it is animated in a vaguely japanese anime style. does that mean the characters are de facto asian? apparently so.

let's take a moment here. the series was created by non-asian americans. it's written by non-asian americans. it's voice acted by non-asian americans. the characters don't even look asian, for the most part (this is, of course, taking for granted the already problematic assumption that there's a specific asian "look", but that's another issue). most importantly: it doesn't take place in the real world.

that's right, it's a fantasy. they don't inhabit the real world, so why do they have to prescribe to real ethnicities? the lord of the rings was a fantasy, too--it took place in the nonexistent middle earth, and was filmed in new zealand. does that mean they needed to cast new zealander actors? no. why? because the characters weren't new zealanders and it didn't take place in new zealand.

it's the same fucking thing here. the characters aren't asian and it doesn't take place in asia. sure, they're filming in asia, and the cartoon is influenced by elements of various asian cultures, but the world in which avatar actually takes place is not asia by any stretch of the imagination, nor are these characters asian. rather, their "asianness" is being read into them by the popular media, probably in order to create scandal out of something completely unscandalous.

i mean, honestly. if anything, those characters look inuit.

this is apparently what asians look like.

[identity profile] 2009-01-18 12:44 am (UTC)(link)
Have you seen this screenshot picspam?

Come on. There's Chinese right in the logo. Avatar's world was conceived from day one to be based on Eastern mythology and culture. The creators purposely drew from non-Western sources and hired experts to help them with the martial arts and design of that world. They even managed an amazing degree of multi-ethnicity within that Asian-themed universe. To argue that the characters weren't Asian goes against the entire point of the show. A fantasy world, that for once, wasn't all white.

And good chunk of the cast *was* Asian - The dearly departed Mako as Iroh, Dante Basco as Zuko, Jennie Kwan as Suki, and others.

[identity profile] 2009-01-18 01:09 am (UTC)(link)
I've said what I've said. As an Asian American, I do not identify these characters as Asian, despite the heavy Asian influences. Fusion food is heavily influenced by Asian cuisine, but that by no means defines it as "Asian", but, instead, as a means to appeal to what non-Asian Americans think is exotic and, thus, expensive. (that was a tangent, but slightly relevant.)

I do not read Avatar as an Asian American production. I do not read the world in Avatar as an Asian world. I do not read the characters as Asian characters. I read it as a white fantasy world drawing on a borderline fetishistic obsession with Asian culture--the fact that they brought in cultural experts only says to me that they're more honest in their obsession than most Asian fetishists. If anything, I think it's fitting that they're casting white actors to play supposedly Asian roles, because that only brings to the surface how ridiculous the premise of Avatar really is, that a bunch of white Americans got together and decided to make a cartoon reminiscent of anime that would hijack "Asian culture".

Maybe I'm being narrow-minded here. I looked in your profile info and it says "orientalist casting". On the contrary, I think the very fact that Avatar exists in the first place is orientalist: these people are creating a fantasy world which is supposed to reference, in essence, an imagined Asia, without actually being Asia.

For the record, Sokka should be Inuit anyway, not Asian, if we're being super anal about this.

[identity profile] 2009-01-18 01:43 am (UTC)(link)
I'm Asian too. Nice to meet you.

It's true that the show does reflect Orientalist tendencies, but no moreso than Shaolin Showdown or Kung-Fu Panda or any of the other recent cartoons that have lifted so much willy-nilly from Asian cultures.

But I give the creators of Avatar credit for being self-aware and trying to tone down the stereotypes and bring a certain level of authenticity to that universe. They certainly didn't succeed completely, but neither were they insensitive to the cultural sources they drew from nor ignorant about what they were getting themsleves into. Sure, the road to Hell is paved with good intentions, but the show won a lot of fans over - Asians and other minorities included - due to these efforts to get as much right as they could.

I don't really see what's so silly about creating a fantasy world based on Asian mythology. Narnia and Middle Earth were amalgamations of a bunch of European and Celtic myths. Or if you want an Asian counterexample, Amestris from the anime Fullmental Alchemist is a parallel universe with European, Middle Eastern, and Chinese counterparts.

Besides, I don't know how much you can hijack a culture where there were no white people in the Avatar universe to do the hijacking. Now what M. Night's doing with the movie - all white kids in an Asian and Inuit universe - *that* would be pretty obvious cultural hijacking.

And my profile says "orientalist casting"? Really? Whoa.

[identity profile] 2009-01-18 01:53 am (UTC)(link)

I don't watch Fullmetal Alchemist so I can't talk to that, but with Narnia and Middle Earth, those were fantasy worlds based on European myths created by Europeans. This is a fantasy world based on Inuit and Asian cultures created by Anglo-Americans. The very fact that they're trying to cast Asia as a fantasy world, or vice versa, is regressive and culturally insensitive, no matter how much "authenticity" they attempt to add. I'm not saying it's inherently wrong for white people to be interested in Asian cultures, but here their interest in Asia manifests itself as the fantasy itself, which smacks of old-fashioned orientalism; it blatantly places Asia in a world of exoticism and magic.

It's not the hypothetical "white people in the Avatar universe" that I'm claiming are hijacking Asian cultures, but the white creators of that universe.

[identity profile] 2009-01-18 02:16 am (UTC)(link)
Nobody's saying that the Avatar world isn't seen through a Western lens, or that it's somehow meant to be a substitute for the real-world cultures it takes its influences from. I don't understand how this is somehow more egregious than any of the Asian fantasy universes we see in other cartoons, including those of Asian origin. There's nothing in "Avatar" that we don't see in anime shows - it's just a different stlye and POV.

And the frankly two white guys have done a much better job than I've seen in some media that originated from Asia or from Asian-American creators. It beats the "Jackie Chan Adventures" any day.

[identity profile] 2009-01-18 02:30 am (UTC)(link)
I'm not saying Avatar is any worse than any other Asian-inspired cartoon, either. I will say, however, that the difference between Avatar and certain Japanese animes is that, in anime, they're drawing from their own mythology, which adds a sense of agency to their work, whereas in Avatar and certain other American-produced cartoons, drawing from that mythology to create a fantasy world makes that culture seem inherently fantastical and exotic.

Nor am I saying they're worse than Asian animators, I have no idea where you got that. It has nothing to do with the quality of the animation or production.

[identity profile] 2009-01-18 02:39 am (UTC)(link)
Okay, Avatar coming from an Orientalist perspective I get. Non-Asians imposing viewpoint is inherently wonky. Thank you.

But given the creator intent, I still think the characters are supposed to be Asian and Inuit, Americanized and fetishized as they may be, and the casting of all-white actors is completely undermining the original concept, misguided though it may be.

[identity profile] 2009-01-18 03:02 am (UTC)(link)
Great. I don't think there should be a live-action movie in the first place, white actors or not. But now that there is one, I don't see the point in trying to force them to cast Asians in ethnically ambiguous roles, for the very fact that the Asian actors would be cast for their Asianness rather than necessarily any acting ability (which is not to say the actors they have cast are any good either, lol jesse mccartney, but rather that casting Asian actors would only perpetuate the orientalist fantasy already at play). Both sides are problematic, and I really wish they hadn't chosen to make the movie live-action.

[identity profile] 2009-01-18 03:19 am (UTC)(link)
I agree live action was a bad idea. That said, I have two reasons for protesting.

One, as long as they're keeping the names and the rest of the universe pseudo-Asian, I don't want them yellowfacing white actors to match. That sets a very bad precedent for future Hollywood adaptations of Asian media. There are a lot of anime adaptations in the pipeline right now that this could effect.

Two, Asian actors have a tough enough time as it is in Hollywood, and we see very little representation in fantasy films and childrens' films. Even though the characters aren't ideal, a lead role is a lead role and that's somebody's paycheck and screentime and possible opportunity for a career in the business going with it. I think that's worth fighting for.

Very much enjoying this conversations. Thanks.

[identity profile] 2009-01-18 03:32 am (UTC)(link)
Ah, I'm glad you brought up representation, because I think that's exactly what's at stake here. The issue of representation here I think lies at the very heart of both sides of this argument, right? On the one hand, they're asking non-Asian actors to represent ostensibly Asian characters (because I still do not identify the characters themselves as any specific race or ethnicity, but whatever), which denies Asian actors the right to self-representation. On the other hand, if Asians were to take these roles, they still wouldn't be representing Asians, but rather a fictionalized version of Asians. It's like the controversy over the casting of a white actor in yellowface as the Asian male lead in Miss Saigon: their complaints lay with the fact that Asians were not allowed to represent themselves, and not with the actual racist content of the play itself. Only once they were allowed to play themselves did they begin to realize the problems in prescribing to that inaccurate representation.

That's the same thing I think is at stake here, the difference being: the precedence has already been set. I think we should be analyzing why these (again ostensibly) Asian roles would not necessarily allow Asians true self-representation.

Of course I think Asians should be cast in more leading roles and in more productions. That's not what I think the issue here. Rather, I think the issue is what roles Asian actors should be taking, and personally I don't think these roles are right.

[identity profile] 2009-01-18 03:57 am (UTC)(link)
Well, whether the roles are right or not, at least Asian and Inuit - or at least *minority* actors should have had their fair shot at them. And I do find it worrisome that if these kinds of roles are going to be co-opted, that doesn't really speak well to the prospect of minority actors' chance for the less stereotypical roles.

In other words, I don't think we're at the point yet where we can afford to let even bad ones get away from us.

[identity profile] 2009-01-18 01:14 am (UTC)(link)
oops, not your info, [ profile] aang_aint_white's info.

[identity profile] 2009-01-18 01:25 am (UTC)(link)

I am not going to argue about this, but: I disagree.  Although yes, the Water Tribes are Inuit-based as opposed to the other groups in the show.

[identity profile] 2009-01-18 01:43 am (UTC)(link)
maybe i just disagree with the controversy because i think the very point of avatar is arguably racist in the first place so it's not like they're doing anything different.

[identity profile] 2009-01-18 02:10 am (UTC)(link)
That definitely would point your opinion towards a certain way.  I think this is a travesty and I fucking love the show.

Also, I think you just want to see some Jesse McCartney do this.

Fake edit: Okay, I just googled "Zuko fan service" and this one link of preteen girls talking about the show just kinda killed some brain cells.

[identity profile] 2009-01-18 02:15 am (UTC)(link)
haaaaaaahahahahahaaa where have you been

[identity profile] 2009-01-18 02:33 am (UTC)(link)
What the hell is wrong with his hair there.  And why does he look like he's still 14.  Is this song actually about the increasing number of reported female teacher having sex with male students.

ANYWAY, you definitely do not get to see him tear off a robe and sparkling like motherfucking Edward Cullen while doves fly behind him.  Or fight people shirtless in general.

Also, I think our school should have had more teachers having sex with students.

[identity profile] 2009-01-18 02:37 am (UTC)(link)
*female teachers
**You do not get to see him do all that in that music video.

[identity profile] 2009-01-18 02:39 am (UTC)(link)
omg i was playing this video game my brother brought home for break and one of the characters sparkles in sunlight so my nickname for him was edward cullen

[identity profile] 2009-01-18 02:39 am (UTC)(link)
wasn't this bitch in dreamstreet
i think that is the real travesty here

[identity profile] 2009-01-18 03:04 am (UTC)(link)
omg ilusfm

[identity profile] 2009-01-18 02:18 am (UTC)(link)
for the record, though, i don't hate avatar and in of itself, like i used to watch it and loved it, i just think the concept of it is problematic.

[identity profile] 2009-01-18 02:38 am (UTC)(link)
btw, I <3 your LJ design thing now.