deshypothequiez: (Default)
[personal profile] deshypothequiez
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:

http://community.livejournal.com/ohnotheydidnt/31503901.html

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.

(no subject)

Date: 2009-01-18 02:30 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] chungguksaram.livejournal.com
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.

(no subject)

Date: 2009-01-18 02:39 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ravenbell.livejournal.com
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.

(no subject)

Date: 2009-01-18 03:02 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] chungguksaram.livejournal.com
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.

(no subject)

Date: 2009-01-18 03:19 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ravenbell.livejournal.com
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.

(no subject)

Date: 2009-01-18 03:32 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] chungguksaram.livejournal.com
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.

(no subject)

Date: 2009-01-18 03:57 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ravenbell.livejournal.com
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.

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