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Thread: yellow face/white washing.

  1. #1
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    Asian Pop's take

    Asian Pop is an S.F. Chronicle column by Jeff Yang. I've posted links to his stuff before.
    'Avatar' an Asian thing- why isn't the cast?
    Jeff Yang
    Thursday, January 29, 2009

    When is an Asian cartoon not an Asian cartoon? The answer to this Zen dilemma is at the heart of the latest high-octane kerfuffle clogging the Intertubes - one that's pulled into its vortex two of the most celebrated Asian American creators in comics: Gene Yang, National Book Award finalist for his graphic novel, "American Born Chinese," and Derek Kirk Kim, whose work has won comics' most prestigious laurels, the Xeric, Ignatz, Eisner and Harvey awards.

    That's because the two happen to be passionate devotees of Nickelodeon's animated TV series "Avatar: The Last Airbender." The show completed its third and final season last year only to have the cable network green-light a live-action, big-screen adaptation, which was greeted with both anticipation and anxiety by the show's burgeoning fan base.

    Last month, with the unveiling of the film's principal cast, the fans' worst fears were realized, prompting self-proclaimed "Avatards" - chief among them 'toon titans Yang and Kim - to launch a protest that's generated torrents of both support and criticism.

    The whole controversy might be trivial if it weren't for the fact that "Avatar" is a genuine pop-culture sensation, acclaimed by critics, adored by fans and, yes, wildly profitable.

    One reason Asian Americans such as Yang and Kim have been drawn into the show's orbit is that it has hit it big despite - many would say because of - its richly Asian-inspired setting. The core ideas are drawn from Hindu, Taoist and Buddhist philosophy; its character names - Aang, Katara, Toph Bei Fong - incorporate Chinese, Japanese and Southeast Asian phonemes; and its visual identity is modeled on traditional Asian iconography.

    So when the core cast of the "Avatar" movie was revealed, hard-core fans recoiled - not because the actors are mostly unknowns, drawn from open auditions across the country, but because, well, they're white.

    This is far from the first controversy regarding the casting of Asian roles with Caucasian actors. Last year saw an outcry over the "whitewashing" of "21," the film about blackjack prodigies whose real-life counterparts were a group of Asian American MIT undergrads. But for fans of "Avatar," this casting is an even greater affront, not least because the show's primary target audience is 6- to 11-year-olds - kids who may not know the specifics of its references but are undoubtedly aware of and attracted to its cultural origins.

    "These are kids growing up with manga," Kim says. "They're not only comfortable with Asian concepts, they're fascinated by them. To think that they won't come to a live-action version unless it's cast with white actors - that's really a shockingly ignorant viewpoint. These kids aren't watching Jackie Chan movies and thinking, 'Yikes! I wish he were a white guy!' "

    But here's where the plot begins to snarl. "Avatar" isn't meant to mirror existing Asian history, imagined future or mythological canon. It's clearly set in an original fantasy world - invented by two white Americans, Bryan Konietzko and Mike DiMartino. Many of the voice actors for the original series are white as well. And though the actors selected for the big-screen version are white, the director who chose those actors is one of the few top-tier Asian American filmmakers in Hollywood, M. Night Shyamalan.

    It's an object lesson in how hard it is to maintain claims of authenticity and cultural ownership in a world where boundaries are rapidly beginning to blur. If it's all right for white guys to come up with an "Asian" story and even voice it behind the scenes, why is it not all right for white guys (and girls) to portray that story onscreen?

    But there's more to the argument against the casting of "Avatar" than a claim to racial justification. In fact, it's arguably a more powerful case than the one against "21." The creators of the series have stated that the show was designed from the ground up as an elaborate homage to the culture, ideas and artists that they revered, an "epic, Asian, martial-arts fantasy/action/adventure/comedy/drama" celebrating the likes of anime legend Hayao Miyazaki.

    The movie "21" was a reimagining of real life, not a documentary, and thus free to remake truth in the pursuit of what its producers thought was commercially viable. By contrast, the "Avatar" movie is being presented as a direct translation of its source material - which by definition demands adherence to the series' internal, spiritual truth.

    It's hard to imagine the "Harry Potter" films working with characters that don't visually fit the books' British boarding school sensibility. "And I don't think it would've been true to the spirit of 'Lord of the Rings' if the movie hobbits had Asian features, given the strongly Anglo-Saxon tradition of those books," Yang notes.

    In short, these casting decisions ring false to the show's spirit; the very spirit that has transfixed millions of young fans and brought legions of Avatards together into a passionate community.

    "What frustrates us most is that you had this amazing opportunity - you've got a nation of fans who love this quintessentially Asian story," Kim says. "This could have broken down every barrier in the business, proving you can have an all-Asian cast and score three blockbuster successes. Instead, we just get three more chances to cringe."
    Gene Ching
    Publisher www.KungFuMagazine.com
    Author of Shaolin Trips

  2. #2
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    Beaten to the punch by Doug.

    In my defense, I'll say it's an east coast/west coast thing.

    The movie races to try and cover the entire first season (Book One: Water) adding narration to try to pick up the slack, and sacrifices the humor and character development. M. Night Shyamalan has been struggling to produce a mcgguffin on the level of Sixth Sense, but Airbender has no mcgguffin really, so there's just nothing. It really suffers from not being called Avatar. It's budget is 280 million, but it will be devoured by vampires this weekend, and I predict it will join the ranks of unfinished attempts to make a new kid franchise, the Harry Potter wannabes, like Golden Compass, City of Ember and Narnia.

    On the upside, the wushu looks good. Was that Li Jing giving the foot massage? Obviously I've been doing my forms all wrong as I can't bend nothing.

    NOTE: I am not a fan of the cartoon series, mostly because I've just never had the time to watch it. Also, as for all the complaints about whitewashing, Avatar has always been western for me as the elements are western: air, water, earth, fire. If it was Asian, it would be water, wood, fire, earth, metal. The fact that the fire nation all looked middle eastern, well, that's another issue entirely.

    We'll have an interview up on our e-zine tomorrow.
    Gene Ching
    Publisher www.KungFuMagazine.com
    Author of Shaolin Trips

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    NOTE: I am not a fan of the cartoon series, mostly because I've just never had the time to watch it. Also, as for all the complaints about whitewashing, Avatar has always been western for me as the elements are western: air, water, earth, fire. If it was Asian, it would be water, wood, fire, earth, metal. The fact that the fire nation all looked middle eastern, well, that's another issue entirely.
    If I recall, the elements being 4 is an indian thing, not western.
    Earth covers all the earth elements like metal and wood.
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  4. #4
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    yellow face/white washing.

    a friend of mine, made this video about the current trend of white washing thats been happening recently in hollywood. decided to post it here especially after its been announce that the character of the shredder from tmnt will be played by a white actor:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_IIP6YeTBh8

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    shredder wont be played by a japanese actor? thats bullsh!t
    For whoso comes amongst many shall one day find that no one man is by so far the mightiest of all.

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    I like this guy's vids. He speaks 100% truth, but is hilarious at the same time.

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    Quote Originally Posted by doug maverick View Post
    a friend of mine, made this video about the current trend of white washing thats been happening recently in hollywood. decided to post it here especially after its been announce that the character of the shredder from tmnt will be played by a white actor:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_IIP6YeTBh8
    Now Shredder, I'm shocked, after watching the cartoons as a kid. that's little different from David Carradine in Kung Fu putting on a rubber hat. Has nothing changed? Well, now on TV black people can be partners to the white cop, and there can be a funny Asian guy who also works as a police officer but who is peripheral to the main story.

    Great video, by the way. I love the yellow hulk going through all the stereotypes. Classic.

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    Well, I called it.... that movie is going to be a total cluster eff.

  9. #9
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    Oroku Saki = white dude?

    yep, makes sense.

    We should also make sure that Splinter doesn't have a Japanese accent either. Dun want to offend any nihonjin by making them think that we're calling them rats.....
    Quote Originally Posted by bawang View Post
    like that old japanese zen monk that grabs white woman student titties to awaken them to zen, i grab titties of kung fu people to awaken them to truth.
    Quote Originally Posted by Sal Canzonieri View Post
    You can discuss discrepancies and so on in people's posts without ripping them apart. So easy to do sitting behind a computer screen anonymously, but in person I'm sure you'd be very different, unless you're a total misanthrope without any friends.

  10. #10
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    dont worry, when the minorities become the majority (and it wont be long) then you will see more non white lead roles. Its all about the $$$, its not personal.

  11. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by doug maverick View Post
    a friend of mine, made this video about the current trend of white washing thats been happening recently in hollywood. decided to post it here especially after its been announce that the character of the shredder from tmnt will be played by a white actor:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_IIP6YeTBh8
    It has been happening since the birth of Hollywood so nothing new!
    I am sure it ian't personal but it beez like dat. It's the money! It seems that the white guy playing the "minority" fellow always get higher rewards and benefits than the actually minority would have gotten if he acted the part.

    If a real Asian was playing Charley Chan would he have been so magnificent!
    If the character of Robert Downey playing the 'black soldier' in that movie (don't recall the name') would the movie have been so celebrated!

    It's just business!

  12. #12
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    Quote Originally Posted by mawali View Post
    It has been happening since the birth of Hollywood so nothing new!
    If a real Asian was playing Charley Chan would he have been so magnificent!
    If the character of Robert Downey playing the 'black soldier' in that movie (don't recall the name') would the movie have been so celebrated!

    It's just business!
    The Robert Downey role of a few years ago isn't even in the same category. A far more accurate comparison would be Al Jolson.

    So are you saying that white actors are better at playing non-whites than non-whites can play themselves? Now is not the 1920s, 30s, 40s, etc. Our knowledge, awareness and views of other people are supposed to have evolved since then, but in many ways they haven't come very far at all.
    Last edited by Jimbo; 06-29-2013 at 12:51 PM.

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    I am saying just the opposite. The white actor playing the minorities always seem to get the awards for the role they played and they are always lauded for their superb acting! As to why it is as it is, only the Academy Awards know and they eat it up!
    I could not make this up if I tried

    Kwai Chang Caine was the best Asian display that one could imagine, don't ya think based on the magnanimous approval from all involved. Robert Downey was said to be playing in 'blackface' but what about Kwai Chang.. and Warner Oland? Just saying

  14. #14
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    Quote Originally Posted by mawali View Post
    I am saying just the opposite. The white actor playing the minorities always seem to get the awards for the role they played and they are always lauded for their superb acting! As to why it is as it is, only the Academy Awards know and they eat it up!
    I could not make this up if I tried

    Kwai Chang Caine was the best Asian display that one could imagine, don't ya think based on the magnanimous approval from all involved. Robert Downey was said to be playing in 'blackface' but what about Kwai Chang.. and Warner Oland? Just saying
    You're thinking of Tropic Thunder, and that movie was poking fun at the white washing going on in Hollywood. What better way to make fun of Hollywood's racism than lampoon it by taking it further into the shady racist history than having a white actor play a white actor who is shamelessly doing a role in blackface?

  15. #15
    Quote Originally Posted by doug maverick View Post
    a friend of mine, made this video about the current trend of white washing thats been happening recently in hollywood. decided to post it here especially after its been announce that the character of the shredder from tmnt will be played by a white actor:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_IIP6YeTBh8
    this was actually done right if u think about it, my chocolate brother.

    -white guy is not in yellow face, even has blond hair, this is done on purpose
    - avoid Asian bad guy stereotype


    if u wanna see some real fuked up sh1t, remember the last airbender?

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