Race + Fandom Roundup: M. Night on Airbender, and Tales of Two Amandas

By Special Correspondent Arturo R. García
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The Last Airbender director M. Night Shyamalan finally addressed the controversy over the white-washing of his film’s casting in a recent interview. Without further ado, here’s a few excerpts …
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Here’s the thing. The great thing about anime is that it’s ambiguous. The features of the characters are an intentional mix of all features. It’s intended to be ambiguous. That is completely its point. So when we watch Katara, my oldest daughter is literally a photo double of Katara in the cartoon. So that means that Katara is Indian, correct? No that’s just in our house. And her friends who watch it, they see themselves in it. And that’s what’s so beautiful about anime …

I was without an agenda, and just letting it come to the table. Noah [Ringer, who plays Aang] is a photo double from the cartoon. He is spot on. I didn’t know their backgrounds, and to me Noah had a slightly mixed quality to him. So I cast the Airbenders as all mixed-race. So when you see the monks, they are all mixed. And it kind of goes with the nomadic culture and the idea that over the years, all nationalities came together.

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On the casting of the Fire Nation, and Dev Patel as Zuko:

The Fire Nation was the most complicated. I kept switching who was playing Zuko. It was such a complicated and drawn out thing, about practical matters. But the first person that I was considering casting for Zuko was Ecuadorian. So I started thinking that way. Then when that person couldn’t do it, the next person who came in was much more Caucasian. And then we had to switch everything around …

… Dev ended up being my choice for Zuko, and I looked for an Uncle that could be in that realm, for a moment I thought about Ben Kingsley. But Shaun Toub, I just loved him in Iron Man. I thought this takes us into a Mediterranean kind of Arab and Indian world, and I can go as far as that, that will be the breadth of the Fire Nation, that kind of look.

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On the plus side, Angela Bassett playing DC Comics spy-runner Dr. Amanda Waller in Green Lantern should work: Bassett’s made a career out of playing strong characters, and if this version of “The Wall” lives up to her comic-book incarnation, Bassett will believably hold the line from Apokolips to Gotham. The thing is, the plus side doesn’t cover the plus-size.

Waller’s not a skinny woman by any means. It’s not like that’s played like a negative in her characterization – check out the picture above; does she look like a woman you’d want to antagonize? – and it’s refreshing to see a powerful woman who’s not built like the “superhero ideal,” especially without actual superpowers. But there’s a couple of odd things going on here.

cch1First, it comes off like a late effort to counter-act Marvel’s inclusion of of Ultimate Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) into its’ film series. Early reports on the Lantern script made no mention of either Waller or a government presence in the film. And while it’s nice to see Waller going through a renaissance (a TV version of the character, played by Pam Grier, recently debuted on Smallville), making her conventionally “sexy” for the silver screen is a let-down. I mean, CCH Pounder not only voiced Waller convincingly on the Justice League Unlimited animated series, but anybody who’s watched her career over the years knows she could have played the character in a live-action setting, as well.
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Dresden Dolls singer Amanda Palmer struck a decidedly sour note on twitter last week, when, in the midst of decrying Lady Gaga’s video for “Telephone” for its’ product placement, she posted this:

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Luckily, LiveJournal user sparkymonster took the opportunity to give Palmer a quick lesson on good vs. bad irony (WARNING: images on the original link are graphic). From her post:

Showing Wonderbread is BAD
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Unlike the KKK who murdered Medgar Evers by shooting him in the back. This is his wife at his funeral.
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How did Palmer respond to the idea that having people give cash to the KKK isn’t f-cking funny? With this post, directing us toward a Klan-themed clip from Jerry Springer: The Opera. As somebody who really enjoyed her band’s show in my town a few years back, seeing this unapologetic descent into hipster racism is enough to get me to stop supporting either her own projects – or those of her husband’s.