By Guest Contributor Aymar Jean Christian, cross-posted from Televisual
Watching the previews for Salt, I had what appears to be a common experience. The trailer for an elevator-themed film came on. It seemed strange: what is this movie? What’s it about? My confusion grew into clarity when the words “From the Mind of M. Night Shyamalan” preceding the title Devil came on the big screen. I sighed, recognizing the trademark “things are not as they appear” quality to the trailer. The rest of the audience, however, groaned.
Groaning at the sight Shyamalan’s name has been reported from screening to screening. The phrase “box office poison” is now repeatedly being associated with the director’s name. Shyamalan is only credited as creating the story for Devil, but already people are asking if the film can redeem his credibility. Shyamalan has hit a nadir, causing people to question his career and brand him a failure, a has-been riding off The Sixth Sense. My question: is it true? Continue reading →
One of the “highlights” I missed during San Diego Comic-Con last week was the reception M. Night Shyamalan got during a showing of the trailerfor his next film:
The trailer was playing, the audience was into it, until … the screen read “From M. Night Shyamalan.” A huge collective GROAN exhaled from the crowd. Even worse, when the trailer finished, “boos” were thrown at the screen.”
It turns out the mockery for Shyamalan and Devil, on which he served as a producer, wasn’t confined to the West Coast, according to The New York Post: Shyamalan was booed, and “everyone erupted in laughter,” according to someone in the audience.
Of course, M. Night got himself into this position thanks to his film adaptation of the Avatar: The Last Airbender series, which we’ve covered, both with our own stories and by sharing stories from Racebending. I got the chance to talk to Racebending’s Michael Le about his group’s protest of the Airbender film, where the site goes from here, and whether the film’s epic critical flop has rendered the series unsalvageable.
Recently M. Night Shyamalan, director of The Last Airbender, provided another lengthy response, though not by name, to the concerns raised by the Racebending campaign. While it’s good to read both sides of the story, of course, it’s unfortunate we never got to see the issue discussed in the most fitting manner: a public debate. As an experiment, though, here’s Shyamalan’s comments laid out alongside some notable posts about the film’s casting issues by Q. Le,Gene Luen Yang,Angry Asian Man and Derek Kirk Kim.
Q. Le: 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.”
M Night Shyamalan: Well, you caught me. I’m the face of racism. I’m always surprised at the level of misunderstanding, the sensitivities that exist. As an Asian-American, it bothers me when people take all of their passion and rightful indignation about the subject and then misplace it. Here’s the reality: first of all, the Uncle Iroh character is the Yoda character in the movie, and it would be like saying that Yoda was a villain. So he’s Persian.
And Dev Patel is the actual hero of the series, and he’s Indian, OK? The whole point of the movie is that there isn’t any bad or good. The irony is that I’m playing on the exact prejudices that the people who are claiming I’m racist are doing. They immediately assume that everyone with dark skin is a villain. That was an incredibly racist assumption which as it turns out is completely incorrect.
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.
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.
by Guest Contributor (and frequent commenter) J Chang, originally published at Init_MovingPictures
Ever since news of The Last Airbender’s casting broke, there’s been a lot of commotion in the Asian American community about casting and how it seems that Asians are losing to white people in playing Asian characters. Now, there are issues present in the overall casting scene that people are picking up on here, but before I go further in depth on how race fits into casting, I want to lay down some groundwork for the discussion so that we know how to properly frame the arguments.
The Actor’s Craft
First and foremost, we need to acknowledge what the actor’s job is. As an actor, I’m aware of the theoretical paradox that we are placed in when playing a role. An actor is essentially taking on the role of someone that they are not. This artifice even extends to the rare case when an actor is playing themselves, as they are still “playing” a character on a stage or in front of a screen, rather than being themselves in real life.
In acting, even core identity matters such as sex, sexual orientation, ethnicity, of the actor, shouldn’t matter. Only that of the character. The actor’s job, their craft, is to play a character that is certainly not themselves. I’m not saying that an actor’s actual identity won’t influence the way they play their character, but that ideally, a talented actor will overcome their own identity to play the character believably.
But this is speaking only of the actual job of acting and not the negotiating between the actor, the audience and the medium.
[F]an Glockgal began making t-shirts that read ‘This is not a tan’ and “Aang can stay Asian and still save the world.’ Viacom, one of the companies which owns a license for the series, has ordered Zazzle.com to take down her storefront.