July 9, 2010

Asian People Do Not Look Like White People

When I was a wee little girl, I sort of idolized Connie Chung.

I know, I know. Connie Chung? Isn't that kind of random?

But I loved Connie--simply because she was the only Asian woman I ever saw on TV.

Fortunately, television and film have come a long way when it comes to casting Asian actors and actresses. Jackie Chan and Lucy Liu have become household names, and popular shows like Glee and CSI have regularly featured Asians (although never in leading roles).

And so, I'm baffled and frustrated and downright angry at the blatant whitewashing of the movie, The Last Airbender. My sister and I are big fans of the original series (we're nerds), and we're both pretty pissed off about the casting of this film. Why? Because Asian people do not look like white people! We have yellow skin! And black hair! And a completely different history and culture!

Seriously, M. Night Shyamalan. SHAME. SHAME! You should know better than this. You could have hired a variety of Asian actors (ie Jon Cho, Daniel Dae Kim, etc.) but you didn't. You should have fought against this shit-tastic casting. But you didn't.

What makes me even more angry is how some people have tried to pass off this whitewashing as no big deal.

Them: "Oh, Aang didn't really look Asian in the TV series. Look at his big eyes!"

Me: Gah! Just because he has large eyes doesn't mean he's white!

Them: "Why are you making such a ruckus? There are lots of Asians in the movie."

Me: Uh, in the background. As extras.

Them: "You shouldn't focus so much on racism. That makes you racist."

Me: Huh? Wha? Are you on drugs? (Someone really said this in a comment on EW.com.)

So yeah. I'm rather miffed over this movie, but I'll eventually get over it. What makes me sad is the message this movie sends to young Asian boys and girls. What does the casting say to them? That white actors are better than Asian ones? That Asian actors aren't good enough? That they aren't good enough?


I already dread some of the conversations I'm going to have with my future kids. They're only going to be half Asian, but still, that's enough.


  1. You should be angry- that is pretty craptastic. I wasn't going to see the movie because I don't like any of Shymalan's movies, but now I have an even better reason not to go. Double blecch.

  2. Aubree was telling me about this. I didn't know anything about the original show. I really don't get changing the race of the main character... Is his name still Aang in the movie?

  3. Stephanie, I'm not a big fan of Shyamalan either but now even more so! I do think he has talent as a director, but his screenplays are awful.

    Lex, I hadn't heard about the original show either until my sister made me watch it. It's actually a fun series!

    Here's the ironic part of Aang's name... Yes, his name is Aang in the series and in the movie, but Shyamalan decided to use a different pronunciation in the film to "better reflect" its Asian roots. Ha! If you want to better reflect the series' Asian roots, then you should HIRE some Asian actors!

    Getting off my soapbox now...

  4. Connie Chung was my hero too! I totally wanted to be a news anchor because of her. I remember knowing she had made it big when they mentioned her name on "Full House." How weird is that memory?

  5. If you are writing a fantasy or sf book set in another world, do you think it's a good idea to mention race? (Other than imagined races, I mean.) Should one just leave it to the reader, given the liklihood most readers will be conditioned by our society to just image white, or should the writer describe things? And how does one describe a character as "Asian" in a world without Asia, without using tired cliches like "slant-eyed" or something. (I just can't bring myself to write that.) Any ideas?