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Thoughts about the Avatar whitewashing - moonspinner
moonspinner
moonspinner
Thoughts about the Avatar whitewashing
I haven’t spoken much about the Avatar mis-casting since my initial post. At least I haven’t spoken much about it here. I had a lot to say at TF.N for sometime. But eventually, my passion for the whole affair has waned. It’s just too depressing hearing the same rationalizations over and over again, repeating the same arguments over and over again until I was just too upset to even be logical anymore.

I have a horrible feeling that this movie is going to do extremely well, well enough to green-light the sequels and re-launch the franchise in a big way.

The thing is that I am more bugged/disappointed/distressed by the persistent denial/defense by ‘well-meaning’ fans of the cast whitewashing (“Katara/Sokka have blue eyes so they must be White!” / “It doesn’t matter what race the actors are as long as they can act” / “Nobody will watch an all-Asian movie” / “The voice actors didn’t sound Asian”) than I am by the actual white-washing itself. I am even more distressed because I wonder if there isn’t some element of truth in those arguments. If these are the opinions of a great portion of the fandom and if the Paramount casting is based on current marketing reality, then it isn’t a far stretch to believe that the average American viewer really believes that the A: TLA cartoon protagonists are White; and the average American viewer will have a problem watching an all-Asian movie.

And if this is true, then I don’t know what to think anymore.

Meanwhile, I’m wondering where the heck Bryke are in all this. There might be a lot of reasons for their silence but none are things I can respect. I hope they do speak up soon and at least say something because so far, they are proving themselves to be as mercenary and opportunistic as I’ve long suspected them of being.

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Current Mood: gloomy gloomy

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Comments
fialleril From: fialleril Date: May 8th, 2009 03:22 pm (UTC) (Link)
I am even more distressed because I wonder if there isn’t some element of truth in those arguments.

Personally, I think it's probably more a case of people thinking that love for a fandom means you can't criticize or critique that fandom in any way. People love anything and everything Avatar, so they feel like they have to defend it, rather than acknowledging that there is a very real problem with this casting. I've encountered similar difficulties in the Star Wars fandom when I write meta critiquing the source material. To me, we critique the things we love most of all, because they're important enough to question. But for a lot of people, questioning seems to equal a lack of love, so they get defensive at any hint of a critique.

That said, I also think that a lot of [white] Americans buy the idea that no one would watch an all-Asian movie, even though this is patently not true. But this idea, as with the supposedly "colorblind" (read, we don't see people of color) approach to film casting, is so much a part of the popular mythos that people don't often stop to look at the facts, and when they do, those facts are regarded as aberrations because they don't match the mythos.

And cultural appropriation is so much a part of what [white] American culture does that I think people can get honestly confused when someone calls the entertainment industry on it. Because really, I think the problems in Hollywood are symptomatic of a much deeper issue that underlies all of American culture, and one which, for the most part, we've been very reluctant to face up to.

All of this is also very, very related to RaceFail'09.
moonspinner From: moonspinner Date: May 9th, 2009 08:26 am (UTC) (Link)
Personally, I think it's probably more a case of people thinking that love for a fandom means you can't criticize or critique that fandom in any way.

I've seen people I usually admire for their objective logic use the same logic and none of that objectivity to defend the most glaring errors in their favourite fandoms.

But I don't think that's similar to what is happening now. This isn't a question of canon continuity or even the intentions of the creators. This is an issue of an existing story being re-imagined and as a general rule, the established fans usually oppose the reimagining until it's been tested and proved: see Star Trek fans and the OT fans.

It's not the fans defending the decisions of Paramount, etc because they want to be loyal to Avatar, it's the fans claiming loyalty to Avatar as their excuse to defend the decisions of Paramount, etc.


And cultural appropriation is so much a part of what [white] American culture does that I think people can get honestly confused when someone calls the entertainment industry on it. Because really, I think the problems in Hollywood are symptomatic of a much deeper issue that underlies all of American culture, and one which, for the most part, we've been very reluctant to face up to.

It's a vicious cycle, with the culture feeding the decisions of Hollywood and the decisions of Hollywood feeding the culture. From the reactions of the fans who are determined to defend the whitewashing, it's dishearteningly clear that this cycle is not going to be broken anytime soon.

ETA: Racefail'09? There's been Race Fail in this world for centuries. It's a big topic now like every fad in fandom and it's going to ebb and flow until the next big topic takes it place.

Edited at 2009-05-09 08:37 am (UTC)
From: awehla Date: May 8th, 2009 03:39 pm (UTC) (Link)
It's odd to think people won't watch films because of the colour of the cast. I've watched films set in Africa and India and I wouldn't expect the cast to have white people in it just as I wouldn't expect a film set in Japan or China to have many white people in it.

Lisa
x
moonspinner From: moonspinner Date: May 9th, 2009 08:29 am (UTC) (Link)
If the backlash in our mutual fandom, Smallville, against Lana Lang is anything to go by, then antipathy towards non White actors is not the exception but the rule.

Some of my favourite movies are from all over the world but I've realized that the success of Hollywood has been as much a bane as it has been a blessing for the American society, in that it has made it even more insular than it already is.
laariii From: laariii Date: May 9th, 2009 09:17 am (UTC) (Link)
Gosh I'm glad i never paid attention to the Smallville fandom. I didn't even know the actress was part Indonesian (i think) until i looked her up on Wikipedia.



moonspinner From: moonspinner Date: May 9th, 2009 09:30 am (UTC) (Link)
Good for you. I definitely enjoyed Smallville a great deal more before I got into the fandom and I am only now, after leaving the fandom, beginning to enjoy it again.

Kristin Kreuk is Indonesian-born and she has Chinese ancestry.
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moonspinner From: moonspinner Date: May 9th, 2009 08:31 am (UTC) (Link)
I'm not watching it either. As it stands, I can barely even watch the cartoons anymore or even have anything to do with the show because I have this sneaking suspicion that unlike Ursula LeGuin, the creators of Avatar have no problems with the changes, and probably planted the seeds that made them possible.
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moonspinner From: moonspinner Date: May 9th, 2009 11:07 am (UTC) (Link)
Money, a gag order, maybe even the gray area of intellectual property ownership of the characters... But I still believe that they'd have found a way to make their voices heard if they wanted to. As it stands now, they've joined the ignoble list of white Americans who've used cultural appropriation to further their careers.

But I simply don't understand the attitude that doesn't see it as a problem.

That's what I've struggled to wrap my head around, what has ultimately left me despairing of the whole situation. The fact that so many people do have that attitude and apparently can't understand the attitude of the people who see it as a problem.
sunlit_music From: sunlit_music Date: May 9th, 2009 05:23 am (UTC) (Link)

The whitewashing angers me too. I'm not going to watch the movie. I hope that the movie won't do well (unless it'll stop with the whitewashing, which I doubt) and that more people will call out Paramount on their whitewashing.

Katara/Sokka have blue eyes so they must be White!”

WTF? How can people say this when Indian and Middle Eastern people can have blue eyes? I've met some Arabic people with blue and green eyes. So no, having blue eyes doesn't necessarily meant that you're white.

“It doesn’t matter what race the actors are as long as they can act”

Er yes, it does matter. It's unbelievable how there are people out there who actually believe this. If you put white actors in Asian roles, it's whitewashing. It's claiming that the aspects of Asian culture in Avatar belong to white people, not Asian people. Plus I doubt that Paramount is unable to find skilled Asian actors who can speak English and act well.

“Nobody will watch an all-Asian movie” / “The voice actors didn’t sound Asian”

Some people won't watch an Asian movie due to their racist beliefs unfortunately. But movies with an all Asian cast like Wong Kar-Wai's 2046, In the Mood for Love and Ang Lee's Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon shows that movies with an all Asian cast can be popular.

And as for not all of the Avatar voice actors sounding Asian...well. How the character *looks* will usually affect how people perceive the character far more than their voices.

All of this is also very, very related to RaceFail'09.

Word.


moonspinner From: moonspinner Date: May 9th, 2009 08:36 am (UTC) (Link)
I think the movie is going to be a hit and spin out more sequels, proving that whitewashing works. Or it will be a flop and end the franchise, proving that movies based on Asian-inspired original source material are flops. Either way, we lose.

All those arguments, I've refuted them and more. It doesn't make a difference. I've never once been part of, witnessed a discussion about this matter that has ended with the racist (for want of a better descriptor) coming round in their thinking. In the end, everyone is shouting their points at the top of their lungs (capslock) but no one ever says, "you know... when you put it that way, I can see how it's racist." At best, you get, "well, it's just a movie anyway. So it doesn't make any difference."

It's... depressing.

RaceFail'09? See what I said above.
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