Alright, so I caved. I broke The Last Airbender boycott! Eek! I had the choice of staying at home watching instant Netflix on my computer (like I do every other day in my unemployed life) or I could get out into the world and watch The Last Airbender, with someone else paying my ticket. Meh. I chose the latter.
But lucky for you I can now share something new I actually gleaned from the movie that I didn’t already suspect going in:
IT’S A LOT WORSE THAN WE THOUGHT, FOLKS!
If you don’t already know why there was a boycott and why it’s such a big deal, there’s a BUNCH of stuff you can read. (And to remind y’all that Yellowface ain’t new, check out this piece at Racialicous titled Casting White Actors In Asian Roles: 1957 to Today.)
I was prepared for the white protagonists. I was prepared for the brown villain. But I was not prepared for the visual experience clearly demarcating the line of good and evil by color of skin.
Oh yes, Asians were not completely left out of this movie! They had a
chance to be cast as one of the poor, decrepit masses in the
countryside! And one Asian guy, cast as an imprisoned earth-bender, even
got to exclaim to the white heroes “They won’t let us use our powers
anymore!” and then fade away into oblivion.
It was a painful experience. Just imagine these token white
protagonists and their family members, who had a voice, a story to tell
and agency, put against a backdrop of silent, poor, helpless Asian
And then of course there was the villainous Fire Nation. Kudos for
the massive casting opportunity for South Asians! Now take away those
kudos and then some for the depiction of all whites as good and all dark
folk as evil. The ending scene in which the southern water tribe wars
with the fire nation is just a massive headache. They set it up as a
nation of good, gentle, heroic white people versus the selfish and
malicious nation of dark people. Come fucking on. It doesn’t even make
sense plot-wise as clearly the original series is made up of Asian and
Inuit characters and using all these white people put it in some sort of
European ice setting? Just… frustrating and weird!
Ahhh, and lest I forget… there was Zuko’s
uncle. Darling Zuko’s uncle. The one person in the Fire Nation who
seemed to have a brain, who convinced the Princess to give up her life
to restore order and balance in the spirit world and eventually helped
Aang to save the day. In an entire nation of South Asian actors, he was
the one white guy. Doh!!!
To top it all of, the acting was terrible. Katara was
painfully one-note and Aang was just completely transparent. I didn’t
believe a single line he said. The script was horrible too! My cousin
and I found ourselves looking at each other in surprise like, “What the
hell? That was completely unnecessary and corny.”
And I’m an easy person to please!
As an Asian woman who’s been in theatre, who’s had very limited roles
available to her, and as a friend and family member to so many talented
Asian actors who deserve to be cast, this was just a slap in the face.