The Last Airbender might be able to bend air, but he can't fend off the waves of racial criticism thrown at M. Night Shyamalan's latest film. As Eugene outlined earlier this year, it started when the casting notices started to pour in and the lead roles were given to white actors. It continued when Dev Patel was cast, and "any other ethnicity" was listed as an alternative to caucasian in casting calls. Then came the extras casting call, where The Daily Pennsylvanian's Lisa Zhu was on-hand for the event, as hopefuls were told: "If you're Korean, wear a kimono. If you're from Belgium, wear lederhosen."

All the backlash led Shyamalan to comment in March about the ambiguity of anime, as "an intentional mix of all features." But as the film prepares to hit screens this week, he's getting a bit peeved and outspoken about the controversy.
Indie Movies Online has shared a very long rant from the filmmaker at a recent round table, where he slaps the racist label back on the detractors. Shyamalan boils much of the controversy down to people not understanding the progression of the series: "when we get to the second movie (hopefully), since its based in the Earth Kingdom, suddenly the movie will seem entirely politically correct Asian, and the accusers will feel like they won. YOU DID NOT WIN! YOU DID NOT WIN!" To the director, this feature is the "most culturally diverse movie series of all time," and he describes how he came to cast the nations:
There are four nations, and I had to eventually make a decision about what nationality each of them are. What happened was, Noah Ringer walked in the door – and there was no other human being on the planet that could play Aang except for this kid. To me, he felt mixed race with an Asian quality to him. I made all the Air nomads mixed race – some of them are Hispanic, some of them are Korean. Every monk you see in a flashback, in that world, are all mixed race because they're nomadic. I felt that really worked as a culture. OK, so that's one-quarter of our world population. The second group is the Fire Nation; when Dev was cast as Zuko, I said, OK, I have to cast an Uncle Iroh that looks like his uncle. We're going to go from Indian/Persian to Mediterranean, all that group with all its darker colors including Italians.

Moving on to the third group, which is the Earth kingdom (which is the biggest kingdom in this fictional world): I liked a bunch of the people who happened to be Japanese, Korean, Philippine, so I decided to make the Earth kingdom Asians. Now we're at three-quarters of the world. Now I have the brother and sister left. If you don't have an edict of "don't put white people in the movie" then the Water tribe can be European/Caucasian. So that's how it ended up. So now we're at one-half of the population of the movie which is not white.

He later continues: "I had complete say in casting. So if you need to point the racist finger, point it at me, and if it doesn't stick, then be quiet." He doesn't, unfortunately, discuss the extras casting call, and the attitudes that went along with that, which producer Frank Marshall blamed on the local casting company. But he does play his own race card: "You're coming at me, the one Asian filmmaker who has the right to cast anybody I want, and I'm casting this entire movie in this color blind way where everyone is represented."

What do you think of Shyamalan's casting process? Does it change your opinion on the whole affair, or does it just try to downplay casting white actors in the lead roles for the first feature?

categories Cinematical