When last we covered Gene Luen Yang, author of American Born Chinese, on this here blog, it was all about his previous religious graphic novels. This time, we’re getting a little less biblical, and a lot more critical. See, Gene has some opinions about that The Last Airbender movie coming soon, which is devoid of Asians, even though the original source material, Avatar: The Last Airbender, was full of them. So what does a writer/artist do when he has a take on a particular issue? He draws it!
As a fellow fan of the animated Last Airbender, I do have my doubts and trepidations about the live-action movies. I’m worried that all the fun and humor that made the Airbender cartoon what it is will be missing from the adaptation. After an interview with M. Night Shyamalan that io9 posted back in March, those fears tripled. To summarize, he stated that the decision to cast white kids as Katara and Sokka stemmed from how his kids related to Katara, even though they didn’t look like she did. So if his daughter can see Katara in herself, why can’t we see a white kid as Katara and still relate to her? Well, I think he also missed the part where his children are of Indian lineage, and do share similar features to the characters in their complexion and overall appearance.
But I digress. To the fan of Avatar: The Last Airbender, and especially to Gene Luen Yang, there was an intentional lack of diversity in the casting from the start, because according to Hollywood, an American audience (especially kids) needs other “Americans” as the stars of a movie to go see it. Of course that doesn’t account for the popularity of actors such as Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan, but their response would be that those are grown-ups, not kids. And sure, casting Dev Patel does bring some color to the project, but that was done more out of Slumdog Millionaire than it was his fit for the character of Zuko.
Although Yang would prefer you not spend the dough to do so, let’s see just what America, and the world’s, reaction is to the film once it is released. As for me, I will probably still spend the $12 to go see it at least once in theaters, because my curiosity-factor remains at its peak. Oh, and I want to see live-action Momo.