The movie hasn’t even been seen yet and already the media’s controversy-hungry talking heads and the internet’s more volatile fanboys have started whispering the word “racism” in The Last Airbender’s direction. At issue are director M. Night Shyamalan’s casting decisions. In the original animated series on which the movie’s based, all of the characters are Asian. In his movie, they’re not.
Does that make his movie racist? M. Night thinks it’s anything but and in an interview with Indie Movies Online he defending his film against what he feels are ridiculous accusations. After reading what he had to say, I’m inclined to agree.
Says M. Night, “Here’s the irony of the conversation: The Last Airbender is the most culturally diverse movie series of all time. I’m not talking about maybe one Jedi, maybe one person of a different color – no one’s even close. That’s a great pride to me. The irony of this statement enrages me to the point of … not even the accusation, but the misplacement of it. 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. I even had one section of the Earth kingdom as African American, which obviously isn’t in the show, but I wanted to represent them, too!”
He has a point. The thing is, the story is set in a fantasy world. The characters in it can be of any race or nationality. The cartoon depicts only one ethnicity. For the movie, Night has gone out of his way to depict a world containing a wide variety of skin colors and ethnicities. In a sense it’s the source material that had the problem, limiting itself to only one group of color. It sounds like Night has tried to broaden The Last Airbender’s world view, not narrow it.