There are a great deal of people that are upset about M. Night Shyamalan's casting decisions for his next film The Last Airbender, based on the hit animated series Avatar: The Last Airbender. It seems like whenever we post something on the film there are people that express their dislike for the actors that have been cast in the film because they aren't all Asian actors.
Shyamalan recently sat down with some press and addressed this issue [posted at io9], and ultimately stands by his casting choices because of how it represents racial diversity. When asked about the casting issues surrounding Sokka, Katara, and the Fire Nation, he responds:
Here’s the thing. The great thing about anime is that it’s ambiguous. The features of the characters are an intentional mix of all features. It’s intended to be ambiguous. That is completely its point. So when we watch Katara, my oldest daughter is literally a photo double of Katara in the cartoon. So that means that Katara is Indian, correct? No that’s just in our house. And her friends who watch it, they see themselves in it. And that’s what’s so beautiful about anime.
That makes sense, doesn't it? It's definitely a good answer, but this is obviously one man's opinion of what the style of anime is. I'm sure not everyone will agree with him. This style of anime has been around for years, and it was influenced by Western animation, Disney type stuff, like with the big eyes, which I believe started with artist and animator Osamu Tezuka. Anime is a style of art that I don't think was really intended to represent what Shyamalan says it does. But, the Avatar series does feature non-ambiguous race depictions. I do agree with him that kids can see themselves in these character no matter what race they are. I did growing up, and my kids do as well.
Shyamalan said that he spent a lot of time trying to cast the right actors for this film, and when he was casting the characters for specific roles he reveals that he didn't let their race or ethnicity influence his decision. He picked who he thought the best possible actor was for the role. After he made his decisions, he shaped the look of the actors around them. For example: After Shyamalan cast Dev Patel, he had to find an Uncle Iroh that resembled him. He actually considered Ben Kingsley at one point, but eventually went with Shaun Toub after seeing his performance in Iron Man. Because of the casting for those two characters, the entire Fire Nation ended up having an Indian/Arabian look.
UGO also got to talk to Shyamalan about the the complaints from the fans,
Well, it is the most culturally diverse tent-pole movie ever made. And I’m proud of it. It’s part of what drew me to the material, to see the faces of our whole world in this new world. And only time will assuage everyone and give them peace. Maybe they didn’t see the faces that they wanted to see but, overall, it is more than they could have expected. We’re in the tent and it looks like the U.N. in there.
It's really hard to argue with what Shyamalan is saying because he truly is making a incredibly diverse film, which isn't a bad thing. Maybe it's not the casting a lot of people were hoping to see but there's a message that Shyamalan is trying to get across.
Make sure to head on over io9 to read the full round table interview. It's a really good interview.
What are your thoughts on what Shyamalan had to say regarding the race casting issues?