Sunday, January 25, 2009

No Bull, It's the Year of the Ox

2009. It's a brand new year with a brand new president (Yay!) Over 54% of Americans voted for change, and in 2009, the year of the ox, they will get it. The Ox in the Chinese zodiac symbolizes ambition, tenacity and hard work. A great symbol for change in difficult times.

There are some things, however that NEVER seem to change. One of them is Hollywood's casting practices. Throughout film history, most Asian roles that require any heavy lifting have gone to Caucasians. Background or sidekick roles, small comic relief roles and thug roles go to real Asians. Whether you're talking about Peter Lorre playing Mr. Moto in the 30's, John Wayne playing Ghengis Khan in the 60's, Peter Ustinov playing Charlie Chan in the 80's, or Brian Dennehy playing Kublai Khan in 2007, this is a tradition that seems outlast all of the other cultural advances that have been made in the last century.

Avatar: The Last Airbender is a popular cartoon on the Nickelodeon network. It's setting is clearly a stylized version of ancient Asia. A live action adaptation by Paramount Pictures is set to go into production soon. It will be shot in Asia. Yet not one of the principle roles that have been announced so far have been given to actors of Asian descent. The roles were given to Caucasian actors.

By a large margin, Americans voted in it's first African American president. Yet somehow, the makers of The Last Airbender don't think they can bank on Americans spending their money to see Asian actors playing Asian roles. They still think America wants to see Caucasians playing Asian roles. Isn't it time Hollywood got up to speed?

Although the roles have been announced, they are not set in stone. Contact the producers of this film and let them know how your feel. Go to this website for more information:

It is especially important that non-Asian people get in on this. If the makers of this film see a bunch of letters from people with Asian names, they can easily just write it off, since Asians only represent 4.5% of the American population (and ticket sales). They need to see that their poor casting decisions could have a significant effect on their bottom line. This isn't just an Asian issue, it's a people issue.

Also check out this excellent blog entry by cartoonist Derek Kirk Kim on how he feels about the issue:

I'll be having Dim Sim with some friends at a restaurant near Alhambra in honor of the Chinese New Year. I'll be leaving behind this flyer. Feel free to copy and distribute it.

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