21 May 2009

The Avatar Saved The World. Who Will Save The Avatar?

I love cartoons. I always have. Cartoons are art worth imitating. There's usually a lesson. No one stays angry. No one stays hurt. There are laughs and pretty colors. My love of cartoons has kept me watching Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network, Toon Disney, and The Family Channel years after most people would have moved to more adult (or teen) channels. It helps me forget the things I hear and work and gives me a strong connection to my brother Ty. I've seen bad cartoons come and good ones go. One of my absolute favorites is Avatar, The Last Airbender. It was a series that had an end and now it's going to be a live-action movie. I was disappointed when I heard that - I would have preferred a cartoon movie. Today I learned more. And now I'm angry.



The series is drawn like anime. It's about a world divided into four nations based on the four elements. Each nation or tribe has members who can control (bend) their respective elements. The whole design of the show has an Asian / Native American feel. There are two Water Tribes. There is the Fire Nation. Each nation uses martial arts to conduct its bending. The people are diverse. The main character (Aang the Avatar) is supposed to be Asian - although he appears white after having been frozen for 100 years. His cohorts are brown, from a water tribe. Ready for the outrage? Here it is:

Let's ignore Dev Patel (global sweetheart) as Prince Zuko (driven / ruthless exile) for a moment to look at the original Katara and Sokka. They're clearly brown. The actors playing them clearly are not. This is not okay. I don't even know if I can explain it without a rant, but I will try.

There's no reason to make the brown people white. I'm outraged on two fronts. Firstly, My media classes taught me about this mainstream racism and my nostrils flare when I see it. Secondly, as a fan, white actors are not true to the story. It's bad enough it's not going to be a cartoon. Changing the look of characters makes a different movie altogether.

No. The ethnicity of the characters is not integral to the story. It's never mentioned and is never an issue. Theoretically they could have all been white, but they weren't. The cultures, the bending, the clothing all have what I would call Asian / Native American influences. The people behind a successful series designed the heroes that best fit within the world they imagined. It's not up to Paramount to change that. I mean it apparently is since it's been done, but it's not right and now I'm going to have to boycott a movie about which I was started to get excited. Paramount is using the classically Disney "white is good, dark is bad" perception that makes me unable to watch "The Little Mermaid." Overweight dark skinned villain? No thanks. I prefer my villains to be blond. Only I can't seem to think of any - from any kids' movie. Ever.

I mean really. If Mufasa and Scar were brothers, why was Scar so much darker?

Disney has grown. We're about to see our first black heroine. Yes, her love interest is a frog, and no I have not seen the coloring of her villain, but it's a significant step.

Now Paramount is regressing. Anime fans and Asians are angry. Boycotts are being organized, and I will be buying a t-shirt. I guess I'm an "Avatar Purist." I'm also against racism. The kids from "The Chronicles of Narnia" are white, and that's how they were written. I would not expect Superman to be black. I don't want Spiderman to be Mexican. Minorities have so few superheroes. It's just rude to take away three who have a loyal fan base. It's disappointing, and I'm sending tweets to a Paramount producer (@LeDoctor) and I'm hoping to effect change. I'll keep you updated.

All this Avatar talk has reminded me how much I love the show. I'm off to find at least the series finale - which was better than awesome.