July 26, 2009

Racebending Avatar

Intrigued on by posts on Dharma Folk and on Breathe, I went to learn more about the show Avatar rooted in Asian and Buddhist/Taoist/Confucian themes. I ended up finding a whole ’nother blog spat over the whitewashing of the movie version.
Avatar has been hugely popular among kids of all races. There was no backlash against an all-Asian show. Much as those who watch anime don’t freak out at the paucity of white characters. Yet, somehow the Hollywood producers think the live action version has to be white washed. Except for the villians, of course, it’s okay for them to be brown.
Gene Yang talks about the implications for Asian Americans in a way that’s also applicable to perceptions generated by mainstream American Buddhist media.
But intentionally or not, they are adding another chapter to Hollywood’s long, sordid history of Yellowface. By giving white actors roles that are so obviously Asian - and by stating from the get-go their preference for Caucasians - they tell Asian-Americans that who we are and how we look make us inherently inadequate for American audiences, even in a movie that celebrates our culture.
As Richard L. Daley writes:
The truth is, we are not a post-race society, and it isn’t just the ethnicities of African descent that are affected by this fact. The values that have been a part of the past, influence the images that we see today, which in turn influences the values that will be in the future. The effects of racism have been compared to a moving walkway, if we do nothing, it keeps rolling along, and takes us with it.
For more on race and Avatar, you can check out Aang Ain’t White and racebending.com.

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