Tuesday, March 30, 2010

M. Night Shyamalan misses the point


M. Night Shyamalan on Racial Diversity in The Last Airbender


For those of us waiting for M. Night Shyamalan to address our concerns about the discriminatory casting in The Last Airbender, this latest article on ugo.com reveals some of his thinking on the matter. Unfortunately, it seems he really doesn't understand why everyone's so upset.

One good thing is that he admits that he's heard about the protest. But to respond to our calls for people of color as heroes, he simply points to the racial indeterminacy of anime -- as if that justifies the casting of only "European"-featured heroes. He completely neglects to mention that they specifically cast for white actors, instead implying that they were really trying to populate their world with a mix of races. Which would be hard to do with the casting announcement for "Caucasian or any other ethnicity."

He also states, "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." False. We expected to see people of color as the heroes, rather than as the background actors and the villains, so we are not getting even close to these expectations. Also, if he were true to his metaphor of the U.N., he would have sat people of color at the table next to white people, as equals.

Finally, when prodded about how "the only characters of color are baddies," he responds "It's called irony." It's hard to read this remark since it doesn't make any sense, but the most disappointing thing is that he truly doesn't seem to take this critique seriously.

Kudos to Jordan Hoffman for getting responses to these "touchy" questions (except for the conspiracy theorist comment...), and a big thumbs down to M. Night Shyamalan for failing to respond appropriately.



25 comments:

ayasugi-san said...

An Avatar fan here who agrees completely with this article. It's disappointing that he either doesn't understand the point or is deliberately avoiding it (and trying to paint continued opposition as the ones who don't want diversity in the process), but not entirely unexpected. Movie and casting supporters have been saying the same thing.

amredthelector said...

Another ATLA fan who agrees with this article! I've been so disappointed with this casting, and hearing Shyamalan address the issue just left me confused. It's upsetting that he doesn't get the point of the protest, or is purposely ignoring it.

Lxy said...

Finally, when prodded about how "the only characters of color are baddies," he responds "It's called irony."

Sorry, M. Night, that ain't irony.

That is called "coming with a nonsensical alibi to cover your ass."

Hollywood's whitewashing of Airbender is no different from that practiced in other films like "21."

It's White Racial Cleansing Lite--a time-honored American tradition since the days of Yellowface and Minstrelsy.

bossymarmalade said...

I'm so glad you tackled Shyamalan's confusing, offhand dismissal (justification?) of the whole thing as "irony". His bizarre characterization of the movie as incredibly "diverse" and refusal to engage with valid critiques is well highlighted by your overview; thank you for that!

nagasasu said...

Thank you for addressing this.

Jha said...

Thank you for saying this!

I can't believe he says it's "irony" how the CoC are the antagonists. It's like he's completely ignored history.

Caterfree10 said...

Thank you for addressing this issue. Shyamalan really missed the point of the whole racebending protest.

nemogbr said...

Another ATLA fan and it seems Shyamalan has sold his soul to the Hollywood machine.
I liked the movies Sixth Sense and Unbreakable. After that his works went downhill and he is butchering the work of art created by Bryan and Mike.

Case in point, I watched the movie Bulletproof Monk and never questioned why Kar became the heir of a great power, when in the comic books Kar was originally Tibetan.

I suppose yellowface has become too overt a form of racism and instead the covert racism of Race-bending has become another method of propaganda from Hollywood and people like Shayamalan perpetuate it.

nemogbr said...

Another ATLA fan and it seems Shyamalan has sold his soul to the Hollywood machine.
I liked the movies Sixth Sense and Unbreakable. After that his works went downhill and he is butchering the work of art created by Bryan and Mike.

Case in point, I watched the movie Bulletproof Monk and never questioned why Kar became the heir of a great power, when in the comic books Kar was originally Tibetan.

I suppose yellowface has become too overt a form of racism and instead the covert racism of Race-bending has become another method of propaganda from Hollywood and people like Shayamalan perpetuate it.

Murph said...

Thanks for addressing this issue and cutting straight to the heart of the matter. All the effusive backpedaling in the world can't explain away the discriminatory casting protocols used for the lead roles.

Anonymous said...

Using the word "irony" implies that it's the opposite of what was expected. And, while every futile hope may have been in vain, seeing this racial discrimination continue is far from unexpected.

Thank you for calling attention to this. It's a shame this happens, but hopefully with more people speaking out things will change soon enough.

wysteria said...

+1

M. Night definitely needs to be brought into the open about this casting. I'm happy to see that his latest comments are nonsensical, invalid, and so forth. I get a feeling that, deep down, he knows he's in the wrong, but is spewing this nonsense to protect himself.

semiramis said...

I agree with what you said, but I think M. Night's "irony" is about British imperialism in India, a real historical issue that's still being dealt with today; and perhaps more broadly, European (and later, American) imperialism throughout Africa, Asia, and the Americas. I admit that this was one of the only things that initially struck me as amusing about casting Dev Patel as an imperialist prince chasing around a bunch of oppressed white kids. That said, I think this is a nuance that's probably going to fly right over the heads of the vast majority of the domestic audience; the first association is probably going to be "dark aggressive foreign other" rather than "ironic historical commentary".

Starling said...

Thank you for keeping on this. As a white 'Avatar' fan, this totally offends me. The blatant disregard for not only children of colour, but all kids is disappointing. This age group is when they should be exposed to heroes of all colours and creeds and the movie that should have been the platform for that was totally wasted.

The Asian influences in 'Avatar' made it unique among American shows. It was smart, funny and culturally aware. Wonderful things. Things that were sadly wasted by the studio.

himhilien said...

Thank you, MANAA for this excellent post.

This is 21 and Dragonball Evolution all over again, with added Prince of Persia this summer!

I wonder if M. Night Shyamalan took the same classes on irony as Amanda Palmer recent racefail suggests.

shiinabambi said...

Irony? Someone needs a dictionary for their birthday this year.

Arlene C. Harris said...

excellent article. I seriously doubt MNS will respond cogently, but thank you for calling him on his fail.

Sahara said...

I agree completely and appreciate that someone called him on his deceptive and dismissive comments. I'd add that the racial indeterminacy of anime hardly applies, given the clear inspiration behind the Avatar universe (not only in terms of the culture, but the Chinese script as well) and a quick discussion with the creators would've clarified his confusion, if he were interested in a[n accurate and] representative film.

Semiramis made a good point about the irony of an imperialist, Indian prince and oppressed white children, so perhaps he isn't as desperately in need of a dictionary as I first thought. However, 'irony' does not justify racism, or the hurt 'The Last Airbender' has caused.

Anonymous said...

I can't lie. I really hate Shyamalan right now. I liked him after watching 6th sense and then from there on, slowly lost interest in him as I watched one ridiculous shyamalan movie after another (Lady in the water made me want to claw my eyes out).

Maybe he's so desperate for a combat that he'd sell his soul down the river.

He's a bit of an egotistical fool to start with (if you read some of his interviews, you'd agree with me) but I had no idea he was an egotistical fool who's happy with his role of keeping social progress down. Maybe someone should tell his overlords/slavemasters/whatever that we won't put up with this kind of crap anymore. I'm not going to watch airbender. Period. And I'm going to advise others against watching it too.

Hollywood only understands money so hit them where it hurts.

Anonymous said...

...but I think M. Night's "irony" is about British imperialism in India...I admit that this was one of the only things that initially struck me as amusing about casting Dev Patel as an imperialist prince chasing around a bunch of oppressed white kids.


I might buy that it if a Caucasian actor hadn’t been first cast in Patel’s role. Patel was only cast after that actor “dropped out due to scheduling."

Karen said...

@anonymous

and also if the original source material wasn't whitewashed for the this movie.

Let's be real here. All this diverse tent-pole jibber-jabber is bs. M. Night just dug himself into this hole and this is his futile attempt to climb himself out of it.

Anonymous said...

Did anybody read the actual interview? He even says that he had two Chinese people in mind for the role and they were here... did he mean that he had two people from China? 1st, I doubt he was even looking at any other races for the lead roles, but let's give him the benefit of the doubt. 2nd, if he did indeed consider two Chinese people, why were they from China? Why is it that when there is an Asian on film, they have to have an accent?! 3rd, this is an issue in itself... Asians speak English too!!!

Anonymous said...

oh, another thing... 4th, I see a lot of rants from the opposition saying that they cast other Asian ethnicities to play each other... I'm actually okay with that... Asians need to support one another instead of staying segregated within our own ethnicities because that only works against us... it makes the Asian-American community even smaller... you don't see them casting specific Irish people or Scottish people for Irish or Scottish roles... Asians should support Asians when we get any meaningful work.

MRCAB said...

"It's called irony."

Wha....?

Anonymous said...

What's even more sad is that mr Shyamalan made the entire fire nation "west indian" people, his kind of race, when in fact the cartoon even to how they are drawn shows that the fire nation people are obviously inspired by Chinese.

then he casts white people for the water nation, which look more west indian or even native american.

this isn't just about miscasting white people as the lead role. but how mr shyamalan bent an entire nation into his own race instead of chinese.