Shock and awe – Airbender and Prince of Persia whitewashed

By Michael Vass | May 25, 2010

The most amazing thing about the soon to be released major films The Last Airbender and Prince of Persia is not the way the films have been adapted to motion pictures from their source materials (an animated cartoon and a video game respectively). It’s not the scope of the films or the lavish use of CGI. It is the growing scandal.

The Last Airbender as seen in the television original source

Diversity in the Last Airbender anime

Like many films before them, there has been a ‘white-washing’ of the story. Whitewashing is the term used when a film whose source material features people of color as the main characters and/or the world the film takes place in are replaced in the motion picture version as all White. It is a common practice, so common most don’t realize it happens as much today as in the racial and racist 1930′s.

Consider recent films like 21 and Dragonball Z. In these cases the lead characters were Asian but the films were White. In classic movies like Star Wars, with Darth Vader [who wasn't surprised to see a pasty White Anakin under the helmet in Return of the Jedi] the apparent became counterintuitive. The role of Alladin in the 1992 film was portrayed by a White actor, as were most of the leads in The Lion King. It happens in television so often that most don’t even notice it; like the elimination of people of color for the television show Friends (located in the heart of New York, one of the most diverse cities in the world).

But things are a bit better than in the past. Today at least we do not see the trend in television of cutting scenes involving people of color in the South. One of the most famous examples of that being the kiss of Star Trek’s Captain Kirk (William Shatner) and Lt. Uhura (Nichelle Nichols), which was filmed with a seperate version NOT showing the kiss explicitly for the Southern broadcast – a scene that was heroically ruined by Shatner to prevent it’s use.

In fact it is so common in all media that Hollywood actively pursues White actors for roles where no White character should be. Perhaps the only exception to this was The Matrix. In that film we see a world that oddly looks like reality (in Zion). It is also one of the few films where the lead was initially meant to be played by an African American (Will Smith), and Keanu Reeves was the 2nd choice.

Thus the shock of the scandals surrounding The Last Airbender and Prince of Persia are not new. It is also a scandal that the liberal leaning Hollywood is more than willing to ignore. The landscape of Hollywood, in front of and behind the camera, remains less than 10% diversified. A trend that has not changed in over 3 decades.

Last Airbender whitewashed movie leads

Whitewashed version of the lead characters for the film

What’s most insulting about this is the fact that it is so unneccessary.

The assumtion often used is that audiences want to see characters (leads and prominent secondary characters) that look like them. Yet audiences flock to films featuring Will Smith (with the record setting number of consecutive films earning $100 million), Denzel Washington, Morgan Freeman, Lawrence Fishburne, Samuel Jackson, Wesley Snipes, and others. Which says nothing of a nation whose President happens to be a person of color.

The fact is that quality of ability, and that of the writing of the film or television show, determines the draw of an audience. There are dozens of major films and television shows that fail every year with All or predominantely White casts. Does that mean that audiences are rejecting them because of the color of the cast, or the quality of the medium? Considering how many shows and films that feature people of color do, like the Cosby Show or the Tyler Perry films, it would seem that Hollywood is LOSING money by following a trend in casting first designed in the long era of segregation and prejudice.

A decade into the 21st Century the hopes of mankind reaches out to the stars. Leading that reach is our imaginations. But if Hollywood cannot imagine worlds or scenarios that include more than a myopic vision, what does that say to what we are reaching for? What we will attain?

Ultimately, Prince of Persia will make gobs of money. There will be a sequel (already being discussed). The Last Airbender should also do well. And Hollywood will continue to assume that it is the power of whitewashing that spurred the success. It’s a sick game that flies in the face of reality and all evidence, even the purported liberal views that Hollywood selectively espouses.

It would be nice to see Hollywood wake up and realize that the year is 2010 and not 1930, but obviously it won’t happen this summer.

Topics: Black and White, Movie Previews and Reviews, Television, Video Games | 3 Comments »

3 Responses to “Shock and awe – Airbender and Prince of Persia whitewashed”

  1. Irene

    I want my cash back. Jake gyllenhaal is stupid.

  2. Evan Foster

    Prince of Persia is definitely one of the best movies this year.

  3. Angelina Ramirez

    Prince of Persia has definitely great graphics and storyline. Jake is also the best actor for this movie.”;,

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