Boycotts Urged Over White Stars in Prince of Persia, Last Airbender

airbender_brief.jpgIf it's summer, and there are a pair of mainstream blockbusters about Persian and Asian warriors ready to open, then count on a "yellowface" controversy to saddle both on the way to release. Such are the scenarios facing Prince of Persia and The Last Airbender, both of which are presently on defensive as unfortunate casualties of the Slowest News Day of 2010.

The LAT on Sunday filed from both fronts, first documenting actual Persians' displeasure that fake-Persian Jake Gyllenhaal was portraying the titular hero of Prince of Persia. No one would comment from the production side, though a previously used Jerry Bruckheimer gem was dusted off for historical context: "Persians were very light skinned. [...] The Turks kind of changed everything. But back in the 6th century, a lot of them were blond and blue-eyed." While not easily swallowed by the film's outraged critics, this little-known historical detail was indeed confirmed by Disney's Middle Eastern sensitivity consultant, who has reached out to skeptical cultural organizations to insist that Prince of Persia is the "anti-300 [...] If we went back in time 1,700 years to the mythological era, all Iranians would look like Jake Gyllenhaal." What? Then why are the bad guys in the trailer and TV spots so much swarthier than Gyllenhaal? Not very Aryan, pal!

Meanwhile, Manoj Night Shyamalan doesn't have that excuse for The Last Airbender. The filmmaker cast young Caucasian actor Noah Ringer as his adolescent hero Aang, who, along with his pals, engage the Fire Lord and Co. in a battle to save the world. I'm fairly sure Asians weren't Aryan whenever this one was set, but the director was able to stem a bit of the protest around the casting by replacing Jesse McCartney with Dev Patel as dark prince Zuko and installing Native American Maori actor Cliff Curtis as chief baddie Ozai. Manoj addressed this last year in an interview with the paper ("Ultimately, this movie, and then the three movies, will be the most culturally diverse tentpole movies ever released, period. So if I'm failing the bar, I'm not sure whose bar is set higher than this movie"), but now an organization called Racebender is coming right and urging a boycott.

Paramount has offered to screen Airbender for the group once its 3-D conversion is completed, but has released a statement in the meantime:

"The movie has 23 credited speaking roles -- more than half of which feature Asian and Pan Asian actors of Korean, Japanese and Indian decent. The filmmaker's interpretation reflects the myriad qualities that have made this series a global phenomenon. We believe fans of the original and new audiences alike will respond positively once they see it."

Mickey Rooney in Breakfast at Tiffany's, though? Still racist. There's your bar, Manoj.

· A whitewash for 'Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time' and 'The Last Airbender' [LAT]


  • Caterfree10 says:

    Right, because Frodo is totally Black, Legolas is totally Asian, and Gandalf is totally Hispanic. Mmkay.
    If Asians can't star in movies about THEIR CULTURES, then when CAN they star? never? Backdrop for Mighty Whitey? It's 2010 and long past due for people of ALL races to have the chance at being the hero in stories from their cultures.

  • Caterfree10 says:

    ACK, Comment misfire. >_O

  • Caterfree10 says:

    Right, because Frodo is totally Black, Legolas is totally Asian, and Gandalf is totally Hispanic. Mmkay.
    If Asians can't star in movies about THEIR CULTURES, then when CAN they star? never? Backdrop for Mighty Whitey? It's 2010 and long past due for people of ALL races to have the chance at being the hero in stories from their cultures

  • Caterfree10 says:
    Please educate yourself about the anime/manga art style before shooting off your mouth about something you do not understand.

  • Vina says:

    Thanks for the great article. Hollywood needs to get a clue and join the rest of us in the 21st century.

  • Caterfree10 says:

    Anyway, now that I've cleared up what I can after my lovely comment misfire, I want to THANK YOU SO MUCH for this article. The more people who talk about this, the better. And every mind we change about the issue only helps us show Hollywood that we will no longer take their racist actions anymore.

  • Sharkman says:

    Noah Ringer isn't of mixed ethnicity, Shyamalan just thinks he looks like he is, if he had actually been of mixed ethnicity, the production would have used that as a guard against criticism. Instead, the pointed at every actor besides the three main characters to claim diversity.
    Also, despite the fact that as the show managed to get clout, they hired on Asian voice actors, the simple matter is that voice acting doesn't care what you look like. If it did, Tommy Pickles and Bart Simpson would not have been voiced by women, Cleveland Brown would not be voiced by a White guy, and Jack of Samurai Jack would not have been voiced by a Black guy.
    Recognizing race isn't inherently racism, neither is discrimination.

  • Sharkman says:

    And still, the advertising for this movie constantly labels him as "evil price Zuko" this and "evil Firebenders" that. Also, he doesn't redeem himself until 5/6ths of the way into the show, we're only on the first movie, here.
    Let's play a little game here. Let's ignore how many good or bad characters from other nations come along in the series, because Shyamalan isn't using the series as a script. As is, he's cut Bumi, Jet, and a number of other season 1 characters that end up being important later, what chance do you think a character like Hama could have?
    So let's stick to season 1/the first movie.
    Let's see how many characters are in this movie so far, and compare the race of the actors, it's something I've enjoyed doing thus far:
    (And before I do, don't give me any of that bunk that since the Northern Water Tribe is white, it makes sense to have Peltz and Rathbone, even when the Southern Tribe is cast with Inuit extras. Katara and Sokka would be 3/4 Southern Water Tribe/Inuit and 1/4 Northern Water Tribe/White. The only way they could be 100% like the actors they chose, would be if the movie versions of Hakoda's father and their mother, Kya, were also white, coincidentally making the only white people in the Southern Water Tribe all be present in one family.)
    *Noah Ringer (Aang) - White American
    *Nicola Peltz (Katara) - White American
    *Jackson Rathbone (Sokka) - White American
    *Katherine Houghton (Kanna/Gran-Gran) - White American
    *Francis Guinan (Pakku) - White American
    *Ben Cooke (Avatar Roku) - White American (Even though he's from the now dark skinned Fire Nation? Odd.)
    *Seychelle Gabrielle (Yue) - American, mixed race [caucasian, Latin/Hispanic, Sicilian, French] (One of Jackson Rathbone's love interests)
    *Jessica Andres (Suki) - American, half-Filipino, half-White (*Also* one of Jackson Rathbone's love interests.)
    Bad Guys/Antagonists
    Dev Patel (Zuko) - British, Indian
    Shaun Toub (Iroh) - Iranian/Persian Jew
    (I know. Iroh was never much of a bad guy in the first place, but he *is* on the Fire Nation's side for a good chunk of the beginning, only deserting the Fire Nation at the start of Season 2.)
    Cliff Curtis (Ozai) - Maori Native, New Zealand
    Aasif Mandvi (Zhao) - Indian-American
    Good Guys not important enough to warrant a name:
    Issac Jin Solstein (Earthbending Boy) - Asian
    (He's also a 12 year old martial arts champion by the way, like Ringer, only he's got a bit more acting experience.)
    Keong Sim (Earthbending Father) - Asian
    Randal Duk Kim (Old Man in the Temple)
    Lauren Mary Kim (Kyoshi Warrior #3) - Asian (Actually she was removed from the IMDB cast list, she's going uncredited after all, so are all of the Kyoshi Warriors, actually.)
    Actually, spoiler alert, the old man Duk Kim plays betrays them, so he's actually a villain.
    So what does that leave? All of the named protagonists of this movie are white actors, unless they're one of Jackson Rathbone's exotic love interests (and even then, Gabrielle lists herself as white on her MySpace so she doesn't even self-identify as multi-racial.)
    Every named antagonist from this first movie is a dark-skinned actor from somewhere in the world. There's no homogeny aside from skin-tone, and even then, if Jessie McCartney hadn't made the decision to leave entirely on his own, none of this would have been the case.
    Protagonists not important enough to have a name are Asian.
    Oh yeah, that's a nice message to send.

  • Rubin says:

    All of you ignorant white smart-asses out there are completely missing the point. I knew when this controversy started I was going to hear references to the black Nick Fury of Iron Man 2 and the black Kingpin of Daredevil. Casting Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury was obviously based on Ultimate Nick Fury that was modeled after the actor in the first place, and the black kingpin, well that was just lazy casting. Which brings me to my point. The people upset at Hollywood over Prince of Persia and The Last Airbender are not anti-white. They anti white ignorance, white arrogance, systematic white supremacy of Hollywood. Constantly blind to the treatment of people of color. Listen, angry white bloggers as always you don't get it because as white people you have no clue of what misrepresentation feels like. White people are in 98% of the movies that come out of Hollywood. The handful of times people of color (I'm black, by the way) are on the screen it's a big deal and we're watching to make sure we're portrayed with class and accuracy whether it's fictional characters or real-life characters. The point is let us represent ourselves. Let actors of Iranian descent play the leads in Prince of Persia. Let actors of Japanese descent play the leads in The Last Airbender. Remember, it's not anti-white racism. It's anti" whites can play anything" frustration. Hollywood keeps on doing this crap over and over again. Don't get self-righteous white people. You know you'd throw a bitch fit if a black man was ever chosen to play James Bond.

  • kitkat says:

    Thanks for writing this article! I disagree so much with the inherent principles of Paramount when it came to the casting of the Last Airbender and the Prince of Persia. Hopefully this article will bring this issue to light for people who care about social equality within Hollywood practices.

  • Andrew says:

    Sweet. I'd totally take you up on that. Your magnanimous response over our misunderstanding shows me that we could definitely hang out.
    You have to give Brandy credit for one thing...he/she/it certainly was amusing.

  • Andrew says:

    And -you- might wanna read the stuff you link and make sure it's making the point that you think it's making.
    The essay you linked to is an opinion piece called "Do Manga Characters Look 'White'?" and the entire thesis of his argument is that people who say anime/manga characters are Caucasian are wrong and are trying to insinuate that Japanese people have inferiority complexes and want to be white. That is no way remotely close to the point I was making. Non-racially specific =/= white.
    In fact, "drawn (or painted or sculpted) representations of, by and for Japanese do not, as a rule, include stereotyped racial markers." In other words, non-racially specific. Which is what I already said.
    So physician, go heal thyself...or go write some more Pokemon slash fic or whatever it is you weaboos do these days.

  • Melanie says:

    They picked non-Asian people to play characters that spoke and read Chinese in the show. I'm not racist I'm just a big fan that's disappointed. Just because it's a made up world doesn't mean you can change things up. The show was of Asian decent and Asian culture. It just takes out the imagery we had of what the movie would be like.

  • alchemist says:

    Um, Im surprised no one finds it strange these Persian lead characters speak with a British accent!!! Where's the cultural accuracy there??

  • Ciderkiss says:

    The casting of this movie was very malicious.

  • Lisa says:

    Here's another take on the casting situation and this summer's extremely white movies:

  • angmang says:

    Mickey Rourke is playing Genghis Khan. When is it gonna stop? Never. The studios love to flatter the white race because they know they can make lots of money from it. It's business. I can't wait for a white Martin Luther King. It's gonna be great...

  • tonyspeed says:

    i came up with a glorious idea. rather than boycott, all people who are opposed and still want to go should show up in "yellow face". In other words, paint your face yellow as a silent protest.

  • Anonymous says:

    I'm sooooo glad they choose an accurate white star for Prince of Persia.
    They would of never choose an Iranian, they would of choose some dark skinned Arab or African or some primitive animal instead. When was the last time you saw a true Persian actor?
    So happy..

  • WoW... says:

    So much anger in many of these comments, and a lot of racism/prejudice.

  • Gringoface says:

    all this racism lol. in the original game the prince of persia was a foreigner to persia, and in the original game he looks pretty white. irony

  • tawnylyra says:

    I read a few of these comments, and I didn't see anyone mention that Jake Gyllenhaal's character in Prince of Persia is ADOPTED. We NEVER see his biological parents. He is Prince of Persia in name, not in blood. He was just some random orphan running the streets who impressed the Persian king and was adopted into the royal family. We are given zero information on his parentage, and therefor have no basis to say he shouldn't be white. Maybe one or both of his parents were white, or of mixed race. They make no secret that he's adopted, it's not like it's barely mentioned, we see the entire event played out at the start of the film. Perhaps they picked a white guy so it would be more obvious he wasn't biologically related to the two other (true blood) Princes.
    Not to mention that the entire story is fantasy. He's a guy with a magical dagger that allows him to time travel, so it's not as if it's based even moderately in reality. It's not a movie with historical references, it's completely fictional. I could see if Dastan (Gyllenhaal's character) was based on a real person, that maybe that could be offensive. However, Dastan was never a real person, and since we don't know who his parents were, then I think it's ridiculous to argue his race.

  • Ling says:

    Last Airbender has Chinese characters ALL OVER! I guess in the movie it was all changed to symbols and/or English?

  • Mike says:

    I dunno about you, but I'm a white American, and I'm a minority. I'm sick of hearing how awful other races have it, when the fact of the matter is that White people are the true minority, and other races complaining about this stuff are the ones looking for some kind of special treatment..which by the way..they get. What do I get?

  • Daryl says:

    Really? White people? The minority? Show me where the F**K in America are white American the minority?! Give the actual cited facts and statistics from a serious source! Even in ethnic laden cities like LA,San Fran, New York - white people are still the majority.
    Don't just spout out what you think is the truth - it only serve to prove your own idiocy and intellectual dishonesty. Just as saying that "The Best Actors Got The Role Here" or "This is a fantasy world, race shouldn't matter!" is people being intellectually dishonest.
    Race did play a factor in the casting. As well as we all know ALL, if not a huge majority, of the cartoon characters ARE Asians.

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