Monday, February 8, 2010

The Last Airbender Trailer - And Other Thoughts

The live action The Last Airbender apparently had a commercial during the Superbowl. Last night I was furious when I found it online. I'm still furious, truthfully, but am able to think on multiple levels again.

The Last Airbender has spent a lot of money on effects; they ended up spending money on a body double for Aang despite the fact that the untested child actor got the part of Aang supposedly for his martial arts skills - he was supposed to be the BEST POSSIBLE CHOICE.

As in there was no Best Possible Choice that could have been a skilled Asian child who kicked butt in Martial Arts and spoke English.

Last night the Superbowl Commercial; showed a dark film (there was more light in the LOTR movie trilogy) with rock music. The voice-over talks about A World Consumed By Darkness and the film trailer makes sure to show us dark colours, dark sky, bad guys as dark shadowy figures - oh yes it does.

Impressions are incredibly important things and so it doesn't matter that said rock music in the trailer might never show up anywhere near the movie's score or soundtrack. What matters is generic sounding rock music and a trailer cut to the beats of said rock music; showing bad guys in Asian (Japanese mostly to me) inspired costumes and silhouettes, doing bad guy things.

There was also a flash of non-white individuals fighting each other (Y'know, the way non-white people apparently like to do, being somehow incapable of peace /snark/).

It's not just the Generic Mystic Asian Fantasy With White Hero/Savior that's disgusting and upsetting - it's all the other isms right there in the trailer as promotional material.

There's no sign of Katara water-bending or even doing anything other than cuddling to Sokka like a frightened female. Katara who we initially meet in the animated series, berating her brother and holding her own; Katara whose raw power in her exasperation with her brother brings up the Ice Globe holding Aang.

Katara, who brown and black skinned girls have been cos-playing for years; because she's meant to be more than a worthy heroine for them; caring and family oriented yes, but also intelligent, opinionated, quick thinking, and able to kick butt like no one's business.

The sad thing is I have no doubt there are those who've thought Racebending.Com is so much nonsense - who are exhilarated and thrilled about that trailer. They come from personal history/personal awareness of pop culture that is all about the Movie Make Of The Book. And perhaps that's all that's needed to get them excited.

Meanwhile, Racebending.Com has been pointing out since the beginning, that by setting up the casting as Caucasian or any other - that was the sign right there that the world of the Aangatars would not be respected;

The world where Katara and Toph are fearsome warriors, where Aang is a hopeful peace-loving but determined child, where Sokka is both goofy and a serious tactician and where all four are Heroes of Colour.

This trailer is Kung Fu Redux with a Baby!Carradine (and I'm not the first to use that analogy by far).

I can't help thinking about a somewhat recent Book To Movie enterprise; all the characters in the source were already white, but the movie producers felt the need to make the switch from it being a British YA Fantasy Tale, to making everyone and the setting American.

"The Seeker" - They ended up dropping the title association of 'The Dark Is Rising', in my mind a good thing. The title didn't fit, because that's how far they'd strayed from the source. In the end, when the movie came out, keynote characters were missing, it was a pathetic plot with a lackluster script and pure flop.

And the first change was to make the characters all more relatable to an American audience. Changing characters from British to American is not quite the same as changing them from Asian to White - but it comes from similar hubris and imperialism; a special kind of selfishness that says "All my tales are my tales and all your tales are my tales."

And I will add to that; "Because all the world's white, and the rest of you merely live in it. Because the US and USian people are ON TOP and your culture is nothing. Because all the world's just like the USA, but with little extra quirks and curiosities. Because anything not like the White American Experience is just dressing; quaint and out dated, good for vacations and set pieces and if everyone would just be people then there wouldn't be all this PC complaining about diversity.

Huh - What white people lose to be white. I didn't foresee that coming up in this post. But maybe it is important. Maybe, because there are various white people feeling so bereft of their family's ancestral ethnicity that they can't handle the guilt that would hit if they let themselves be aware of diversity. Maybe to respect diversity would mean paying attention and that would be painful both personally and politically as they recognized themselves as joining the oppressors to make everyone the same regardless of history and experience.

It's probably much easier to claim to be culture and colour and history blind and claim nirvana comes from giving all that up. And once you do give it all up, then everyone will be free to pick whatever 'dressing' they feel like; for the moment, or long term. Become free by becoming a blank, white, slate.

Huh. No wonder then, that people bringing up racism and appropriation are somehow racist. From that perspective, pointing out institutionalized wrongs and stealing is preventing the world from reaching that blank experience where culture, heritage, customs and history are up for grabs by ANYONE.

And so it wouldn't matter if a movie had nothing but white people, living in an Asian dressed world.

Hmm. Now for me to ponder how maleness being gender neutral and the accepted blank slate, somehow also frees womeneveryone.