Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Dear Michael & Brian, You Were Lied To

Dear Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko, M.Night Shylaman has spoken, and it is pretty obvious he lied to you.

At i09, M. Night Shylaman answers questions about The Last Airbender Live Action Move (aka, that Racist Mess). And he shows not only that he's the South Asian equivalent of an Uncle Tom; he shows that he doesn't get the optimism and hope of Avatar - that it wasn't that it started young and skewed older, but that it has a foundation of joy and hope and friendship that carries all through; just as it has a foundation of being non-white fantasy.

Remember the interview that's now unfortunately on the official animated series DVD? About how he 'got' it all?

M. Night Shylaman lied.

He does not get what you,Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko and Sifu Kisu and so many others tried to do do. He does not understand the concept of an all Asian, Non-White World. He doesn't understand the difference between Anime and Animation. He doesn't understand that Kung Fu styles come from various regions and have distinctive markers. He doesn't understand Sokka or Katara or Zuko or Toph and he definitely doesn't understand Aang.

M. Night Shylaman lied in order to get a franchise he thought would better his career. And in this Shadow Aparthied America, maybe his lies will bear him fruit; maybe he'll be successful.

Now that the director has spoken, those (fans and not) who don't want to think about racial issues, who don't like to think about racial issues, who don't have to think about racial issues; because they're white; are going to point to it and go SEE. SEE.

And never get that they're pointing to someone who has boldly stated he does not believe there can be talented Asian Descended Actors. Who has boldly stated that casting one actor meant the entire fictional nation had to resemble them and YET, he does NOT BELIEVE THERE CAN BE TALENTED ASIAN DESCENDED ACTORS. Those who believe 'the person who brings up race is the racist' are not going to see what's wrong with lines like these:

1. This nation has this ethnicity and when we go deep into that culture, we will see more there...Dev ended up being my choice for Zuko, and... I thought this takes us into a Mediterranean kind of Arab and Indian world, and I can go as far as that, that will be the breadth of the Fire Nation, that kind of look

2. Suki was Jessica [Andres] who is a mix of Filipino. And now the Earth Kingdom is all Asian so Toph will have to be Asian.

3. For me, Nicola [Peltz, who plays Katara] had a lot of Russian qualities, European and Russian qualities. So that was the direction we went there.

4. And there's a section of the Earth Kingdom that's African American.

5. So more so than the show, it will have a much more diverse ethnic backgrounds to it.

! ! !

Because it wasn't enough to keep the Water Tribes of the North & South Poles Inuit.

Because for a show to have Inuit, Japanese, Chinese (multiple dynasty), Tibetan, Korean, South Asian, Mezo-American analogues is NOT it being extremely ethnically diverse.

Because the only brown in the Earth Kingdom must somehow be African-Americans.

! ! !

M.Night Shylaman is South Asian. And it looks as if he's fallen headfirst into the mentality of the Model Minority. It looks to be that he's never critically examined racial theory, post colonial theory, US and Euro-Centrism.

"Because it's such a big country and land I thought you could have some diversity in there as they travel through the cities."

Because Kyoshi Island is the same as Bai Sing Se is the same as the area where Uncle Iroh was treated for poisoning, is the same as the area where Zuko briefly plays Shane.

Because in the Fire Nation, the Fire Lord's City is the same as Ember Island (which to me seemed extremely Balinese).

M.Night Shylaman may be South Asian, be he can't even see intra Asian diversity or recognize intra Asian ethnicity.

Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko, you were lied to. You were lied to via the colour of Shylaman's skin, via his talk about his daughter, via his earnest desire to earn himself some money and notice in Hollywood. Your coat-tails were clung to, and now he's gone and changed everything; meaning, substance, style.

And maybe for changing so many OTHER fundamentals, fans of the show will have Recognition Rejection.


Thank You, Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko; Thank You Sifu Kisu; Thank You to the Voice Actors, Researchers, Costume Advisers, Calligraphers.

Avatar: The Last Airbender is something wonderful.

And those of us who love it, will have to buy it, or copy it and hold on to it with all our might, because surrounded by a white world convinced of its own superiority it is now slowly being erased; nibbled into nothingness with every whitewashed toy and manga tie-in and ethnically not diverse score and music swell.

M.Night Shylaman lied. He is a liar.

And maybe it doesn't matter that he said what you wanted to hear, because working under Nickolodeon meant you didn't have much choice about what happened to your creation - because it wasn't strictly your creation under corporate rules. Which is saddening because I hear you're doing something new, but I don't know if I can put myself through this for a round two - with you two powerless to speak, powerless to defend something that so many cherish because you brought them into the world of fantasy.

Non-white creators can't break in, because the rules are set and those in power refuse to look when people and their works don't fit predetermined slots for White Recognition Glee. You, as white creators propped the door open, and now it's being slammed shut again. And isn't that balance in a white world that they're getting a South Asian to do the slamming.

* * *

I am tired of this shit. I am tired of having to hold out hope the Hollywood machine will dare something new - will change a mode of operation that's been going on for a 100 years.

There has to be a way to create FUBU-WOOD; For Us, By US Cinema / Fantasy For Us, By Us Cinema. There has to be a way to have FUBU-Publishing. There has to be.

Being dependent on THEM, isn't going to bring freedom, choice and representation.

"We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct action campaign that was "well timed" in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word "Wait!" It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This "Wait" has almost always meant "Never." We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that "justice too long delayed is justice denied."

-- M.L.King Jr

Technology has become cheaper. We have the internet. We need to take this step forward. Negotiation isn't working. Asking, isn't working. What are we to do? Wait on Chance?

Chance gave us A: TLA Animated Series. And now it's being plucked away.

I keep saying THIS, this creation, this making our own, for us, by us for our consumption, reflecting our realities is The Conversation I Want To Have.

Enough being reactionary. Let us discus being pro-active. Cause if we aren't, it will only be a steady diet of disappointment after disappointment - of watching those who get granted power, kowtow in order to hold onto it. As power given, can be taken away.

Avatar: The Last Airbender has been taken away.

What are we going to do about it?

[Comments Open]


  1. Not sure if you've seen this yet, but according to MNS the casting of the protagonists as white and the antagonists as POC is "ironic". If there is any irony in his casting choices, it's certainly not in the way that he means.

    (Sorry that I don't actually have anything intelligent to respond to your excellent post with.)

  2. I agree to everything here, and I think the only thing left to be done is to encourage, create, and support FUBU-WOOD projects. What else could we do?

  3. HelenB:

    I've seen/heard the whole Amanda Palmer levels of 'Ironic'. And all I can think of is that M.Night Shylaman is trying to do Caucasian Hipster Levels Of Racism. And it rather exposes too much of his psyche.

  4. I am gobsmacked by Shyamalan's "Mediterranean...Arab...Indian" comment. It's unfuckingbelievable. Especially for someone who is Indian himself. He has bought completely into US and Eurocentrism. He clearly cares nothing about any other culture, not even one he has ties to.