Airbending or Racebending?

In 1991, Asian Americans protested famous Welsh actor Jonathan Pryce’s casting as the Eurasian Engineer in the NY Broadway production of Miss Saigon on the grounds that it was insulting to have a white actor use yellowface to play an Asian role. Yellowface, which is when a white actor literally paints his face yellow and tapes down his eyelids to make them more “flat,” or when white folks control the representations of Asians on stage and film, was not new. The Good Earth (1937), among many other early- and mid-twentieth century films, also used yellowface because a very white Hollywood refused to cast Asian American actors (Anna May Wong was an exception, but even she couldn’t snag roles such as Olan in TGE). Remember Mickey Rooney in Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961)?

1937, 1961, 1991…2010? Paramount’s The Last Airbender? What are they thinking?

From the petition:

The practice of casting Caucasian actors to depict ethnically Asian protagonists—while Asian American actors are relegated to play antagonists, supporting characters, and background extras—is insensitive, condescending, and woefully outdated… Ethnically Asian characters should never be depicted by Caucasian actors. In this day and age, casting white actors to play Asian characters–even going so far as to ‘whitewash’ the Asian fantasy setting—is simply ignorant and unacceptable. These choices have taken the film away from the integrity and dedication to cultural accuracy that fans respected in the animated series.

To learn more:

To sign the petition:

August Rush

*warning: potential spoilers ahead

I just returned from watching August Rush. I wasn’t sure what to expect. Friends told me to take tissues; others simply told me how good it was. I must admit little Freddie is pretty good, and the music is absolutely beautiful. And the man who plays his dad, Jonathan Rhys Meyers isn’t so bad either 😉 However, I think Freddie looks more like Matthew Goode and would have appreciated watching him instead… couldn’t it have been a British, not Irish band? 😛

Anyway. I’ve become more sensitive to the way that orphans, orphanages, adoptees, adoptions, social work, birth parents, etc., are portrayed in popular media over the past couple of years (yes yes, I know, it always comes back to the dissertation… which is in progress. Really. As we speak…) August Rush doesn’t purport to be a completely realistic portrayal of this orphan’s life. It sort of suggests that if you never give up hope, search hard enough, and become an incredible musical prodigy, then you can find your birth parents. Um, okay. Maybe that is a bit of a stretch. But to its credit, the IMDB synopsis describes it as “a drama with fairy tale elements.” Even as I raised my eyebrows at the idea that August/Evan is an incredible musician because his birth parents are incredible musicians, I found myself appreciating this and other fantastical elements of the film. It wasn’t corny, it wasn’t over the top; not to be corny myself, the story was very lyrical. And the movie presented many scenarios that reflect the real world of orphaned children: the fact that a parent tricks his daughter into believing the child died when really he’s been handed over for adoption; the fantastical, hopefulness of an orphan for his birth parents; the bullying that happens in orphanages; the shady adult who tries to scare a kid into silence; the concerned social worker who sincerely cares for the child; the distraught birth mother who just found out her child is alive. There was enough realism in it to balance the “fairy tale elements.”

Adoptive Families has a webpage where they give a thumbs up/thumbs down to representations of adoption in media, and they gave a thumbs down to Meet the Robinsons for the way the protagonist is “rejected by over 100 prospective families.” I wonder how they’d rate August Rush (that is, if they ever update this page…)

I think it’s really interesting how feature films show children finding and reuniting with their birth parents, but children’s books barely broach the topic of birth parents, let alone birth parent searches, and let’s not even hope that they would show birth parent reunions.

Because that never happens in real life, right? It only happens in fairy tales.