Because I have been talking about my love of Avatar quite a bit lately people have been asking me if I’m excited about the forthcoming live action version.
I am not.
One of the many things I adore about Avatar is how incredibly rich and complex the world of Avatar is. This is largely because it was based on various Asian cultures. None of the characters in Avatar are white.
Here’s what the show’s creators have to say about it in an interview from 2005:
1. How did you come up with the Avatar?
We came up for the concept for “Avatar” 3 years ago. Nickelodeon wanted to make a “legends & lore” type of show with a kid hero. That’s a genre we are very interested in, but we wanted to create a mythology that was based on Eastern culture, rather than Western culture. Although “Avatar” isn’t based on a specific Asian myth, we were inspired by Asian mythology, as well as Kung Fu, Yoga, and Eastern Philosophy. We were also inspired by Anime in general. We wanted to create a story that inspired people’s imaginations and that had elements of comedy, drama, and action.
2. You guys are not Asian so how did you come up with such an Asian cartoon?
We read a lot about Buddhism, Daoism, and Chinese history. We also have several consultants who work for the show—a cultural consultant that reviews all the scripts; a Kung Fu consultant who helps choreograph all the bending moves so that they are accurate to the style on which they are based; and a Chinese calligrapher who does all the signs and posters in the show. We don’t use any written English words in the show.
Avatar has been hugely popular among kids of all races. There was no backlash against an all-Asian show. Much as those who watch anime don’t freak out at the paucity of white characters. Yet, somehow the Hollywood producers think the live action version has to be white washed. Except for the villians, of course, it’s okay for them to be brown. I think they’re wrong.
Sadly, though there seem to be just as many fans who don’t care that the movie version has white actors playing Aang, Katara and Sokka. Glockgal offers a possible explanation:
For people who’ve never learned/seen/been exposed to anything Asian beyond fortune cookies and sweet-and-sour chicken balls, I suddenly understand that when they watched the cartoon, all they see is ‘fantasy’. All the architecture, clothing, food, writing, names, movements—EVERYTHING that is so plainly and clearly Asian to us? Is just to them . . . a fantasy. It’s all made-up. They don’t know that so much of the world is based on real cultures, they don’t get how much attention to detail and research the creators put into the cartoon, because they’ve NEVER SEEN THESE CULTURES, IN REAL LIFE.
I will not be going to see the movie version. I’m sick of white washing. I’m sick of Hollywood taking the things I love and transforming them into generic pap. I want them to make more films that reflect the diversity of the world I live in. I don’t understand why that’s such a huge ask.