I think everyone should watch “The Last Airbender”

You can read my full review of M. Night Shyamalan’s “The Last Airbender” at SF-Fandom. The movie is not perfect but it is good because it is well-done and it deserves far better treatment than the film critics have given it. Film critics tend to come off as self-righteous snobs who have no clue about what is entertaining or worthwhile in the movie industry. They are, of course, entitled to their opinions just like the rest of us and I am sure that there are critics who have not tried to destroy “The Last Airbender” (or M. Night Shyamalan). I would love to see some film critics who don’t try to look all hoighty-toity by beating up on Shyamalan. Anyone know of some?

I’m aware that some Asian American groups are protesting the movie as well. I understand their concerns about how Asian American characters should be represented by Asian American actors — however, their offense doesn’t resonate in this movie because, frankly, there are NO Asian American characters. There are no Asian characters, either. At least, no one stepped in front of the camera and said, “I have traveled to this fantasy world from Japan ….”

I’m not belittling the concerns that have been raised about how the American film industry has treated minorities through the past 100 years. Some really good roles that should have gone to Native Americans, Asian Americans, black Americans, etc. did in fact go to white actors. But when you’re dealing with fantasy movies, unless they are very clearly metaphorically discussing specific issues that are relevant to minorities, you really have no place complaining about “racism” in the casting.

Fantasy worlds are fantasy worlds. I understand — from having read about the Nickelodeon series that inspired this movie franchise — that the cultures were modeled on a combination of Chinese martial arts styles, Buddhism, and other Asian traditions. And many people expect to see the fantasy world cultures portrayed in a certain way.

But these movies are Shyamalan’s story to tell and he is not really telling the story of a culture that is modeled on anything from Asia — he is telling a very interesting and (in my opinion) moving story about a child who is more than a child, and who has some misgivings about his place in his world. Call this story the ultimate identity crisis movie.

As someone of Mexican-American descent I am highly offended by the racist law that the state of Arizona recently passed, authorizing the police in that state to act like Nazi Germany’s Gestapo with respect to people of Hispanic descent. The idea that other states would even consider passing similar laws is equally offensive to me. Frankly, if that’s the mood of many white Americans I think we need to put them all on ships and send them back to Europe.

If you want to be racist, have a taste of your own medicine — then come back and tell us we should be deporting illegal aliens.

So I have strong feelings about racism, to be sure. And having known many people in the Asian community, I am (I feel) sensitive to many of the issues that they confront on a daily basis when dealing with non-Asians. We don’t show respect the same way traditional Asians do. I’ve heard many people “bad-mouth” Asian Americans for not looking them in the eyes, for being “too humble”, etc. Racism can be both subtle and blunt.

So I understand that many Asian Americans — expecting to see Asian American actors cast as the leads in this movie — were disappointed. But that kind of purism is misplaced, especially given that the original series was criticized as not being “true” Anime because it was produced in the United States.

The ironies surrounding the criticisms of this movie are almost impossible to count. There is no need for Asian American groups to demand that every martial arts movie be cast only with Asian leads. Isn’t the racist harm inherent in that kind of demand obvious to anyone other than me?

There is an old proverb: be careful what you ask for. You may receive it.

I believe the movie is pretty good. I have shared my thoughts here and on the SF-Fandom forum. I hope you’ll think about what I’m trying to share here before letting loose with a tirade of insults. I won’t respond. There is no need for any more conflict. The movie is trying to say something interesting about the inner conflict of people who don’t want to accept what they are — that sort of “coming to terms with your heritage” message should strike home for many younger Asian Americans who are (like younger Hispanic Americans) torn between two cultures.

Am I Hispanic or am I American? Am I an avatar or am I human? Can I not be both? Can I not live in both worlds, to the extent that I can, and not be forced to choose one over the other?

That’s a marvelous question for any movie to explore. Let’s not bog it down with needless concerns about casting.

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5 responses to “I think everyone should watch “The Last Airbender”

  1. you actually liked The Last Airbender?! m. night shyamalan is the worst director in hollywood, i have no idea why they still let him come near a movie set.

    • We all have our likes and dislikes. But I also don’t have any previous experience with the original series so I had no expectations to match against the movie.

  2. “I’m not belittling the concerns that have been raised about how the American film industry has treated minorities through the past 100 years.”

    Actually, you are. Just by saying you aren’t does not erase the sentence before, where you pretend that characters that are, in the cartoon, identified as Inuit/Asian, but aren’t really. Somehow.

    “But I also don’t have any previous experience with the original series”

    How can you pretend that the characters totally are white in the cartoon, then, if you don’t even know it.

    Your argument is completely illogical.

    • I’m not pretending anything. The movie is its own story, as is the case with every film adaptation of any book or comic book. There are always changes. It’s difficult for people who are devoted to original material to accept those changes but people who see the new adaptations first (as I have in this case) are often more receptive and understanding of the changes.

      There is nothing illogical in my position.