The cable TV network Nickelodeon airs a popular animation series called Avatar: The Last Airbender. Last week, The Last Airbender, a cinematic version directed by Indian-American M. Night Shayamalan, hit theaters worldwide to nearly universal derision. Besides being critically panned for content, the film also ran into a storm because of the casting of white actors in characters that were non-white in the original series.
As Floating World notes in a lengthy write-up on race-bending in films:
Perhaps the greatest offense that the “heroic” characters are portrayed by lily white actors while the “villainous” characters are portrayed dark-skinned Indian actors in lieu of the fact that all the characters have distinctly Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Indian and Inuit characteristics regardless of their “good” or “badness.”
I felt bad reading that M. Night Shayamalan was a racist. He used to be the pride of the global Indian community. Which desi doesn’t remember when Sixth Sense was nominated for multiple Oscars including Best Picture and Best Director at the 1999 Academy Awards? Shame on you, Mr Shayamalan for putting us through The Village, Lady in the Water, and The Happening, and now for becoming a race-bender! You are a disgrace to the entire global desi community.
In any case, I don’t usually read up on the machinations of Hollywood media moguls. I get most of my entertainment from Bollywood Hindi films. It is lighter fare, yes, but in the Indian tradition of multiculturalism and tolerance towards all races, it is free from preferential treatment towards any particular community or race.
In terms of casting, Bollywood films always cast the best actors for the best roles. Our films don’t indulge in the despicable act of whitewashing for audiences. Say what you will about Hindi films not being as polished as Hollywood blockbusters. At least the Hindi film industry is free from racism.
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© Text, 2010-2012, Anirban