A recent article from the Associate Press, discusses the issue of Hollywood casting white actors in movies with non-white source material. The most recent movies are two of this years summer blockbusters: “The Last Airbender” and “The Prince of Persia.”
The “Prince of Persia” is a Jerry Bruckheimer (Pirates of the Caribbean) produced adventure tale about a rogue Persian prince and his race against dark forces. The emphasis, of course, is Persian prince. In the movie, white American actor Jake Gyllenhaal plays the Persian protagonist. The other film, “The Last Airbender” is even more controversial, according to the article. Based on the hugely popular Nickelodeon animated TV series, “Airbender” is about a young boy name Aang (Noah Ringer) who has the power to possess Earth, Water, Air and Fire. Aang teams up with a Waterbender and her brother to stop the brutal Fire Nation. So, what is so controversial about this movie? The entire television series is based on an Asian inspired world. The four main characters in the movie, played by white actors (with the exception of Dev Patel, a last minute replacement for actor Jesse McCartney), are all Asian characters in the original television series. Said Guy Aoki of the Media Action Network for Asian Americans:
It speaks volumes when the initial casting decision was to cast four white leads,” he said. “For them to be comfortable with that… it’s embarrassing, it says a lot about their attitudes.”
A highlight for me was addressing the 2008 movie “21”. Based on a true story “21” is about six MIT students who were trained to become experts in card counting and subsequently took Vegas casinos for millions in winnings. The issue was the real life MIT Blackjack Team featured in the movie were mostly Asian, including the professor (played by Kevin Spacey) of the Blackjack team, American born John Chang.
It’s a good article that brings up some interesting points about Hollywood’s long history of casting white actors in non-white roles. It begs many questions. What’s the difference between Noah Ringer playing the role of a young Asian boy in 2010 and some of Al Jolson’s blackface performances in the 1920’s? At a time in this country where we have the first ever African American President, female Secretary of State, and Hispanic American Supreme Court judge, is Hollywood ignoring its other Americans? If we saw more diversity in leading roles of Hollywood blockbuster movies would we even care about three white actors playing Asian characters?
Give it a read and let me know what you think. Its pretty good food for thought right before the big summer blockbuster season.