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The Last Airbender Casting Controversy began in December of 2008, when Entertainment Weekly published the a list of the leading cast members for the upcoming film The Last Airbender, based on the Nickelodeon series Avatar: The Last Airbender. Many fans were outraged to see that director M. Night Shyamalan had chosen an all-white cast to play the leading characters, who were all reputably Asian and Inuit in the cartoon version. This is a common Hollywood tactic known as “whitewashing”. A few months later, pop singer Jesse McCartney, who was to play the main antagonist Zuko, was replaced by Dev Patel due to the filming conflicting with McCartney’s tour dates. Many speculated that this would end the race controversy, since Patel was Indian. However, Patel’s addition to the cast only fuelled the controversy, as fans cited that the only leading minority was cast as the film’s villain.
Aang Ain’t White and Racebending
Two days after the leading cast was published, a letter writing campaign was launched by a group of fans called Saving the World with Postage on LiveJournal, under the site name Aang Ain’t White. The letters were directed towards the film’s production company Kennedy & Marshall, M. Night Shayamalan, and Blinding Edge Studios. They are joined by Racebending.com, created a few days later. By January of 2009, hundreds of letters were returned to senders, unopened and ignored. This enraged fans, and caused them to double their efforts in the letter writing campaign. Racebending.com began organizing protests outside extras casting calls, though most had very little attendance.
On April 15th, 2009, Zazzle.com, an online customized apparel store, removed Racebending products from their merchandise. All the merchandise had been put under the account Glockgal, who represented Racebending.com. Zazzle released a statement saying Glockgal’s products “contained content in violation of Viacom’s intellectual property rights”. Glockgal protested by re-releasing all her products, this time with the words “CENSORED BY VIACOM” written across them. On May 3rd, a writer for BoingBoing.com published a brief article about the dispute, arguing that Viacom had only taken censored Glockgal to cover up their racism. Later that day, Viacom issued a statement saying that they had never told Zazzle to remove the items. Zazzle restored Glockgal’s original merchandise that same day.
Racebending Revenge Ficathon
On June 4th, 2010, DarkAgenda, a DreamWidth blog, published a contest for its readers, entitled “The Racebending Revenge Ficathon”. The challenge was to write a fanfiction of their choice, taking a white character from the fandom and changing their race and explaining how it would affect their situation.
Four weeks from today, on the 2nd of July, 2010, a live action movie will be opening that replaced the entirely chromatic cast of its animated TV version with all white main leads except for a brown villain. The show is Avatar: the Last Airbender, and racebending has been a fandom-motivated protest against it that has led to a wider organisation against whitewashing in Western media.
In support of the cause, we would like to announce a challenge ficathon:
Re-write one or more white characters in the fandom(s) of your choice as chromatic/non-white/PoC, in a story of at least 500 words, with some acknowledgment of how the racial difference would make a difference to the story being told.
ETAGender-bending and Alternate Universe (AU) stories are permitted, though we ask that you focus on the racial implications of the difference between canonical character and the reenvisioned one.
For inspiration, you can turn to the chromatic re/casting posts masterlist, as well as collaborate with fanartists or vidders who might wish to participate.
Stories posted to the challenge collection at AO3 will be revealed on the 2nd of July, 2010; if you wish to post them elsewhere, we ask that you do so on the same date, and link to them at the dreamwidth community journal.
Some critics of the chromatic recasting meme pointed out that racial identity was integral to the characters because whiteness was not in fact a blank slate. We agree. We want to know how a man called Sherlock Holmes in Victorian England would function if his skin was the colour of soot, or what Latino Dean and Sam Winchester would do to convince people to trust them, and if Buffy the Vampire Slayer can be Asian and still save the world (a lot).
Please comment to this post in order to sign-up. You may mention the fandom(s) and/or character(s) you plan to racebend if you wish to let other people know that someone is doing them, but it is not necessary, and we welcome multiple takes on a character or fandom.
The contest spread across Dreamwidth, and over to other blog sites like LiveJournal and Blogged. The contest is still open at the moment and accepting entries. The most popular entries include racebending fanfictions from Doctor Who, Firefly, and Sherlock Holmes.
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