Sign the Petiton, Save the World

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John Lesher, President
Paramount Film Group
Los Angeles, CA 90038
john_lesher@paramount.com

Dear Mr. Lesher:

This letter constitutes an official statement by the grassroots movement protesting the discrimination evidenced in the Paramount Pictures production of The Last Airbender. The film is adapted from the popular animated series, Avatar: The Last Airbender, which was widely advertised by Nickelodeon executives, the show’s creators, and director M. Night Shyamalan as set in an Asian fantasy world. The practice of casting Caucasian actors to depict ethnically Asian protagonists—while Asian American actors are relegated to play antagonists, supporting characters, and background extras—is insensitive, condescending, and woefully outdated.

It is not too late to change or delay The Last Airbender until it can reflect Paramount’s economic self-interest in creating a culturally nuanced family film to be embraced by both current and future audiences. You can save The Last Airbender and make a film that respects both the source material and the Asian cultures that inspired it.

None of the characters in Avatar: The Last Airbender are Caucasian—including protagonists Sokka and Katara, who clearly have darker features and a Southern Water Tribe minority status that distinguishes them even from other characters in the story. At present, both of these characters—in addition to Aang, the main protagonist—are being played by white actors. It is unconscionable for the production to continue to describe its cast as ”multiethnic” when it is in fact “whitewashing” the Asian fantasy setting by making the heroes of the story’s Inuit-inspired nation white.

Our movement has attempted to reach your production through repeated letters, protests, and the media, including stories in Entertainment Weekly and The San Francisco Chronicle. Even advocacy groups like the Media Action Network for Asian Americans and East West Players have separately contacted you to discuss their concerns. If your production does not take steps to correct the offensive casting practices we have repeatedly denounced, we will have no choice but to regretfully boycott The Last Airbender.

The following statements and actions have caused anger, disappointment and disgust to members of the community, many of whom would otherwise have been enthusiastic fans of the movie.

  • The initial casting announcements for the lead characters and the resultant all-Caucasian initial cast. The casting calls clearly indicated a preference for Caucasian actors through the wording "Caucasian or any other Ethnicity," rather than “Asian or any other Ethnicity” or even an unbiased “Any Ethnicity.”
  • The subsequent tokenism resulting from your casting of minority actors to play only supporting and antagonist characters, while all of the heroic lead characters remain white.
  • The inappropriate and offensive language used by various members of the production, including casting director DeeDee Rickets’s repeated culturally ignorant statements (such as calling traditional clothing “costumes” and saying “dress in traditional cultural ethnic attire...If you're Korean, wear a kimono”) and actor Jackson Rathbone’s assertion that he will “get a tan” to look more like his ethnically Asian character.
  • The casting decision to seek "authentic Asians"—a description Rickets gave to The Washington Post—to play background extras, when the very same "authentic Asians" were so blatantly discriminated against in the casting calls to play the lead characters.
  • The decision that the two most subjugated ”Nations” in this Asian fantasy setting will be retrofitted from Shaolin/Tibetan Buddhist and Siberian Yupik/Inuit ethnic peoples to be Caucasian peoples, even as the film continues to appropriate the franchise’s core Asian concepts, including a Hindi Avatar and the Four Buddhist Great Elements.


Paramount missed a perfect opportunity to offer children of color a movie with characters that reflects their cultural identity. While competing studios like Disney are successfully telling stories with young heroes of color, the production of your family film is actively discriminating against minorities. Your rivals understand that culturally appropriate casting promotes a film’s popularity, financial longevity, and continued shelf life; while a beloved family classic will continue to sell DVDs for years to come, a movie which is viewed as racist will be forgotten. Forty percent of American children are ethnic minorities, and in ten years, minority children will become the majority. It is not only unethical to deny them a genuine opportunity to portray characters who share their ethnicity; it is fiscally shortsighted to ignore this growing fan base for your movies .

The Last Airbender is alienating and losing potential audience members. Despite our love for the animated series, the most vocal of us have actively rejected the production’s cultural incompetencies through protests and over one hundred letters. Many more fans and members of the general public will passively reject this film by voting with their wallets.

Ethnically Asian characters should never be depicted by Caucasian actors. In this day and age, casting white actors to play Asian characters--even going so far as to "whitewash" the Asian fantasy setting—is simply ignorant and unacceptable. These choices have taken the film away from the integrity and dedication to cultural accuracy that fans respected in the animated series, and unless those decisions are reversed, we will reject this movie and do everything in our power to ensure The Last Airbender’s financial failure.

As fans of the original television show, we still hold the highest level of respect for the Avatar: The Last Airbender animated series and its depiction of an Asian fantasy world. We desperately want to support The Last Airbender film, but we cannot in good conscience support its current incarnation and the generations of Hollywood discrimination it represents.

We, the undersigned, urge Paramount Pictures to delay the filming of The Last Airbender until the production can affirm a commitment to ethical casting practices by recasting the leads with ethnically Asian actors.

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quick links

racebending.com

Racebending: FAQ
Frequestly Asked Questions about racebending

Avatar: An Essay in Images
Still don't believe us? Unfamiliar with the animated series? Check out images from the cartoon. Images speak louder than words.

A History of Yellowface
- another visual essay; so you don't even have to read, you just need to see.

The Language of Casting
- how Casting Calls can discriminate.