Over a week ago, it was announced that Jesse McCartney is being booted as the live-action Zuko and Slumdog Millionaire Dev patel will be taking over the role. I’ve chewed over this Avatar recasting since the news came out, and it’s grown on me, but I have to admit I’m still not satisfied with the response.
From what I’ve gathered from multiple sources, Shyamalan and Avatar’s original creators can be excused for their involvement in the casting. Essentially, there was an intentional lack of involvement on both of their parts. Shyamalan’s last few films have sucked so bad he’s not allowed to cast, and the Avatar creators’ reputations are merely collateral damage in Paramount’s quest for franchise dollars.
Some PR rep from above descended upon the hot mess caused by casting director Douglas Aibel. The PR Hot Airbender (I know, it’s a stretch…) came up with this little gem of an alibi to explain McCartney’s removal, allegedly from Shyamalan to Variety:
“Jesse had tour dates that conflicted with a boot camp I always hold on my films, and where the actors here have to train for martial arts,” Shyamalan told the publication.
Uh-huh. Are you sure it’s not the uproar taking place at extras castings, the tidal wave of angry fanmail, some otherwise dimwitted exec’s actual opening of the eyes that conflicted with the “schedule?” I would believe that story more if they had said, “Turns out Jesse McCartney does not tan well and thus cannot play an authentic Asian-inspired martial arts role. Until we are able to control the melonin in our actors’ genes, we will replace McCartney with the brown kid from that Indian Regis Philbin movie. Also, dirty blonde hair is a bitch to dye and McCartney does not think black hair is good for his ‘image.'”
This is still ridiculous! Don’t get me wrong, I love Dev Patel and I loved Slumdog Millionaire. It’s not a stretch for me to imagine Patel in the role of the evil prince.
It’s just… The rest of everything else still doesn’t sit well to me. It’s as Aang Ain’t White said, “This movie reeks of tokenism.” (Not to prolong Internet debate, but Avatar is not a story where tokenism plays a part. Eminem’s Whiteness plays a part in 8 Mile. Here, that’s not the situation.)
Hey! Aibel! You still have a Twilight cast member in your Avatar movie. Twilight cast. Avatar cast. Twilight. Avatar. White vampires from Oregon. Tribal martial artists from Asia.
I feel grateful for the Patel switch, I really do, but Jesus Christ, they just threw a brown Band-Aid on Caucasian flesh hoping it’d turn everything else a little more “ethnically neutral.”
There is a deep history of yellowface in American Hollywood and Asian American history. I need a little more time to calm down and organize my thoughts, but stay tuned through the end of this week. I hope to expose the film history lesson you never had.