April 8th, 2009

Avatar rant (my white liberal guilt, let me show you it.)

Paramount Producer Frank Marshall is dismissively telling everyone to settle down and shut up about the casting of Airbender. Which, he wants you to know, "is more diverse than the tv show."

No. No. No. No.

Avatar was an amazing tv show. It was diverse and expansive and consciously, affirmatively multi-cultural. I haven't really talked about it much here because there's been so well-handled over at aang_aint_white and racebending, and I haven't had anything extra special to add.

But it just makes me so so so frustrated and sad that they took a show that looked like this and deliberately turned it into this. (Note: Zuko's role has since been recast with British-Indian actor Dev Patel.)

It makes me so frustrated that it's not a given that these characters should have been cast with actors of their ethnic origins. It makes me so angry that our society hasn't progressed enough, that Hollywood is still so committed to upholding whitewashing in films, that characters who are non-white should be cast glibly, unthinkingly, carelessly, with white actors. In an adaptation of one of the most consciously diverse and progressive television series I have ever seen.

It makes me so frustrated that we even have to argue for the visibility of characters of color in our stories.

It makes me so frustrated that I can read queries on Queryshark and see wonderful Janet Reid giving the green light to queries where the character names are all like (not exaggerating) "Jack", "Mary," "Rob." It makes me feel so frustrated that writers are still out there writing ridiculously whitewashed novels and that no one is calling them on it - not the agents, publishers, or readers.

It makes me so frustrated that I can't reconcile the ten million things I love about Iron Man with the blatant Great White Hero message and anti-Arabic stereotypes and caricatures in that film. It makes me so frustrated that I can't rave about Jim Butcher's imaginative, addictive, enjoyable Dresden-verse without acknowledging the horribly bleached misogyny, because it's a man's world, a white, white, white man's world. It makes me so frustrated that I can't get past the olive-skinned main character in the acclaimed YA novel Hunger Games sacrificing herself for her blond-haired blue-eyed innocent sister. Of course she did. Of course.

It makes me so angry *at myself* that in my Western fandoms, I've only written two characters of color the entire time I've been in fandom: Rahm/Barack and the original character in my Die Hard fic. It makes me so angry that there haven't there been more. It distresses me that I had to look to reality to find a character of color I wanted to ship, aka Barack. It distresses me that I feel like nearly every character of color in fandoms I like are either minor and unimportant or relegated to the role of passive sidekick; or, worse, given all kinds of ~issues~ related to their fitting in with their white social group (Teyla Emmagen, I'm looking at you) that makes me unable to forget that they're the Other.

I don't want to see or perpetuate otherness. I don't want to perpetuate some distinction between Them and Me to keep me safe and cozy in my privileged white bubble. I just want strong characters and I want them to not all be white - not magical negros or exotic servant-helpers or mystical healers and the white messiah who comes to save them.

I hate how so often that feels like asking for the moon.

This is not me going off on a tangent about Kings, and how relieved I am to see that show bite the dust, because always having Jesus be white just isn't enough, let's just whitewash David too, and hell, we've already had a white Joshua, let's just take the whole Old Testament and throw them all in the midwest and make them all white, because that's *fresh* and *innovative*, and I can't describe how much this upsets me, how important this feels.

This is not me going off on a tangent about gay characters, how Dumbledore can't be gay until the series is written and he's DEAD and it's SAFE to out him, and he can't come out except as Symbolic Moment, because he has to be a symbol, he can't just be the greatest wizard of our time who also happens to be gay, because it's not like these aren't THE MOST BANNED BOOKS IN HISTORY and adding one gay character into the mix of hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of characters, so many you had to write them down on napkins with cheesy symbols by their names so you wouldn't forget them, would have been the final straw, the unthinkable thing that made them THE MOST BANNED BOOKS IN HISTORY WITH EXTRA, BUILT-IN EVIL because ONE character was gay; and what that says about gay characters everywhere, how it's never just about the character, how they're either invisible, not there, or silent, or visible and gay to prove a point, or visible and gay to prove a point and DEAD, because god forbid a character just be awesome and also gay - not symbolic, not dead, not issue-laden, not comic relief, not innately evil, not a serial killer, not doomed to be in love with their best friend who's vaguely creeped out by their sinister gay attentions, not flaming for no reason, not there to prove how liberal the author is or how liberal the other characters are, just a three-dimensional character. Who's gay. God forbid.

Please, please, please, go here and sign the petition of protest against the casting of Avatar: the Last Airbender. I've linked to this twice in my blog already. I'll probably link it again.

Because it is ridiculous that this can't even get 5,000 signatures.

Just. No.