MANAA Asserts Offensive Use of Yellowface Make-Up and Exclusion of Asian Actors In The Film “Cloud Atlas”

LOS ANGELES – The Media Action Network for Asian Americans (MANAA) is criticizing the new Warner Brothers motion picture “Cloud Atlas”—promoted as artistically groundbreaking because its actors swap racial and sexual identities—as business-as-usual in its exclusion and offensive yellow-faced renditions of Asian people. A multi-ethnic epic spanning 500 years and around the globe, “it’s an artistically ambitious approach to filmmaking,” according to the organization’s Founding President Guy Aoki. “Unfortunately, it reflects the same old racial pecking order that the entertainment industry has been practicing for decades.”

“Cloud Atlas,” written and directed by Tom Tykwer (“Run, Lola, Run”) and Lana and Andy Wachowski (“The Matrix” trilogy) and based on the novel by David Mitchell, utilizes an all-star cast that includes Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Jim Sturgess, and Hugo Weaving. In order to stress a thematic continuity among the movie’s six different interwoven stories, the filmmakers cast many of the same actors as different characters in each time period. One of the stories takes place in a totalitarian, mechanized Neo Seoul Korea in the year 2144. An Asian female clone (South Korean actress Doona Bae) is encouraged by another female clone (Chinese movie star Xun Zhou) to break out of her oppressive pre-programmed routine to serve men and become an independent thinker. The segment also includes White actors Sturgess, Weaving, and James D’Arcy as ostensibly Korean characters, using eye prosthetics to make their Caucasian features look more Asian.

“’Cloud Atlas’ prides itself on its ‘multi-racial cast,’” said Aoki, “but that basically means White men and women of color, like La Jolla Playhouse’s ‘The Nightingale,’ which was criticized last Summer for using only two Asian American actresses but allowing five White men to play Chinese characters. Aoki said, “’Cloud Atlas missed a great opportunity. The Korea story’s protagonist is an Asian man–an action hero who defies the odds and holds off armies of attackers. He’s the one who liberates Doona Bae from her repressive life and encourages her to join the resistance against the government. It would have been a great, stereotype-busting role for an Asian American actor to play, as Asian American men aren’t allowed to be dynamic or heroic very often.

“But instead, they cast Jim Sturgess in yellowface,” Aoki continued, referring to the historically frowned-upon practice of using cosmetics, such as eye prosthetics, to make Caucasian actors look Asian. “In fact, every major male character in the Korea story is played by non-Asian actors in really bad yellowface make-up. When you first see Hugo Weaving as a Korean executioner, there’s this big close-up of him in this totally unconvincing Asian make-up. The Asian Americans at the pre-screening burst out laughing because he looked terrible–like a Vulcan on ‘Star Trek.’ It took us out of the movie. And Jim Sturgess and James D’Arcy didn’t look much better.”

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MANAA’s Response to Letter from Paramount on The Last Airbender

April 9, 2009

Dear Producers of The Last Airbender,

Thank you for your letter. Because it raises important questions regarding your perceptions of diversity, we are again requesting a meeting to discuss the casting and depiction of cultures in the movie (and your future projects) so this film can truly be the success we all want. We are interested, for instance, in how your ideal of including people from “all corners of the globe” correlates with your casting policies. Specifically seeking out white actors and casting four white leads for what M. Night Shymalan admitted was an “Asian fantasy world” does not celebrate ethnic diversity. Re-casting the sole villainous lead with an actor of color is a concession that results in three heroic nations going to war against an evil nation of color.

After dealing with Hollywood studios for the past 17 years, we are more than familiar with the justifications used to cast white actors instead of actors of color. Other film productions have previously used the same pretexts, touting diversity through the casting of supporting roles–but only after first discriminating in casting the lead roles. These are the points MANAA and others—including East West Players and a petition of industry professionals— listed as specific concerns:

· The outdated and discriminatory practice of casting white actors to depict Asian characters. · Casting calls indicating a preference for white actors for leads; people of color for extras.

· Culturally ignorant language used by members of the production (e.g. DeeDee Rickets: “If you’re a Korean, wear a kimono” to the casting call).

· The implications of featuring a villainous nation with dark-skinned, partly South Asian actors and a heroic nation led by white heroes who liberate the “Asian and African” nation.

· Cultural appropriation of Pacific Rim cultures and the franchise’s core Asian concepts, despite a glass ceiling blocking off Asian American actors from playing lead protagonists.

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PARAMOUNT DISCRIMINATES AGAINST ASIAN AMERICAN ACTORS FOR MOVIE ADAPTATION OF ASIAN-BASED TV SERIES

April 29, 2009 Asian American Advocacy Groups, Fans Condemn Racial Bias in M. Night Shyamalan’s “Whitewashed” Casting of “The Last Airbender”

Los Angeles–Thousands of fans and two prominent Asian American advocacy groups are protesting Paramount Pictures’ upcoming “The Last Airbender,” accusing the production of racial bias in selecting white actors to portray ethnically Asian characters. The movie-a live action adaptation of the hit animated television series “Avatar: The Last Airbender”-is part of a franchise widely advertised by Nickelodeon as set in a “fantastical Asian world” and is set for release in July of 2010. Even though all of the series’ characters were ethnically Asian or Inuit/Yupik, casting sheets for the leads indicated a preference for white actors-and ultimately, they were chosen for the top four starring roles. The part of the villainous Prince Zuko went to Jesse McCartney. After dropping out, he was replaced by “Slumdog Millionaire’s” Dev Patel. Consequently, in a Eurocentric twist, actors of color have been relegated to villain, supporting, and background roles.

Immediately after the initial casting announcement in December, thousands of outraged fans mobilized to protest through a letter writing campaign, petition, and website, www.racebending.com. Fan protest efforts were featured in the SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE and THE WASHINGTON POST. “We’re mortified that the film is turning this story we loved and respected into just another symbol of Hollywood discrimination,” Marissa Lee, one of the fans protesting the casting, said. “That’s why we decided to speak out and fight back. These ignorant casting decisions have compromised the integrity of the original series.”

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Letter from Paramount on The Last Airbender

March 25, 2009

Dear Mr. Aoki,

Thank you for your letter and interest in our film. As devoted fans of the original series, our goal is to create a film that will not only live up to the expectations of the television series’ fan base, but also expand it to a world-wide audience in ways that only a full-length motion picture can offer. From the outset of the creative process, the Producers and the Director have envisioned embodying the Airbender universe with a large and ethnically diverse cast that represents many different heritages and cultures from all corners of the globe. The Director’s vision for this film is one of world, influenced and inspired by the Asian undertones of the series, and that is both diverse and inclusive in the make up of the four nations represented in the film’s cinematic world.

Early casting includes an Indian actor, born in Mumbai and raised in the UK and the US; a Persian actor born in Tehran and raised in the UK, Switzerland and the US; a Maori actor born and raised in New Zealand; a Korean-American actor, born and raised in Chicago; an American actress of Italian, French and Mexican heritage; among several others of varied nationalities from around the world. The four nations represented in the film reflect not one community, but the world’s citizens. These societies will be cast from a diversity of all races and cultures. In particular, the Earth Kingdom will be cast with Asian, East Asian and Africans.

With this global perspective in mind, we believe we can best honor the true themes, ethos and fantastical nature of the Airbender stories and best capture the spirit and scale of the series to appeal to its worldwide fans. Our challenge and commitment to our film audience is to harness all the elements that have made the series the incredible phenomenon it is. We look forward to introducing you to THE LAST AIRBENDER next summer.

Sincerely,

The Producers

Washington Post Covers Airbender Controversy

washington post

The Washington Post wrote about the Airbender controversy, including quotes from MANAA’s Guy Aoki — as well as casting director DeeDee Ricketts. It’s nice to finally hear someone from the production side respond to the criticism, but of course it still seems like they’re going to populate their world with Asian extras and White heroes.

The Last Airbender – Letter to The Producer

Scene from the animated series  Avatar: The Last Airbender (2005_

Scene from the animated series Avatar: The Last Airbender (2005)

 

Lots of people have contacted MANAA about the casting of the movie “The Last Airbender.” As a group we’ve discussed what the best way to join in these efforts. What follows below is a letter that MANAA sent to Paramount.

This issue is not over. Stay tuned for more.

 


 

February 11, 2009

Dear Mr. Mercer:

I left two messages with you—one with your assistant Ricky on Monday and another with Lauren yesterday. I’m writing on behalf of the Media Action Network for Asian Americans (MANAA), which is dedicated to monitoring the media and advocating for balanced, sensitive, and positive depiction and coverage of Asian Americans. Since 1992, we have consulted with movie studios and met regularly with the top four television networks about ensuring diversity.

We would like Avatar: The Last Airbender to become a successful movie trilogy. However, given the recent outcry over the lack of Asian/Asian American actors in the lead roles, we fear bad word of mouth may doom the first film before it gets off the ground and stop the potential franchise dead in its tracks. Indeed, the outrage over its casting has been greater than anything we’ve witnessed in the last several years. On Entertainment Weekly’s website alone, there are 78 pages of comments from people who feel a strong emotional connection with Avatar, and most of their responses are strongly negative with many threatening to boycott the film.

Surely you have already seen or at least heard some of these concerns. While the show Mike DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko created was a great success in creating a fantasy world inspired heavily by Asian and Inuit elements, M. Night Shyamalan chose Caucasian actors to play all four main characters. Recently, Prince Zuko’s character went to an actor of Asian descent, but otherwise, the only Asian presence in the film is in the sets and background characters. Compared to other shows, including many anime imports, Avatar: The Last Airbender was unique because it was created for an American audience yet used Asian faces for its main characters. We appreciated that the Nickelodeon series (with the help of Asian American consultants) was intelligent enough to avoid using many of the common Asian stereotypes—both positive and negative–often seen in the media, and that it even made strides in casting Asian American voice talent.

The Asian American community, and the movie-going public at large, is used to seeing Asian men depicted as villains and rarely get the opportunity to see Asian heroes they can get behind and cheer for. This is also an historic opportunity to give Asian American actors a chance to shine in a big-budget film franchise which would bolster their careers for future projects. You will get deserved credit for launching those careers and can break down barriers by understanding that the audience that loved the television series is ready (and expects) to see Asian Americans playing those characters on the big screen. One of the reasons the Avatar television series was so well-received was that our former Vice President, Edwin Zane, served as its cultural consultant for the first two seasons and helped the producers avoid ethnic missteps.

Likewise, please take advantage of us as a resource. We invite you to dialogue with us about the film so that it can really be something fans of the show (and potentially new future fans of the movie) can get excited about.

Sincerely,

Guy Aoki

Founding President, MANAA

cc: Mike DiMartino Bryan Konietzko Dan Martinsen, EVP corporate communications, Nickelodeon Jenna Lutrell, executive in charge of production, Nickelodeon

MANAA Blasts White-Washed Casting of Kevin Spacey’s “Based on a true story” New Film “21”

Organization raised concerns with Sony Pictures back in 2005

LOS ANGELES–Media Action Network for Asian Americans (MANAA), the only organization solely dedicated to monitoring the media and its depiction and coverage of Asian Americans, is upset that 21, the new film starring Kevin Spacey and Kate Bosworth and based on the best-selling novel “Bringing Down the House,” chose a white male lead instead of an Asian American and that Asian American actors were denied the opportunity to get meaty roles in a true-life story that featured mostly Asian Americans.

Ben Mezrich’s 2002 book was based on the true story of an MIT professor who taught 10-12 of his students how to count cards and beat Las Vegas casinos at blackjack. The majority of the players were Asian American, and the lead member of that student team was Jeff Ma, an Asian American. Although the filmmakers were aware of Ma’s role (he served as a consultant), the producers chose to give his part to a white British actor, Jim Sturgess. Two smaller, undeveloped roles went to Aaron Yoo and Liza Lapira. MANAA had been aware that producers Kevin Spacey and Dana Brunetti were “white-washing” the project back in 2005 when Mezrich told a forum at MIT that he was disappointed that Sony executives had decided to make most of the students white.

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Controversy Surrounds DVD Release of Movie “21”

Film could’ve been just as successful- and more accurate- with Asian American stars

LOS ANGELES – 21, the movie starring Jim Sturgess, Kevin Spacey, and Kate Bosworth, will be issued on DVD on July 22nd. The controversial film, based on the best-selling novel Bringing Down The House, told the true story of the MIT professor who taught his students how to beat Vegas at blackjack and make millions. In reality, the professor, the player who scored the most money, and most of the team, were Asian American. In the movie, they were mostly portrayed by white actors- Kevin Spacey as the professor, and Jim Sturgess as the lead member. In this case, the ethnicity of the players was pertinent to the real-life drama. According to House author Ben Mezrich, a white person winning a lot of money in Vegas would raise suspicions, whereas Asians winning a lot would not.

Prior to shooting 21 in 2007, Sturgess had never starred in a film, and Across the Universe flopped upon release later that Fall, barely making back half of its $45 million budget. The British actor was not a household name. The fact that 21 grossed $81 million without big stars demonstrates it succeeded not because of the actors but its concept. Therefore, Media Action Network for Asian Americans (MANAA- the only organization solely dedicated to monitoring the media and its depiction and coverage of Asian Americans), believes the movie could have done just as well with Asian American stars as well-known as or better known than Sturgess (e.g. John Cho, Ivan Shaw, Masi Oka). Chinese American Jeff Ma, the real leader of the team, inflamed Asian Americans when he told USA Today, “I would have been a lot more insulted if they had chosen someone who was Japanese or Korean, just to have an Asian playing me.”

Boycott21 and other anti-21 websites quickly sprang up. After the “white-washing” issue was raised on Entertainment Weekly’s website, producer Dana Brunetti wrote: “Believe me, I would have LOVED to cast Asians in the lead roles, but the truth is, we didn’t have access to any bankable Asian-American actors that we wanted… If I had known how upset the Asian-American community would be about this, I would have picked a different story to film.” But Guy Aoki, MANAA’s Founding President, had spoken to Brunetti about the film in October of 2005. Back then, Brunetti said he did not care about realistic ethnic casting and was merely looking for “the best actor for the role”- a common excuse to cast white people in place of minorities. Says Aoki, “Asian American actors are 40 years behind African Americans in being allowed to play themselves in their own stories. 21, unfortunately, continues that discriminatory tradition.”

Please note our new address PRESS CONTACT P.O. Box 6188 Burbank, CA 91510-1105 (213) 486-4433 manaaletters@hotmail.com www.manaa.org

Pilots Featuring Asian Pacific Americans In Contention for the Fall 2004

The casting of Jason Mamoa and South Asian Navi Rawat on the already picked-up Fox drama, “The North Shore” already guarantees that there two Asian Pacific American series regulars on TV this coming season. If you’re concern about negative portrayal in “North Shore” Navi character is very strong and if you know Jason’s work or if you seen any of his photos, you know that Fox did not cast him to be a geeky side kick.

But most of the pilots are not picked up and some of them have Asian Pacific Americans in prominent roles. MANAA is encouraging the Asian and Pacific Islander American to be as vocal as possible either by writing, emailing or calling in your support of these shows. Please let these networks know that you’re:

1) You’re Asian American or Pacific Islander
2) You are a viable consumer/demographic.
3) You will support positive Asian American and Pacific Islander portrayals.

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