Criticism on buddytv.com’s ‘Airbender’ article

17 Aug

Buddytv.com’s December 3, 2009 article on the M. Night Shyamalan-helmed film adaptation of the Nickelodeon series Avatar the Last Airbender is a quick and simple read that seems relatively well-constructed. However, considering the amount of people on social networking sites who profess to ‘like’ it, I find it necessary to point out that the article does injustice to the brevity of the issues presented in this highly controversial movie.

When the final cast for the movie was first announced in 2008, fans of the original series expressed not just disdain for the idea, but an outrage that would follow the franchise around like a dark shadow even after its release. Sites like Aang Ain’t White and Racebending.com flourished, composed of “concerned citizens” who professed equal opportunity and to put a stop to what they believed was blatant use of “yellowface.” The controversy grew so great that even one of the voice actors from the original series, Dante Basco (who played the role of Prince Zuko of the Fire Nation), said in his blog:

“Boycott is a strong word, but I do know that I won’t go see it opening weekend. I’m sure I will see it sooner or later, but my money won’t be apart of the opening weekend tally. In this day and age, in America 2010… I just don’t think it is at all viable for white actors to play ethnic roles… at least until they let us play white roles.” – Original post here

As anyone can see, this debate is centered on the sensitive issue of racism in film. To the article’s credit, the casting debate is their lead and ‘hook’ into the story. The first paragraph alone gives you a sufficient idea that yes, this is a “hot” issue and must be dealt with utmost care. Paramount executives have even refused to comment, and why would they, when they know it would only exacerbate the issue?

However, there is a problem with the next few paragraphs. Here the writer casually points out that issue may just be a problem conjured and blown out of proportion by a few outspoken fans. If this was my first-time reading about an issue, I would be confused. Even those who are in the know with regards to the issue, if they are discerning readers will ask: Where is this debate happening? Where are either side’s arguments?

But you might say, hey, the writer sort of recanted with his next statement, in which he says that both the editor and cultural consultant (of which he does even name) have “expressed disappointment.” Hence, he says, there must be something more to this racial hullaballo. But if this were a newspaper article, this would already count as unacceptable in my book. Even more so now that it’s online, given that there are many ways to source this quote and give proper credit to whoever said it by linking.

The discerning reader encounters yet another problem in the next few paragraphs, in which the writer says:

“For all intents and purposes, Avatar: The Last Airbender was predominantly influenced by several Asian cultures, so casting a bunch of Caucasian actors to play most of the characters understandably raised a furor with fans.”

First, if the writer did his research right, he will be able to tell his audience that the series’ influences do not come from “a bunch of Asian cultures,” a term so casual it might as well be slang. Rather, the series’ influence lies predominantly in East Asian and Inuit cultures. Creators Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzo have specified that the series is heavily influenced by Buddhism, Taoism, Hinduism, Eastern Philosophy and Japanese anime (read their interview here).

The penultimate paragraph says:

“The first The Last Airbender trailer had everyone’s panties up in a bunch (either in a good way or bad way).”

This ruins what could have otherwise been a passable article. Overlooking the fact that there is a gross lack of citation and information, the article could have possibly made up for these faults by at least sticking to decent language. But the writer chooses to bypass this journalistic dogma and instead uses crude language.

Overall, the article pulls the reader with an interesting lead but fails to follow through. For someone who is only coming across the Airbender controversy for the first time, it’s quite expected that he or she might get confused. The writer did not cite sources for his quotes (except for one) and failed to provide evidence that this raging debate was ongoing. No one spoke for Paramount, but no representative spoke for the two sides of the debate either.

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