Is there some way I can call M. Night Shyamalan a race traitor or something without sounding like a crazy Asian nazi? I want to use it. No, I actually really really don't care if these kids do a phenomenal acting job. And is it okay if I claim that it's not just a geek thing? Because it isn't. It really, really isn't.
I know people are going to argue that Avatar takes place in a fictional setting, and that because of the stylization of the features of the animated character designs and the non-reality of the Avatar world/countries/whatever, that means there's no proof that these characters are meant to be, for whatever racial equivalent their world would feature, "Asian". Perhaps they'll argue that, after all, some of the voice actors were non-people of color, and surely it stands to reason that the live action cast should reflect this.
Yeahhh how about NO.
If ANY set of fictional cultures/people/locales was ever Asian by any denomination, it was the cultures/characters/setting of Avatar. If ANY show featuring fictional cultures and ethnicities was ever appropriate for live-action depiction with actors of Asian descent, it was Avatar. HOW do you establish a fictional canon based on an amalgamation of real Asian cultures and local costume and written language and art and religion/spirituality on a massive, world-encompassing scale and tell me those people aren't most appropriate to be played by Asians?
And I'm not talking about like, George Lucas-esque artistic lifting from a mix of Asian cultures, I'm talking about an ENTIRE WORLD based entirely in the VISUAL LANGUAGE OF ASIAN CULTURES.
And, ever gullible, I thought, "Well, Shyamalan's movies themselves are pretty hit or miss, but if there's one thing he's sure to sympathize with, it's that saying these characters are white until proven Asian is a massive load of horse shit. And surely, if any director could sympathize with and want to see people of color, especially of Asian descent, find a greater foothold in popular media, it would be a mainstream director who happens to be of Asian descent, amirite? Why, his own daughter wanting to dress up as Katara got him interested in the series in the first place. I mean, ha, that's like the one thing about this movie even he couldn't possibly fuck up!"
Don't even tell me they couldn't "find" enough English-speaking Asian teenage actors to play four measly character leads in the first movie. They recruited their Zuko from a band for heaven's sake (and seriously, picked the two whitest--and I'm talking about pigment here--teens I've ever seen to play the two darkest lead characters.) It follows that if they got Asian leads, they'd have to have Asian supporters since the respective nations were pretty homogenous, but you know what? Mel Gibson rounded up enough people of color to play an ancient civilization in Apocalypto; the BBC and HBO just collaborated on House of Saddam; Heroes wrangled up enough people of color to populate an Indian city and ancient Japan; even a mid-budget New Zealand production like Xena managed to film a handful of episodes set in fake!China and fake!Japan without resorting to, "here's some Caucasian people; pretend they're Asian plz"--DO NOT tell me there ain't a comparable amount of English-speaking Asians out there who'd be happy to traipse about in costume for a picture that would be the coolest thing Hollywood has ever done re: Asian culture since.. ever.
I mean, I think I'm pretty reasonable in my expectations and the things I take issue with as far as Asian representation in popular media. I'm not the perpetually Angry Asian (Wo)man, I really don't care about picky knee-jerk stuff like Kung Fu Panda characters being voiced by non-Asian-American actors, or Zhang Ziyi (and Gong Li and Michelle Yeoh) playing Japanese women, because I know people were being super finicky about 'em. But this? Ah.. yeah, all this tells me is that Asian actors are too Asian for the most Asian show on TV, soon to be on the big screen. Fan-fucking-tastic.
EDIT: Further thoughts, and a round up of awesomely articulated/proactive links, follows in this post.