Today is the opening of the film “The Last Airbender”, a show based on Avatar, the animated series that I played the role of Prince Zuko, one if the lead characters. Now, with this event happening, I have been getting numerous emails and questions of how I feel on the casting of the film and ultimately does it warrant a boycott.
Now some come from fans that would have like to see me play the role I originated for the series, they want to see me play Zuko on the big screen, and I must admit, I would have loved to do the role. I was told many of the producers were pushing to make that happen but M. Night Shymalan, the director of the film had another vision. Also him casting his country man Dev Patel, doesn’t bother me, he’s a fine young actor and I’m sure he’ll do a great job. For other’s the question of boycott comes from the casting of the other character, mainly, Ang, Katara and Sokka. For those that may not know the series, when you break it down to the bottomline, many feel that “white” kids were cast as roles that were supposed to be “asian” kids from the series.
Now here is where the boycott question comes in, especially from the Asian American community and it’s weighed heavy on my mind in these last few months. And this film is not alone in this problem. Recently “Prince of Persia” had the same dilema with Jake Gyllenhaal playing the lead, and my fiance is Persian, so I was able to hear the point of view of that community.
Should Hollywood be able to cast “white” actors to play “ethnic” roles?
Believe me, as an actor, it’s no easy answer. My first gut feeling is, the best actor should be cast for the job no matter race… But maybe that’s just an ideal that is unreal when it comes to making a movie, and making a big budget movie at that. See, my whole career is based on playing roles that were not written race specific, matter fact, if I had to wait for Hollywood to come along with a script for a Filipino American, I would have no career at all.
The fact of the matter is, in Hollywood… it’s not fair. It’s not fair at all, the tables are tipped unfavorably for ethnic actors. The percentage of roles for ethnic actors to white actors is something to the effect of: in 100 roles, there may be 12 roles for black actors, maybe 7 for latin actors and only maybe 2 for asian actors. And with stats like this, its a little distressing that when actual roles for Asians come in a big budget film, they don’t get cast. Now I understand if you have to cast a big star like a Jake Gyllenhaal to warrant a budget in the hundreds of millions, but I think its different when you are casting unknown actors and children at that, with a franchise with an almost guaranteed. I think it’s a missed opportunity for the voice and the face of the Asian community, when will a project like this and of tis magnitude come along again? I don’t know the young actors they cast, I hope they do a great job, I myself was a child actor and I know the stress and joy booking a big film like this could be. but the crime is not giving the opportunity some Asian kids. See, we wonder why there are no real Asian stars in America, part of the reason is because of things that happen like this. Stars don’t just happen out of thin air, Hollywood helps make them. This was an opportunity to give the chance to some Asian kids to become stars for the future generation and we missed it. See, if you can get some Asian actors in the machine of Hollywood and they exist as a viable commodity, it can spark more projects that can support the voice and face of the Asian community and level the playing ground a little. But when we can’t even land roles that were so clearly created as Asian roles, its a bit disheartening. At least Dev Patel got cast, even though, I wanted to play the role, originally they had Jesse McCartney cast to play Prince Zuko.
So… to boycott or not? I still feel a loyalty to the whole project, I helped to make it popular and I hope the film does justice to a near perfect animated series. 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.