The Prince of Airbending: Donald Glover

2 06 2010

Last week this article and this site got me very angry at Hollywood and myself. Two huge tent pole movies this summer have been completely whitewashed and I was about to lie down and accept it. The movies I speak of are Disney’s Prince of Persia (released last Friday) and Paramount’s The Last Airbender.  Both films would have called for some ethnic lead characters, and yet, neither of these studios cast any Persians or Asians in the respective roles. Ultimately, I was not going to do this blog because I could not come up with a counter to the argument of why it was even important to have racial diversity in America cinema. But a comedian and a few Facebook users gave me incentive and motivation to stop being lazy and speak up! In short, I am heated.

It could happen.

A few days ago Donald Glover’s (Derrick Comedy and Community) name came up as a possible candidate to play the next Peter Parker after Marc Bernadin, a writer for the sci-fi site io9.com said: “In this day and age, why does Spidey have to be a white guy?” When I first heard reports of Glover as Spider Man I thought it was funny and I jokingly supported the idea but after reading Bernadin’s article I asked myself why does Spidey have to be a white guy? So via Twitter/Facebook I posted, “If The Last Airbender & Prince of Persia can be white. Then GODDAMNIT [Donald Glover] can be Spider Man!” I expected to get a lot of likes and agreements but I was shocked to see comments like “What!? He is an iconic character known for a certain look: The geeky white boy” and “Spider Man 3 was the last disaster, I don’t want to see another. “ WHAT!? I could not believe what I was reading! Movies like Dragon Ball: Evolution, Prince of Persia and The Last Airbender have leads that are completely whitewashed and no one seems to care but the second someone proposes the idea of a black Spider Man and people go mad! It does not make sense to me!

Some say that casting a black Spider Man would be a form of reverse discrimination and my respond to that is codswallop! Spider Man (and more notably Peter Parker) is the epitome of the “everyman character.” If ever there were a character that could be any race, whether it were African, Asian or Latin American, Spider Man is the one. On the other hand, the Prince of PERSIA is specifically Persian. Aang and Goku are specifically Asian, and yet, they are whitewashed without anyone batting an eyelash. I take great issue with the fact that we overlook the importance of racial diversity in today’s movies. If we cannot accept a minority Spider Man but allow several whitewashed movies something is terribly wrong with our current state-of-minds.

Aang in "The Last Airbender" (2010)

It upsets me that the only time we can get an ethnic character in any semi-leading role is as the villain. This year’s The Last Airbender previously had an all-white leading cast. Formally, Jesse McCarty was set to play the villain Prince Zuko but was then replaced by Slumdog Millionaire’s Dev Patel. Paramount claims, “Night’s vision of ‘The Last Airbender’ includes a large and ethnically diverse cast that represents cultures from around the world.” The problem is that most of that diversity only seems suitable for the minor characters, background performers and antagonists.

American cinema should reflect American society. After all, art imitates life, right? It is important that we see more ethnic faces on the screen, especially as leading roles. At the very least we should see the same ratio of movies as we have in our population, but studies from racebender.com show that Paramount can’t even managed that! I don’t think it is important so much for adults as it is for kids. My favorite super heroes growing up were Blank Man and Meteor Man, though I’m sure most of you don’t know who either of those two are. For me, it’s really important to see someone on screen that I can relate to, whether that is socially or racially. I’m more prone to relate to the outcast character or the token black guy because I’ve grown up “playing” those roles in life. Kids are very easy to mold and manipulate and I don’t like the message the media is sending to them.

Meteor Man (Jefferson Reed, 1993)

There is some good being done in Hollywood and entertainment as well, don’t get me wrong. Green Lantern recently was depicted as a black man instead of a white one in one of the latest Justice League cartoons, Power Rangers has had a few ethnic leaders and recently we had our first black Disney princess in The Princess and the Frog (though we still have no black prince!). Still, it took me awfully too long to come up with those names and titles when I can spout off several heroes like Superman, Iron Man, Batman, Spiderman, James Bond, Neo, Rocky, Harry Potter, Indiana Jones and Luke Skywalker off the top of my head. But I want to see more characters like Blade, El Mariachi and Bruce Lee and I feel some of the recent movies and television shows we’ve been receiving have not met that standard. At the end of the day, it does not matter if Donald Glover is the next Spider Man or not but I feel it’s really important that the entertainment industry sees past this as media hype and look more into its racial relevance.

UPDATE (6-26-10): One of my friends and mentors, Damian Gonzalez, has brought it to my attention that one of my statements was wrong and inaccurate. The blame should not fall on Paramount and Hollywood solely. Paramount, other movie and television studios are a business, they pander to the almighty dollar. As great web shows like Beyond the Trailer and Movie Preview Critic would say, it is up to us, the audience, to decide what movies we watch. Whenever we pay for a movie ticket we are voluntarily supporting that movie, though in the vast sum of ticket sales our purchase may seem small. So it is up to you and me to be the change we want to see in the world. For me, I want to see a change in white-washing practices in Hollywood. Therefore, I will not be watching The Last Airbender when it does come out and if you feel the same, you should too. In the great words of the movie preview critic: “Hollywood gives more of what we pay for so choose wisely.”

QUOTES OF THE DAY:

“It’s not enough to say that “everyone is equal” or “discrimination is wrong.” Those concepts are too complex for young kids to understand. Explicit, direct statements about race and skin color work best. “

– Racebending.com

“Be the change you want to see in the world.”

– Mahatma Ghandi

Bruce Lee

Peace and Much ❤

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