Slumdog’s Patel Brings Diversity to Shyamalan’s ‘Last Airbender’


Over the course of the last few months we’ve received somewhere in the vicinity of 9 million emails from activists groups complaining about the casting of M. Night Shyamalan’s live-action adaptation of the hit Nickelodeon cartoon The Last Airbender. You see, these groups are not happy that the show has deeps roots in Asian culture, yet all of the main characters that have been cast thus far are pale-faced white kids. It would be like making a movie about an Indian Guru, then casting Mike Myers. Absolutely absurd.

Some of these angry folks can rejoice though, as today Variety is reporting that one of the more controversial casting choices has been overturned in their favor, sort of. Shyamalan has found a new actor to fill the role of Zuko, a part originally intended for pop singer Jesse McCartney. Instead of McCartney, who had conflicts with his career as a musician, the role will be played by Slumdog Millionaire star Dev Patel. Now I know that Patel isn’t exactly Asian — hell, he’s not even exactly Indian, as he was born in the UK (to Hindu parents from Kenya) — but at least he’s not white, right? Doesn’t that count for something, activists groups who just won’t let this go?

While I can’t say for sure how much this is going to affect the quality of the movie — I’ve never read the book — I do acknowledge the appropriate nature of the reaction from fans. They are probably expecting Shyamalan to make an earnest adaptation of an animated series that they dearly love, and in doing so they are right to expect that he cast appropriately. The disconnect could be in Shyamalan’s vision — could it be that his version will be fit for a much ‘whiter’ cast? Maybe he is dumping some of the Asian culture and giving it all a different spin. Then again, that would probably create even more outrage from the fans. Either way, I don’t think this is what fans had in mind when they started a letter-writing campaign.

What do you think about this Last Airbender situation?

Neil Miller is the Founder and Publisher of Film School Rejects. For almost a decade, he has been talking movies on television, the radio, and the Internet.

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