Notes from New Sodom

... rantings, ravings and ramblings of strange fiction writer, THE.... Sodomite Hal Duncan!!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Racebending and Integration

From Racebending.com, the site set up to protest the whitewashing of characters in the Last Airbender Movie:

Earlier today, the Facebook group People Against Racebending: Protest of the Cast of The Last Airbender Movie was removed by Facebook. The group has been around since the early days of the protest (Dec. 2008) and as of last week had almost 6,000 members.

For anyone who isn't up to speed on the issues here, M. Night Shyamalan's movie adaptation of the cartoon series Avatar: The Last Airbender made no small stir when it whitewashed the diverse ethnicities of the original characters. And if you're thinking that, as a Hollywood movie, that just means they sought out the best actors they could get, and just couldn't find minority actors of the calibre, no. Go take a look at the egregious casting calls that make it very clear they were actively seeking white actors in preference to "any other ethnicity." And if you're thinking simply, oh that's horrible... again, no. That's segregation.

As far as I know, no-one else has been putting that name to this state of affairs in the media. But I do know that the people at Racebending.com saw it as important enough to protest. As one does in this day and age, they set up a Facebook group as a virtual gathering of voices raised to object.

Now here's the email they received:

From: Facebook (generic notification email)
Date: Mon, Mar 15, 2010 at 12:38 PM
Subject: Facebook Warning
To: (personal email redacted)

Hello,

The group “People Against Racebending: Protest of the Cast of The Last Airbender Movie” has been removed because it violated our Terms of Use. Among other things, groups that are hateful, threatening, or obscene are not allowed. We also take down groups that attack an individual or group, or advertise a product or service. Continued misuse of Facebook’s features could result in your account being disabled.

If you have any questions or concerns, you can visit our FAQ page at http://www.facebook.com/help/?topic=wgroups.

The Facebook Team


This is utterly abhorrent. I've said it before, and I'll say it again, this is not some trivial little issue of under-representation in the media. This is not about "political correctness." This is not about "quotas." This example in particular brings that home, in the elimination of ethnic diversity that has taken place, and now -- now -- the closing down of protest: that this is about the fucking active exclusion of the abjected from the mainstream. So the faggots can play the Gay Best Friend, and the niggers -- and I use that word as a mark of the fury I feel that this is how people of colour are still being treated -- can play the Magic Negro. And the Asians can play the shopkeepers and token friends and sage advisors. But never the hero.

There is a word for what this is.

SEGREGATION.

The Last Airbender movie is not just a movie. In an earlier post on my blog, a sentiment repeated in one of my BSC Review column, writing from my own queer perspective, I said this:

"Segregation still exists in the media, in the movies and the TV shows, where the abject is absented, where there is the default and the deviant, the "normal" and the "abnormal". In the media, in the mainstream, the default is white, straight, able-bodied, and so on. And those of us who watch those media, as members of any group abjected on the basis of some marker of deviance from that default, we thirst for stories in which we are represented. We thirst for the art and entertainment that refreshes and replenishes. Sometimes we have our own water-fountains to quench that thirst -- queer television, queer cinema -- movies and shows that deal with our lives, our issues. This is good. But as long as we are excluded, as long as we are allowed into the mainstream only when it is "important to the story," as long as we can walk into those stories only to carry out set roles in service of the white, straight, able-bodied heroes and heroines -- as Magic Negroes or as Gay Best Friends -- this is still segregation."

The Last Airbender is a water-fountain with a sign above it reading WHITES ONLY. Worse, The Last Airbender is a water-fountain that was once accessible to people of all colours, over which that sign has been nailed: WHITES ONLY. And what was the Facebook group People Against Racebending? That Facebook group was no more and no less than a crowd gathered at that water-fountain to raise their voices in protest, to say in no uncertain terms: this is unjust.

In closing down that protest, Facebook have become the latter-day guard dogs of segregation, sent in to break up a peaceful demonstration. They have become the National Guardsmen firing over the heads of those whose only crime is to take a stand. They have become the policemen turning the water-cannon on the crowd of concerned citizens whose cause is, as it was in 1969, only the justice and equality of integration. They have become the willing enforcers of an inequitable and iniquitous social order of segregation.

If you say to me that this comparison is unfair, that the whitewashing of a mere movie is trivial when held against the tangible injustices and outright persecution that the Civil Rights movement fought against, I would say to you that in every movie, every TV show, every novel, every story is the water of life. I would say to you that fiction refreshes and replenishes the soul. I would say to you that art can bring hope where there is despair, transform sorrow into joy, inspire action in place of anger. I would say that without the water of life our souls can only shrivel and die within us, but with it... with it we may blossom and bring forth the fruit of the greatest of human endeavours. I would say to you that Martin Luther King himself knew the importance of integration in the media when he personally urged Nichelle Nichols not to give up her role as Lt. Uhura on Star Trek, when he told her she could not, that it was vital to have this role model for black children and young women.

"Once that door is opened by someone," he said, "no one else can close it again."

Oh, but The Last Airbender has set a guardian on that door. Facebook has set a guardian on that door. And where one has turned away those who would enter, the other has turned away those who would protest that refusal.

I say again that this is SEGREGATION and there is no place for it in the 21st century. There is no fucking place for it in the fucking 21st fucking century. There is no excuse. There is no justification. In the age of social networking sites, to close down a protest group as "hateful, threatening or obscene," where it has done no more and no less than take a stand against segregation -- this is to turn the water-cannons on a peaceful crowd. Even if there is incompetence at play here, it is incompetence that has made itself the willing enforcer of prejudice. If it is ignorance, it is ignorance in the service of such injustice that there is no defense for it.

I call out Facebook for what it is: segregationist.

I call out The Last Airbender for what it is: segregationist.

I call out M. Night Shyamalan for what he is: segregationist.

I call out Nickelodeon Movies and Paramount Pictures for what they are: segregationist.

I call out any who think this state of affairs is acceptable, who think the whitewashing of this major Hollywood movie makes no difference, who think that Facebook is entitled to shut down the voices of the abject on these most spurious of grounds. To dismiss the cause of integration, even through complacency, is to condemn the abject to the continuance of the system. If not by active support then by passive acceptance, those who would shrug this off are validating segregation with their indifference.

These are the water-fountains of today, that men, women and children are being turned away from because of the colour of their skin. And I will be damned if I'll stand by while the water-cannons quash dissent. I sincerely hope that others will join me in acknowledging this for what it is, not mincing words and offering mild condemnations, but pointing to the cold hard truth of those signs that read, WHITES ONLY. I'll say it again, and I'll keep fucking saying it until segregation is dismantled and integration stands in its place.

We will no longer be turned away from the water-fountains, for the water is the water of life, and it is and must be for all who are thirsty.

Labels:

16 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

BRAVO!

11:58 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hal Duncan, you are a lyrical genius and really stand-up guy! Encore!

12:34 am  
Blogger Eric Rosenfield said...

Yeah, I'm so glad I deleted my Facebook account a while ago.

This Avatar thing is fucking ridiculous and as a fan of the show makes me really angry.

You know, though, I think the movie will go the way of the last film to perpetrate this kind of racism and alienate its own fanbase, and that was the Dragonball film. In other words, it will disappear.

1:15 am  
OpenID nemogbr said...

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0938283/board/thread/159328324

Read your post and had to agree. Had to repost a link to a thread in imdb.

11:54 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow you are a complete douche. I bet you haven't even considered that there could be any other explanation behind any of these definitions. You jump to conclusions and then proceed to pretend you are Martin Luther King Jr. leading a civil right march. Get off your high horse and stop being such a tool.

3:51 pm  
Blogger Colin Meier said...

And yet Facebook have (and have had for over a year) a group called
"It's Adam and Eve...Not Adam and Steve!!!"

If that isn't "hateful" and doesn't "attack" a "group", I don't know what does.

The description says "This group is not against gay people...but it is just for normal people."

(Admittedly, it only has 71 members...)

7:09 pm  
Blogger Hal Duncan said...

And you, Anonymouse, are a bumptious oaf, as arrogant as you are ignorant in your bluster. If all you can bring to bear to dismiss a call for integration in the media is shouts of "douche" and "tool", then you are no better than the froth-mouthed bigots of 1969, spitting venom at those who would protest an injustice you refuse to recognise.

Is there any argument in your comment? No. Is there even any sense to it? You think that "there could be any other explanation behind any of these definitions"? There are no "definitions" being explained here. What we're talking about is actions:

1) The Last Airbender movie whitewashing the characters of the cartoon.

2) Facebook closing down the protest group.

The explanations for these actions are self-evident. They are on the record.

The casting calls for The Last Airbender are there to be seen, a demonstration plain as your face that Hollywood is still shying away from casting people of colour in leading roles. The very best that can be said is that they do this not because the individuals involved are themselves actively prejudiced, but because they are cravenly pandering to the prejudices of the public, in fear that if they don't it will harm the box office. At best they are selling segregation to satisfy those who want it, segregationists not on principle but for the sake of expedience. This is contemptible.

The email from Facebook states explicitly their unsound rationale. The best that can be said is that they closed down the protest group not because they are themselves actively prejudiced, but because they were ignorant and incompetent, responding automatically to the groundless complaints of bigots, not stopping to consider the validity of those complaints and the ethics of their action, but simply caving to the pressure of segregationists and reviewing their response only in the face of a public backlash. As I said above, this is not an excuse I accept.

I am not jumping to conclusions, simply describing the situation as it is and calling for change. I am not setting myself up as some leader of a civil rights march, simply speaking on the platform of my own blog, because no one can turn the water-cannons on me here and close down the dissent. I am not pretending to be Martin Luther King Jr., simply pointing to him, referencing his struggle in a comparison that is valid, quoting his words to show why it is valid, to show how he himself cared as much about what faces were allowed on TV or movie screens as he did about what mouths were allowed on this or that water-fountain.

If you cannot see -- if you refuse to see -- why I and others like me care so deeply about such matters, I pity the poverty of your soul. I can only hope that over time you may find someone close to you, someone who you cannot help but empathise with, who can open your eyes to the reality, make it clear to you how profoundly people can be affected by these issues you dismiss. I hope this for your sake as much as anyone's.

But do not think for a fucking second that your blindness and hollowness of heart gives you the right to shut me up. Do not think for a fucking second that you can come to my blog and tell me what to say and what not to say on it, to get off my "high horse". The arrant presumption of such petty-minded and mean-spirited gall will only strengthen my resolve, stoke my passion and galvanize me to stand firmer and push harder. You are the very root of the problem, Anonymouse, you and others like you. You are the voice of ignorance and arrogance -- ignorant because you close your eyes to the reality, arrogant because you demand that others do the same. You are the voice of segregation, Anonymouse, and I leave your comment here as an example.

Ignorant. Arrogant. Heartless. Mindless. Gutless.

Segregationist.

Now, get the fuck off my fucking blog, fuckwit.

7:55 pm  
Blogger Colin Meier said...

After ^^ that, you should retitle your blog "The Better Mousetrap". :)

Hal, I imagine at some point in your childhood, someone must have said "If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything."

Thank you for not listening. It would have made life very boring for the rest of us.

6:23 am  
Blogger Jakob Schmidt said...

So, it's the Earthsea thing all over again ... really, what's wrong with the people making these movies? It's not as if there weren't enough examples of movies with non-white leading actors that are commercially successful. (I think "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" did quite well in the US).
On a sidenote, I just read that when George Romero gave out the casting call for his "Night of the Living Dead", he didn't mention any preferred "ethnicity" for his lead. It's that laudable approach which made it so relevant that african-american actor Duane Jones landed the part. NOTLD made us see something about the workings of racism by putting an african american in the lead position, where we would normally expect a white actor. It's really a great example for how, on the one hand, race shouldn't matter and how on the other hand, it sadly does, and how we have to take into account that it does matter.
And that was back in 1968!

11:38 am  
Blogger Hal Duncan said...

Colin: I know some say, "Don't feed the troll." I say, "Feed it the legs it doesn't have to stand on."

Jakob: That's fascinating re NotLD. One of the things that makes that movie truly great to me has always been the resonances of the final scenes / closing titles. With a white actor, I can see it working as a sucker punch, and having been written that way from the off. But with the colour relationships between the redneck posse and Jones, the dehumanisation in the way the corpses are handled with meathooks opens up a whole new level of real-world horror. For me, that's what makes it great rather than just really good.

8:50 pm  
Blogger Robert Reed III said...

Hal, I lived your blog post/rant.

Hollywood is a business cartel. They have a monopoly on the movies that are created, sent to theaters, and sold in the US. Anything that is not Hollywood is, of course, "indie". There have been racial problems in Hollywood for a long time. For instance, there is the lack of good interracial relationships between black men and white women in movies. Even while Save The Last Dance has proven that such movies can be wildly popular, they are still a rarity, much more rare than real life. And then Asian men cannot get any pussy in movies. They can't get white pussy, black pussy, or even Asian pussy. Asians are either martial arts experts, or nerd computer programmers.

Even while the world continues to progress, even as younger generations move away from racism, Hollywood refuses to follow suit. Hollywood has not progressed since 1990...period.

I say, fuck Hollywood. We live in a new era. We no longer have to take what Hollywood gives us. We can make our own movies. Making indie films and distributing them is easier and cheaper than ever. If you have a digital camcorder and a PC, then you can make your own movie. There are tons of free software that you can use to make your movie. There are many video editing softwares, computer animation software, etc.

I think that a new movement should be started. This would be a grass-roots movement of people dedicated to making and distributing movies. I say, if Hollywood refuses to gives us what we really want (or actually, regardless of that), then we should take control and give ourselves the movies we want. I am not a film geek, but I am a video game geek. I am creating my own indie futuristic console-style RPG. It is not really because of a beef I have with current game developers and publishers. Rather, I have a story to tell, one that you will typically not see in an RPG. Like the movie industry, the game industry can be resistant to change. You see the same formulas and same stereotypes over and over again. And my game will break strongly from many of the cliches that JRPGs tend to have.

6:06 pm  
Blogger Colin Meier said...

My two cents...

Robert - yeah, creating "indie" productions is of course one way of circumventing Hollywood and the Hollywood-mentality.

However, it really only works if the production you want to make is your own creation.

In this particular instance (and similar instances) it doesn't actually help -- if you want to produce a faithful adaptation of an existing cartoon, or an existing book, you need the money to buy the option. Hollywood has that money, so they get first dibs.

You could, of course, blame the authors (or their agents) for "selling out" to Hollywood. But to be frank, if I had published a book, I'd rather have it in the hands of a production team who've proved themselves in the past. (Well, it would depend on the book, I suppose - most indie filmmakers can't afford to stage spectacular space battles...but they can do decent kitchen-sink drama very faithfully).

Each author is different, of course - Hal, if Vellum were optioned, would you rather see it in the hands of Hollywood (say, David Fincher), or an indie director on his first movie?

6:57 pm  
Blogger Hal Duncan said...

Robert, Colin: Food for thought. I'm posting my response up-front, cause it goes off into queer cinema and my own stake in it, and I don't want to turn this thread away from the racebending issue and onto... well... me.

7:19 pm  
Blogger Hal Duncan said...

UPDATE, since I've noticed some quite recent linkage to this post: Facebook has since restored the protest group. That doesn't change the fact that it happened in the first place.

12:02 am  
Blogger paganation said...

I must agree with you Hal. I was so sad to see white people playing yellow people. Look I'm white and I want to see yellow/Asian/Inuit people in the Airbender world because that is who they are! Geesh, this movie will make money because we Airbender fans want to see it. With yellow face.

Ok, I know, you know that, but that's so much for your group and protest. I so wanted to see the Airbender movie but I just can't. I'll rewatch the cartoon.

5:27 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is especially disgraceful, being that M Night is a person of color.

However, I must call out the poster who protested the lack of people of color getting "pussy" in movies.

Come on, dude. Protesting racism with a misogynistic comment is hypocritical at best and stoopid at worst.

Women are not "pussy." We do not like being refered to as "pussy." Please resist the temptation in the future.

I do not have a google account, so I must sign in as anonymous...but, you can find me on lif3journal under ChoChiyo

5:18 am  

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