I don’t claim to be an expert on Chinese or Asian culture, but I can assure you we took great caution to make sure the show felt right. Yes, it’s a make-believe land, but we were clearly borrowing from a lot of Asian tradition and mythos (and of course inuit culture, and …even Star Wars). Our worst fear was that the show would come across offensive, either blatantly or unintentionally.
That’s what makes the casting on the Airbender movie so embarrassing. It completely undid all the care we put it into the cartoon.
Make no mistake, I’m not writing this to bash M. Night. For all I know, it may not have even been his call to cast white people in the prominent roles of the film. You’d be surprised how subservient even big name directors are in this business. If his superiors insisted that an asian cast would equal a lower box office performance, there’s not a lot you can do to protest short of walking away from the project. Believe me, I’ve been there on a much smaller scale myself. It happens all the time.
I’m excited that the Avatar universe is back in the right hands. I’m relieved that Mike and Bryan are telling the story of heroic, female character with brown skin - character traits that toy companies normally shun in fear of low toy sales (“But girl characters are hard enough to sell - and now you want to make her black??”) Way to break all the rules, guys! I hope the show KICKS ASS."