I liked Nickelodeon's Avatar: The Last Airbender. I won't say I was a die-hard fan, but I thought the writing was funny and clever and heartfelt, and I enjoyed myself a lot whenever I got the chance to watch it. I liked how the characters grew realistically, how they bantered with one another, how they felt like people I'd enjoy knowing in real life.
It is for this very reason that I refuse to watch M. Night Shyamalan's new live-action adaptation.
Shyamalan has thrown away an excellent opportunity. He could have used this as an opportunity to introduce unknown Asian-American actors to the movie-going public, in a fantasy setting which celebrates Asian culture; instead, he specifically requested white actors, and put them in what amounts to yellowface for their roles.
The few actors in the movie who aren't white are Middle-Eastern or Mediterranean, and they're all cast as villains. Zuko and Uncle Iroh were my two favorite characters in the series, and I loved watching Zuko's personality unfold, discovering the hurt and need for acceptance which drove a talented young man like him to such rage and self-loathing. I feel like it's a slap in the face, that they can't be played by Asian actors, that they can't even be played by white actors, but they're reduced to mere caricatures of "terrorists", an insult to Middle-Eastern people, and the American audiences whose buttons Hollywood thinks it can push.
And lastly, the cartoon is just fine as-is. I have no need to pay eight dollars to see the same story retold, with different (less-talented) actors, compressed and edited into a fraction of the time. Part of the joy I got from the original series was its blend of Asian and American storytelling styles. Like an American TV show, any episode could be watched on its own, in any order. But like an Asian series, the show had a unified story arc which stretched across the season, allowing those who watched regularly to gain a deeper understanding of the characters.
In conclusion, I borrow the words of Angry Asian Man, a much better blogger than myself, who quite eloquently summed it all up in a few words, during an interview with Mr. Shyamalan himself: "...[T]his is not about a bunch of fanboys being upset about how you’ve messed with their favorite cartoon. This is about an absolute failure to acknowledge and understand the broader context of race and representation, and how it’s being played out, once again, in this movie — a project many believed would be an unprecedented opportunity for Asians in a major Hollywood project."