tagged w/ Racebending
Unlike so many of my fellow geeks, I'm not a huge Akira fan. (It kinda freaked me out when I was younger. Maybe I would like it more now that I'm older, but I digress.) But this article asks some pretty damning questions about the live action remake. The most important one to me is #4: "Why did you think a race change was even necessary?"
This reeks of "Here we go again!"
http://www.cracked.com/blog/5-urgent-questions-about-live-action-akira-remake/Unlike so many of my fellow geeks, I'm not a huge Akira fan. (It kinda freaked me... more
On December 30th, 2009, Cardinal was made a Member of the Order of Canada “for her contributions to the growth and development of Aboriginal performing arts in Canada, as a screen and stage actress, and as a founding member of the Saskatchewan Native Theatre Company.”
Racebending.com contributor Gabriel Canada interviewed Tantoo Cardinal over the phone in July 2010.
NOTE: The opinions espoused by the interviewees represent their viewpoints alone, and do not necessarily represent the views held by the staff of racebending.com
RACEBENDING.COM: You’ve said in the past, that you first started acting as an extension of your involvement in the political movement’s of the 1960’s. You have said you wanted to change the way our [Native American] history was told. Can you elaborate on this for our readers?
TANTOO CARDINAL: I came through a time when our history was not handled justly in the recording of events. It was just coming to terms with how we were being portrayed, how we were being treated. This was a time when the only real avenues of expression were political. This was before any art involvement. I always felt we were being maligned, and if only people could see how we are in the community–with our songs and dance, our stories, the way people express themselves–then they could know who we are.
RACEBENDING.COM: When you were starting out as an actress, the Canadian Content Policy was also coming in at the time. It has been singled out as having a huge impact on Native actors. What was it? How did it affect you?
TANTOO CARDINAL: It created a mandate for Canadian content in cinema. It made Canadian film makers who did Canadian stories use Canadian actors and provided funding for filmmakers to make these movies. In that same germ of thought there was an issue of personal pride–that maybe we should have Native peoples playing Native roles. It was kind of a pushback since America was really taking over much of our culture in Canada.
RACEBENDING.COM: Were there any actors or actresses you admired growing up, or that informed your portrayals throughout your career?
TANTOO CARDINAL: No. Certainly not actresses. There were no Indian women I could look at on screen. I guess my inspiration would be, you know when you see stellar actors like Audrey Hepburn playing an Indian woman. I felt I might not know about acting but hey, I know about being an Indian Woman. I’m an Indian!
RACEBENDING.COM: In watching your films again before this interview, one was very striking–Black Robe–having been widely criticized for its violent depictions of Native peoples.
TANTOO CARDINAL: Well, Black Robe was based on Church records. Our side of the story was not told, it was the Church’s perspective. Hopefully, there will be an opportunity to show our perspective, in our time in history.
RACEBENDING.COM: It was also a very three dimensional film. There was a mix of humor and sexuality that isn’t often found in Hollywood depictions of First Nation peoples. What do you think it will take to get more three dimensional roles like that for First Nations actors?
TANTOO CARDINAL: If we had the cash Black Robe had, with the filmmakers that have incubated and come out in these last few years, we could make a pretty dazzling movie that would tell our story.
RACEBENDING.COM: Speaking of big-budget depictions of First Nation peoples, there have been several high-profile examples, in recent years, of Hollywood “racebending” Native Peoples– by taking native characters from source material but casting white actors in their place. Most notably, this happened in The Last Airbender. What do you think it would take for Hollywood to give that same big budget to Native American film makers and actors?
TANTOO CARDINAL: It would take the world turning upside down.
RACEBENDING.COM: Was it the same for you starting out in the industry?
TANTOO CARDINAL: Racism and sexism have not been eradicated. When I started out, I was sitting in audition halls with white girls with all this brown makeup on and cheap turquoise jewelry. Somehow I made it in, thanks to a want for authenticity. Those struggles still persist, you know.
“Racism and sexism have not been eradicated. When I started out, I was sitting in audition halls with white girls with all this brown makeup on and cheap turquoise jewelry. Somehow I made it in, thanks to a want for authenticity.”
Someone asked me in my forties about being in my forties and how I felt with roles not available to women in their forties. Well, that’s the story of my career. Starting out, you see roles aren’t available. And then, all along the way, roles aren’t available. So it’s not a new element. It’s very frustrating for me to even watch movies because of that. There are many roles I feel I could have performed.
In America, however, they still see us [Native Americans] as dead. I don’t know what it’s going to take, but there is a serious denial element in American society. They don’t want to look at their potty training days. They tried to annihilate us. They destroyed our economic base at every opportunity, so I just sit back and watch now.
There has to be a major shakeup for us to be treated as equal human beings. Our stories, our characters, our being, has to be accepted as equal humanity to those who have the purse strings. Thank goodness we have allies, thanks goodness we have human beings who believe we’re human beings now.
There has to be a major shakeup for us to be treated as equal human beings. Our stories, our characters, our being, has to be accepted as equal humanity to those who have the purse strings.”
They don’t have any confidence they can make the money back with us. They just seem uninterested. I don’t know whether it’s guilt, or people thinking it’s just yesterday, I don’t know what the elements are. You’d have to talk to people who don’t consider us interesting or valuable.
There is also a situation where an adept filmmaker isn’t trusted with the budget unless a white filmmaker is alongside. I’d say that scenario was prevalent about fifteen years ago. It’s just a persistence among our artists that’s needed. You have to make it with peanuts and pop bottle budgets.
RACEBENDING.COM: There have been more than four thousand movies, over the course of the history of film, that feature First Nation peoples. With all of that out there, and the success of so many of those films–including your own that feature First Nation people so prominently–why do you think that fear of financial viability still exists?
TANTOO CARDINAL: I think It’s racism. You know, I played a lead in an independent film in Vermont. We had the hardest time just getting it in to screen at Sundance.
RACEBENDING.COM: It really is an incredible situation considering the films you have been in. They haven’t just had an impact on Native cinema, but on cinema as a whole. Black Robe won best Canadian film of the year, Dances with Wolves was nominated for seven Oscars, Legends of the Fall won for best cinematography and you still have to fight to get into Sundance. Just a few years later your film Smoke Signals would win the Audience Prize and Film Makers prize at the same festival. It’s an incredible success for these films, but that success hasn’t translated to wins for Native Actors themselves. Why is that?
TANTOO CARDINAL: Can you imagine, if we had all been white actors? What that would have done for our careers? You talk about a glass ceiling. We have a moon high ceiling. More than just a hundred years of cinema history, it’s four centuries of history. It has more to do with the respect of society as a whole.On December 30th, 2009, Cardinal was made a Member of the Order of Canada “for... more
I never intended to see this film. A lot of folks aren't for the simple fact of the race issues behind its casting, but it seems that there is another good reason to avoid the film: it's bad. With a Rottentomatoes rating of 9%, it can't be good.
"Shyamalan has boiled every epic heroic story of the past 20 years down to its most basic, primal soup-y essence, so he can spray it all over the audience, in a kind of Hero's-Journey bukkake. You will be finding chunks of Joseph Campbell's calcified spooge behind your ears for three days after watching this film, no matter how many times you bathe." -- io9
"The Last Airbender" is an agonizing experience in every category I can think of and others still waiting to be invented. The laws of chance suggest that something should have gone right. Not here. It puts a nail in the coffin of low-rent 3D, but it will need a lot more coffins than that." -- Roger Ebert
[see also http://www.racebending.com]I never intended to see this film. A lot of folks aren't for the simple fact of... more
One of the most infamous cases of the practice of Yellowface the equivalent of Blackface for Asians in Hollywood is the portrayal of the warlord Gengis Khan by John Wayne in the film, The Conqueror. Five decades later one would think that attitudes would have changed and the practice of casting white actors for historically Asian or ethnic characters would have changed let alone altering them with makeup to fit caricatures of a people but sadly it hasn't. The same story is playing out now as Mickey Rourke has been cast in a retelling of this story. Unlike the John Wayne film Mickey Rourke will be filming in China, Mongolia, and India for the role undoubtedly with people who could claim to be descendants of the Khan's as background roles and arrow fodder while Rourke plays their cultures hero. This is far from Sin City or Iron Man rather this is an iron clad cinematic sin.
We at the Otaku group recently profiled a series of recent cases at first independently and then with our profile of the racebending group linking what is becoming a disturbingly clear pattern. With the adaptations of Dragonball, The Last Airbender, Prince of Persia, Akira, the Weapon, etc all fictional adaptations whose source material featured Asian heroes and it's Hollywood adaptation replaced them with Caucasian actors. We echo the sentiment of the folks at cinematical who brought this most recent case to our attention, who titled their article you gotta be kidding me!
Hollywood has a checkered past in portrayals of Asians in cinema. There has never been a single instance where a white historical figure has been portrayed by an Asian actor in American cinema while the reverse is playing out in the present as it has in the past. Hollywood has even rewarded this practice. Two Oscars have been awarded to white actresses portraying Asians once in 1937 for the Good Earth a novel based on cultural identity in which that identity was changed to "Eurasian" white rather than Asian, removing the social commentary about racism and the attitudes of the day on mecegination. The second Oscar even came not to a white woman playing an Asian woman and not in the 1930's but playing an Asian man in the 1980's! Awarded to linda Hunt, in the year of living dangerously. It is also worth pointing out that seven films featuring blackface were also nominated for Oscars. The point being it wasn't a fringe practice in Hollywood rather it was the accepted and rewarded status quo that benefited white actors and as the Academy being self selecting and still overwhelmingly white continued to reward white actors regardless of the context of their roles. It didn't end blackface out of it's conscience it rewarded it and found it preferable to hiring black actors for roles as evidenced by the Oscars it handed out to those performances. It ended it because the public refused to pay good money on a bad cinematical practice and we need to send the message that Yellowface to is a practice we won't pay to see.
Arguably the most famous detective novels of their day, Charlie Chan stared an Asian detective and was based on the real life exploits of detectives in Hawaii yet Hollywood cast a caucasian in the role through more than three decades of it's popular portrayal on the silver screen. When Bruce Lee pitched the idea for Kung Fu after the success of the Green Hornet the studio took the idea but cast Keith Karadine instead of lee telling the prominent oscar nominated actor Mako who was helping lee pitch the project that whites would simply turn the tv sets off if they saw an Asian man play a hero. To be clear the studio favored Keith Caradine over an Oscar nominee and the man who went on to have two of the top ten grossing films of the following decade. Indignities like this that Mako saw within Americas acting community on stage, screen, and tv pushed him to create the East West Players to advance Asian American actors and when he was nominated for a Tony he accepted the nomination by saying he would refuse the award until conditions for Asian actors improved. Among Mako's last work was the role of Iroh in the animated version of Avatar the Last Airbender. The film adaptation now features three white leads in the place of originally Asian roles and spits in the face of his legacy.
This casting then comes in a long context that removes any ambiguity from this most recent decision. It is a brazen and at this point blatantly racist move where we shall again see that only the identity of the lead character shall be changed from the Asian persuasion. The message couldn't be more clear. With historical (Mickey Rourke as Gengis Kahn) mythical (White lead the Forbidden Kingdom) fictional (The Weapon, White Lead.The Last Airbender, Three White Leads. Dragonball, Two White Leads. Akira, All White Leads.) or contemporary (21 and Extraordinary Measures both are true stories with the people they are based on still living and still Asian while cast white.) The message is, ASIANS NEED NOT APPLY IN HOLLYWOODOne of the most infamous cases of the practice of Yellowface the equivalent of... more
We at the Otaku group have recently heard about the controversy over the upcoming comic book adaptation, "The Weapon" by Platinum Studios.This comic book centers around a Chinese American Protagonist and a white actor has been cast as the lead in the adaptation. This has prompted a letter of protest from MANA and in light of recent High Profile Adaptations with similar casting drawing accusations of a new generation of "Yellowface" the practice of modifying white actors to portray Asian or Asian inspired Characters. We here at the Otaku group have taken it upon ourselves to explore these accusations further as well as the grassroots movement that has sprung around them as a backlash. This will be the first of a series of profiles.
Catherine one of the team leading the "Racebending" movement as the grassroots organization has dubbed itself was kind enough to speak to us about the current controversy. We will be following up with a profile of the Racebending movement and the upcoming documentary focused on the subject by Han Tang, the first Chinese national to be admitted and graduate from Juliard's Drama Department.
(Please briefly explain your groups objections to "The Weapon")
Catherine: In the original comic series, the main character was explicitly stated as being of Chinese American descent. Therefore, the casting of a white actor for the role of a Chinese American character is at best, confusing and at worst, racist considering the limited opportunities for minority actors in Hollywood as it is.
(What do you say to those that argue creative license with an adaptation justifies these changes? We've certainly seen much creative license with comic book adaptations in the past how is this different?)
Catherine: I'd ask them how they would feel if an African American man played Gandalf or Asian Americans played the elves in Lord of the Rings. or how they'd feel if an African British girl played Hermione in Harry Potter I've gotten some awkward stares from those questions. After that, I then explain it's the exact same thing happening, only with Minority actors being replaced with Caucasians.
(Some would argue that casting should be blind to color, your organization argues for more culturally inclusive casting should more inclusive casting include whites in more diverse roles as well?)
Catherine:This is a tough question, one that I'm not sure has been addressed fully. One thing is for sure, there are already a myriad of roles available to white actors. But yes, I do think that alongside the actors of color there should also be white actors. It's a matter of having roles available to everyone equally, not just white people getting the lion's share of roles.
￼￼We at the Otaku group have recently heard about the controversy over the upcoming... more