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Night dismisses racial casting criticism

By KAREN BUTLER   |   July 4, 2010 at 4:03 AM
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NEW YORK, July 4 (UPI) -- Indian-born U.S. filmmaker M. Night Shyamalan says he is saddened by critics who say his casting for the big-screen adaptation of the Asian-themed, animated TV series "The Last Airbender" should have been more culturally diverse.

The film, which is in theaters now, stars Noah Ringer, Dev Patel, Nicola Peltz and Jackson Rathbone. It is expected to be the first in a trilogy, although the next two installments have not yet been green-lit.

Some detractors of the live-action, family adventure movie say Shyamalan should have included more Asian actors in his "Airbender" cast.

"The great news is I'm Asian, so that worked out really well," the director joked with reporters in New York this week.

"The casting of the movie was a really wonderful opportunity for me to make a world of nationalities that I was excited about and diverse and it is one of the great assets of the movie and the subject matter that it is borrowing from all cultures -- Indian, Thai, Japanese," Shyamalan explained. "There is a small group here that is vocal that I didn't cast the 'correct' Asians ... Here's the thing: anime is an art form based on ambiguous facial features. It's part of the art form. You've got a problem with that? Talk to the dudes who invented anime. It's not my issue ... I had to deal with the cultures that came in (to audition.)"

The filmmaker went on to point out how many dozens of nationalities are represented on-screen and remarked in exasperation: "I looked at the world and said ... 'I think when we're done with these three movies, they will be, without even a second place, the most culturally diverse movies ever made by Hollywood ...' The irony for me is if you look at me and say I am a problem. I am a poster child for racism in Hollywood? ... You see Noah and Dev on the movie poster back to back with my name over it and this is your issue with the state of Hollywood? I'm saddened by it."

Shyamalan's previous film credits include "The Sixth Sense," "Unbreakable," "Signs," "The Village," "The Lady in the Water" and "The Happening."

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