Race-bending: REALLY The Last Airbender.

While on a search for different articles surrounding cultural diversity in the media I happened upon the term ‘Racebending’ and was actually delighted to find that the term had been coined due to a cartoon program I had watched growing up.

‘Racebending’ refers to white actors being cast in media productions to play characters that were originally written or known to be non-white roles. Racebending.com is an organization supporting equality in the entertainment business in ‘Hollywood and Beyond’ and defines the issue simply as ‘white-washing’ in the media. The term Racebending, then the website, was originally founded by a group of fans of the cartoon series ‘Avatar: The Last Airbender’ after the film adaption cast white actors to play the heroes for the 3 leading roles in an originally Asian/Inuit dominated series (see below). At the time the movie was released I went to see it and found myself confused over the casting choices. I didn’t understand why the entire cultural background portrayed in the show had been discarded. Not only that, but as the hero’s skin got lighter, the villain’s grew darker (their skin tone, not their evil souls). 


It’s argued that such discrimination that occurs when casting actors stems from the need to please mainstream audiences in western societies. But in Australia we live in a multicultural society, yet why are we still seeing a lack of colour on our so-called colour-television sets? In ‘White Bread Media’ Dreher (2014) emphasizes the importance of diverse and accurate portrayal of non-Anglo individuals in the media. This topic is relevant to today’s society as it is important to understand difference and multiculturalism in the media as well as in everyday experiences. Racebending can negatively impact underrepresented communities and can even lead to inaccurate perceptions of history. Now, the question is what can be done to ensure an increase in diversity in our media? And will it actually work?

Screen Shot 2013-05-06 at 7.16.19 PM

– Dreher, T (forthcoming 2014), ‘White Bread Media’ in The Media and Communication in Australia, eds S Cunningham and S Turnbull, Allen and Unwin.
– Racebending.com n.d., accessed 6/5/2013, http://www.racebending.com
– Yellowface n.d., accessed 6/5/2013, http://yellow-face.com/yellowface-whitewashing.htm


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