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Mickey Rourke: Genghis Khan?
April 26, 2010 11:23 AM   Subscribe

In the grand tradition of John Wayne1, Mickey Rourke is in talks to play Genghis Khan in an upcoming biopic.

This comes shortly after controversy over the casting of the live action Avatar: The Last Airbender movie.

Previously: 1 2 3

1 The entirety of "The Conqueror" can be streamed at Google Video. Beyond the awful miscasting, the film has additional notoriety in that it was filmed downwind of a nuclear test site, possibly contributing to the cancer that killed the Duke and others who worked on the movie. It's said Howard Hughes watched the movie obsessively in his last years.
posted by kmz (85 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

 
To be fair, that's not as bad as when I thought that said Mickey Rooney playing Genghis Khan.
posted by DU at 11:27 AM on April 26, 2010 [3 favorites]


Didn't that John Wayne film pretty much kill everybody in its cast with cancer?

Oh, here we go. Close.
posted by Astro Zombie at 11:29 AM on April 26, 2010


Oh boy - The Conqueror was a stinker. If they wanted to re-do that travesty they should have cast me. I am known as "Genghis Chad" for my style of playing Risk.

Okay, maybe I'd make a better Mr.Prosser, but its close.
posted by charred husk at 11:30 AM on April 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


In the long tradition of having white guys act a dude from Mongolia?

Sure.
posted by dunkadunc at 11:31 AM on April 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


Specifically: How much makeup do you think it would take to make Mickey Rourke look like this?
posted by dunkadunc at 11:33 AM on April 26, 2010


I didn't realize Conqueror might have killed director Dick Powell. He was an unexpectedly good Philip Marlowe, and his version of "With Plenty of Money and You" is definitive.
posted by Astro Zombie at 11:34 AM on April 26, 2010


Specifically: How much makeup do you think it would take to make Mickey Rourke look like this?

At this moment, it would take him six hours in the chair to look like this.
posted by Astro Zombie at 11:36 AM on April 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


Yeah, Rourke keeps getting better, but I don't think he is enough of an actor to pull that off. Anyway, don't we have some, you know, Asian actors who could do the job? I mean, really. What's next William Dafoe plays Martin Luther King, Jr?

Do not laugh; it would not be the stupidest thing to ever appear on screen....
posted by GenjiandProust at 11:37 AM on April 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


He was as believable a Roman centurion as he was a Mongol conqueror. You are beautiful in your wrath, Bortai! ranks right up there with Truly, this was the son of God! from the Greatest Story Ever Told as my favorite John Wayne movie quotes.
posted by y2karl at 11:39 AM on April 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


To be fair, that's not as bad as when I thought that said Mickey Rooney playing Genghis Khan.
Mickey Rooney actually played one of the more notorious examples of yellowface.
posted by kmz at 11:40 AM on April 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


the film has additional notoriety in that it was filmed downwind of a nuclear test site...

PS. Don't eat the yellowcake sand.
posted by y2karl at 11:41 AM on April 26, 2010


The Eastern hemisphere is already in the middle of a trilogy based on Genghis Khan. The first one didn't thrill me, but it was nominated for an Oscar. I see no reason to rush a Hollywood one until that other franchise finishes up.
posted by aswego at 11:43 AM on April 26, 2010 [4 favorites]


Can it somehow involve the statue?
posted by Windigo at 11:48 AM on April 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


Yeah, Rourke keeps getting better, but I don't think he is enough of an actor to pull that off.

I love Rourke, honestly, but you're right, Robert Downey Jr. is the obvious pick.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 11:49 AM on April 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


Hey, if they can cast Sean Connery as a guy named Mulai Ahmed er Raisuli...
posted by The Card Cheat at 11:50 AM on April 26, 2010


"One of the things I like about Genghis Khan was his love of dogs."

Like shooting fish in a barrel.
posted by IndigoJones at 11:51 AM on April 26, 2010


Actually, I think it's really the fact that Genghis Khan won a lot of land wars in Asia (even though Vizzini the Sicilian said that you should never fight them), and the white man just can't admit that.

So they're appropriating him. Which is okay by me, another yellow man, mostly because Khan was a huge, horrifying, evil douche.
posted by qcubed at 11:51 AM on April 26, 2010


Well, you know, Hollywood has been doing this for a long time and they know from experience that the "best actors for the job (of playing asians)" are white people.

I myself can't wait to watch Marky Mark starring as Mao Tse Tung with Chow Yun Fat as his spunky sidekick.
posted by yeloson at 11:52 AM on April 26, 2010 [3 favorites]


I think they should play up the whitesploitation angle and call the movie "White Genghis."
posted by ignignokt at 12:01 PM on April 26, 2010 [5 favorites]


something racism something something asia something tea party
posted by DU at 12:02 PM on April 26, 2010


As aswego pointed out, this guy has already done a pretty good job as Temudjin, but as it turns out, he's Japanese. While it could be argued (not without controversy) that a significant chunk of the Japanese population has its origins in the steppes, his main qualification (aside from being an excellent actor) is being of some sort of Asian descent. So really the question is, where do you want to draw the line?
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 12:09 PM on April 26, 2010


The Eastern hemisphere is already in the middle of a trilogy based on Genghis Khan. The first one didn't thrill me, but it was nominated for an Oscar. I see no reason to rush a Hollywood one until that other franchise finishes up.

Seriously? That was one of the best movies I've ever seen. I was actually coming in here to say that no one ever needs to play Genghis Khan again because this movie was so good.
posted by spicynuts at 12:13 PM on April 26, 2010 [3 favorites]


More seriously, I could see this viewed more as a manifestation of the stereotype of Asian artists and performers in general. The common criticism is that they may be technically exceptional, but that there's no soul in the act.

For a dramatic film such as Genghis Khan or Red Dawn, naturally one would want someone with soul in the lead roles; naturally, Asian actors such as Chow Yun Fat (Crouching Tiger), Choi Min-Sik (Old Boy), Ken Watanabe (Letters from Iwo Jima), or Keanu Reeves (Sweet November), to name a few, are incapable of ever portraying deep emotions, which is why they're all relegated to cheaply-produced, inane, and pneumatic wire-fu action films.

Caucasian actors, though, they can emote. They bring soul to their performance (cf. William Shatner). And, well, yellowface has come a long way. Remember how fake the surgery they did to James Bond in You Only Live Twice looked? That was back in the 1970's. 30 years of cosmetic surgery advances have made many improvements, so I'm perfectly willing to think that Mickey Rourke will look just as Asian as Noah Ringer does in The Last Airbender.
posted by qcubed at 12:13 PM on April 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


As aswego pointed out, this guy has already done a pretty good job as Temudjin, but as it turns out, he's Japanese. While it could be argued (not without controversy) that a significant chunk of the Japanese population has its origins in the steppes, his main qualification (aside from being an excellent actor) is being of some sort of Asian descent. So really the question is, where do you want to draw the line?

TheWhiteSkull: When they cast Kal Penn as Jesus in the remake for The Passion of Jesus Christ, then I'll stop being irked by the whole yellowface thing.
posted by qcubed at 12:15 PM on April 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


I honestly find it hard to believe that there isn't a single good Mongolian actor in Hollywood (or, you know, within cab distance of an airport) in his late-twenties to mid-thirties who's willing to take on the role. This is still America, land of every nationality, right?
posted by cthuljew at 12:15 PM on April 26, 2010


Too bad Chuck Bronson isn't alive. He was of Mongolian descent.
posted by Astro Zombie at 12:20 PM on April 26, 2010


Well, I enjoyed John Cho as Sulu. I'm sure someday I'll enjoy him as Barack Obama.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 12:22 PM on April 26, 2010


What's next William Dafoe plays Martin Luther King, Jr?

Do not laugh; it would not be the stupidest thing to ever appear on screen....


Not much stupider than Willem Dafoe playing the FBI hero/savior role in "Mississippi Burning."
posted by blucevalo at 12:24 PM on April 26, 2010


Too bad Chuck Bronson isn't alive. He was of Mongolian descent.

AstroZombie: Yul Brynner, too.
posted by qcubed at 12:26 PM on April 26, 2010


I'm a big Yul Brynner fan, but I believe Bronson more as Ghengis.
posted by Astro Zombie at 12:28 PM on April 26, 2010


Of course, Genghis got around, so there's a 1-in-200 chance Mickey Rourke is his descendant.
posted by condour75 at 12:30 PM on April 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


Edward D. Wood, Jr.: Do you know that I've even had producers re-cut my movies?
Orson Welles: I hate when that happens.
Edward D. Wood, Jr.: And they always want to cast their buddies. It doesn't even matter if they're right for the part.
Orson Welles: Tell me about it. I'm supposed to do a thriller for Universal. They want Charlton Heston as a Mexican.
posted by shakespeherian at 12:36 PM on April 26, 2010 [5 favorites]


qcubed said:

"Which is okay by me, another yellow man, mostly because Khan was a huge, horrifying, evil douche."

Please read Organization of the Mongol Empire under Genghis Khan, specifically:

"...the Pax Mongolica was a time of relative peace throughout the Old World which led to an increase of trade, as well as an increase in awareness, between distant nations. In essence, the Mongol Empire administered political order over a very large area of land which enabled relative political and economic stability to follow."

"He arranged his army into arbans (inter-ethnic groups of ten), and the members of an arban were commanded to be loyal to one-another regardless of ethnic origin."

"Positions of honour were given on the basis of bravery in battle or outstanding loyalty, as opposed to the old system of inheritance through families. This was far ahead of any other system in Europe at the time."

"Many different kinds of religion existed under a limited degree of freedom of religion. However, in later life, Genghis began to research the various religions of the people he had suppressed... The outcome was a general freedom of religion, and an exemption of taxes for priests."

Here is a section from The Tolerance Teachings of Genghis Khan & His Mongol Horde:

[Genghis Khan] also smashed the feudal system of aristocratic privilege and built a new system that promoted individuals based on their abilities and achievements. Then he lowered taxes for everyone... getting rid of them entirely for priests, doctors, and even teachers. At a time when most rulers considered themselves above the law... Genghis Khan demanded that laws should hold rulers, including himself, as equally accountable as the lowliest goat herder.

Perhaps most amazing was the empire's attitude toward religions. The Mongols were animists who worshipped the many spiritual forces of nature but... they permitted the free practice of all religions within their realms. Before dismissing Rubruck and sending him back to France (where Catholic priests were busy going from city to city to find and torture suspected heretics) Mongke Khan gave him a lecture on religious tolerance. "Just as God gave different fingers to the hand so has He given different ways to men."


Peace? Ethnic tolerance? Religious freedom? Meritocracy over nepotism? Universal application of the law? Reduced taxes and no taxes for doctors or teachers?

All things considered, Genghis Khan was way ahead of the leaders we have today.
posted by stringbean at 12:38 PM on April 26, 2010 [6 favorites]


qcubed, I would pay money to see that. Makes about as much sense as Robert Powell.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 12:41 PM on April 26, 2010


What the fuck, Hollywood racists? Was George Takei not available?
posted by dgaicun at 12:42 PM on April 26, 2010


stringbean: Yes, he did some good things, sure. Doesn't erase the somewhat genocidal tactics he used in Southwest Asia. Doesn't make the campaign of rapes and massacres any less bad.

I also didn't say anything about the leaders we have today, mind you.

But, if it'll make you feel better, I'll amend my statement:

"Which is okay by me, another yellow man, mostly because Khan was a huge, horrifying, evil douche who managed to get some good things done. Y'know, like how Mussolini got the trains running on time."
posted by qcubed at 12:43 PM on April 26, 2010


So really the question is, where do you want to draw the line?

Maybe where cross-racial casting falls into a long standing tradition of erasing people from media?

There's this interesting thing where we recognize Hollywood as a group of folks who are very deep in their craft of presentation, and yet, somehow, we're also to believe they "accidentally" are doing this, over and over.
posted by yeloson at 12:54 PM on April 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


If it hadn't been for Genghis Khan's campaign of rapes and massacres, I wouldn't exist.
posted by Faint of Butt at 12:55 PM on April 26, 2010


Peace? Ethnic tolerance? Religious freedom? Meritocracy over nepotism? Universal application of the law? Reduced taxes and no taxes for doctors or teachers?

All things considered, Genghis Khan was way ahead of the leaders we have today.


Those things are all well and good if you actually survived his brutal conquest of your people. Like Alexander "the Great", Shi Huang Di, and other "great" conquerors, any good they brought was paid for with rivers of blood.
posted by kmz at 12:56 PM on April 26, 2010


If it hadn't been for Genghis Khan's campaign of rapes and massacres, I wouldn't exist.

Yeah, sad though it might be. How hard, really, is it to find an actor to play the role, seeing as 0.5 percent of the male population alive today is descended from him?
posted by Astro Zombie at 1:26 PM on April 26, 2010


Like Alexander "the Great", Shi Huang Di, and other "great" conquerors, any good they brought was paid for with rivers of blood.

Very good point. Empire is brutal.

The "Pax Mongolica" is an object of serious debate. The Mongolian Empire was at war with somebody--or itself--for almost its entire existence. During just Chinggis Khan's lifetime, there were numerous instances of mass civilian slaughter.

... but that doesn't make the Mongols so different than the "civilized" cultures that they went to war against. Look at what China did to the Junghars.

And, on the other hand, their initial disinterest in just what religion their newly conquered subjects practiced, their effect on the economies of Eurasia, and the cultural mix-and-match that was their governmental and court style are pretty interesting.

I am kind of skeptical of people who dismiss certain empire-builders as barbarian and cruel, but lionize others. I'm not saying that's anyone in this thread--but it's common, and I think it often has more to do with stereotypes than reality.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 1:29 PM on April 26, 2010


Waiiiiiiiit... Didn't anyone see Mongol? Why another Khan flick?
posted by VicNebulous at 1:35 PM on April 26, 2010


Why another Khan flick?

Personally, I was too busy swooning over Börte's lateral fricatives in Mongol to pay much attention to the plot.

"Mongol" is all foreign. And not awful enough.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 1:44 PM on April 26, 2010 [3 favorites]


30 years of cosmetic surgery advances have made many improvements, so I'm perfectly willing to think that Mickey Rourke will look just as Asian as Noah Ringer does in The Last Airbender.

...Cause Aang is so darn Asian looking in the tv show.
posted by Atreides at 1:47 PM on April 26, 2010


Unleash the Hordes: "Being a History of the Mongol Peoples and Their Most Famous Historical Figures as Portrayed by White People in Fake Eyelids"

They didn't even try to make Susan Hayward look Asian. "I feel this Tartar woman is for me, and my blood says, take her."

The Conqueror also featured Pedro Armendáriz, Agnes Moorehead, Lee van Cleef, and William Conrad.

Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World is a good recent book.
posted by kirkaracha at 1:48 PM on April 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


P.S. Mickey Rourke would be ridiculous as Genghis.
posted by Atreides at 1:48 PM on April 26, 2010


To be fair, I'm not saying that Genghis Khan was particularly cruel. After all, to rule much of the known world at the time, or to even be a world leader, you kinda have to be a huge, horrifying, evil douche. Khan was no different.

His use of psychological warfare to terrorize future targets into capitulating instead of fighting was a novel tactic, for instance; it did save some number of deaths, though again, it doesn't excuse the massacres and burning of farmland, and so on. All this is an aside, though.

The bigger problem is that for as "liberal" as Hollywood is portrayed, it is still fundamentally a rather biased and racist institution that, by and large, reflects America as a whole. Like our country's narrative, most movies tell the story from a privileged, white vantage point and minorities are largely sidelined into playing backup, second-fiddle characters; only rarely are they the center of the story, and when they do everyone in Hollywood rushes to pat themselves on the back for being so forward-thinking. Kinda like how everyone did the same when we finally elected a non-white, and to some, a non-Christian, president. "Aren't we so amazing, that we have a minority story to tell?"

Genghis Khan being portrayed by a white dude? Par for the course.

I'm willing to bet that if they did actually cast an Asian, they'd be so damn proud of themselves. For a while. And then go right back to making an adaptation of the Tale of Genji with non-Asians.
posted by qcubed at 1:49 PM on April 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


How much makeup do you think it would take to make Mickey Rourke look like this?

That's Kubla Khan, and I'm sure a lot of work went into making him look like that. The practice of assimilating conquered races and cultures worked out pretty well, but they still couldn't hold China. Kubla Khan spent a lifetime achieving reverse assimilation, and passing himself off as a Chinese Confucian -- in word, appearance, and comportment.

That's why the Forbidden City was forbidden, the Mongols didn't want to let the locals see how Mongols partied on the weekends. It didn't fit the refined image they were building.
posted by StickyCarpet at 1:56 PM on April 26, 2010


Kubla Khan? I had a dream about him once. But then I drank the milk of paradise and fucking forgot the whole thing.
posted by Astro Zombie at 1:59 PM on April 26, 2010 [3 favorites]


30 years of cosmetic surgery advances have made many improvements, so I'm perfectly willing to think that Mickey Rourke will look just as Asian as Noah Ringer does in The Last Airbender.

...Cause Aang is so darn Asian looking in the tv show.

Atreides: Sure, Aang doesn't look Asian in the TV show. But his name doesn't sound particularly white--sounds rather damn ethnic to me. Maybe even a little Tibetan.

The show's got an Asianish setting, clearly inspired by Asian culture, with their costuming and behavior borrowing from East Asia. It even takes a bunch of animation cues from Japanese animation, and if you've ever seen Japanese animation, you'll know most of them, well, don't look Asian, even the ones set in Asia. (There's a bunch of arguments as to why that is, but that's a whole different can of worms.)

I'm hard pressed to think of any animation that's been adapted to film that's cast Asians (or, heck, any other ethnicity) in roles that were "white". Not just any animations, but any adaptations period. Lord of the Rings? Everyone's white. Unless you're an orc, where you get to be digitally duplicated and portrayed by people of Maori descent in lots of makeup. Beowulf? White. Harry Potter? Practically bleached with the exception of Cho Chang who shows up for a scene or two. I'm pretty sure it's like that in Chronicles of Narnia and The Golden Compass.

Generally, we're not told those characters are necessarily Caucasian, particularly when we're not really given descriptions of appearance; we generally assume so based on their names. This is why most of us don't complain when, after all, stories and books written and set in largely Western European/Caucasian-inspired settings star white people.

So why is it wrong when we, as a minority, think that characters whose names are quite ethnic (Katara, Sokka, Aang, Zuko, Iroh, Ozai, Toph Bei Fong, Genghis Khan), with rough appearances, costuming, and cultures that are quite ethnic (black eyes, straight black hair, and in the case of the Fire Nation often wearing them in ponytails reminiscent of historic warriors in East Asia, wearing in the case of the Water Nation clothing that resembles that worn by Yupik/Inuit/Aluet, with writing that is clearly reminiscent of seal script and practicing martial arts similar to wuxia)?

Why are we wrong to complain when all the evidence suggests that they're not white, but actually people of color? Why are we wrong to complain when all of the casting turns them white, unless they're the slapstick sidekick, the redshirt, or the bad guy?
posted by qcubed at 2:10 PM on April 26, 2010 [7 favorites]


I remember reading in National Geographic that Genghis Khan managed to more or less rape and pillage his way into becoming the progenitor of some 16 million people in the world.

Now think of that, and think of Mickey Rourke's terrifying silly putty face, and the horror the horror the horror.
posted by superquail at 2:23 PM on April 26, 2010


KHAAAANNN
posted by shakespeherian at 2:30 PM on April 26, 2010


Everything I know about Ghengis Khan I learned from Dschinghis Khan
posted by PeterMcDermott at 3:02 PM on April 26, 2010


qcubed,

There's nothing wrong complaining about white actors being cast in roles that factually are Asian characters. The Last Airbender leans heavily on Asian and Inuit influences. It obviously is drawn with the style of Japanese animation. Were you to come to me and say that Sokka or Katara should not have been cast with white actors, then you'd have my complete agreement. Their character design literally reflects people of color (same for the Fire Nation people). The designs of these characters were not some flippant decision, but likely formed in a process that carried over for some duration.

Generally, in Japanese animation, characters are drawn differently from skin tone to hair and eye color as a means to help differentiate them from each other. I don't think a bald kid with an arrow on his forehead needs any further differentiation (appearing white) to make him identifiable.

What you're saying is that anyone who uses Asian/Inuit culture has to work within a framework of their characters' race matching the real world races. Likewise, on a more micro scale, this same reasoning should result in people hating the casting of Dev Patel as Zuko, because the Fire Nation's primary influence appears to be Japan (Why did they not hire a Japanese actor?!).

I think when casting a movie based on an animated show in which the appearance of characters is so clearly defined, that you try and replicate that appearance in terms of appearance as much as possible. I think casting Ringer succeeded in this goal. I won't defend the casting of Rathbone or Peltz, I think there's a legitimate claim there.

Avatar is not a historical representation of real people or events in Asia or the lands near the polar region. It borrows from the culture of those people and draws upon the animation style of Japanese animation, but the casting of Aang with a Caucasian kid is not some great crime of trying to turn the character lily white. This isn't casting Genghis with John Wayne or proposing to do it again with Mickey Rourke. Your general complaint against Hollywood is legitimate, but not as it applies to Aang and Ringer.
posted by Atreides at 3:14 PM on April 26, 2010


I'm pretty sure it's like that in Chronicles of Narnia

If they get up to The Horse and His Boy, it would probably be less racist to make everyone white rather than hewing too closely to the original.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 3:26 PM on April 26, 2010


I'm with spicynuts. The film "Mongol" from a few years ago(?) was awesome. Who cares if he's japanese? He carries the role extremely well.

And if you want Khan biopics, the selection in Mongolian popular culture is HUGE. I was there last year, and every other tv show or movie was about the Glorious Days of Chinggis.
posted by flippant at 3:48 PM on April 26, 2010


qcubed:

"Which is okay by me, another yellow man, mostly because Khan was a huge, horrifying, evil douche who managed to get some good things done. Y'know, like how Mussolini got the trains running on time."

One can argue that Genghis Khan's brutality was a strategy to prevent violence.

Before invading a city, Genghis Khan offered his enemies a chance of peace.

If a city surrendered peacefully, he commanded his soldiers to leave the city unharmed on penalty of death.

If the city refused his offer of peace or did something really stupid like kill the lead Mongolian envoy and send back the rest of the envoys with their beards burned off (yes, I am looking at you Sultan Ala-ad-Din Muhammed), his invasion would be merciless.

Even when he invaded "mercilessly" he spared the artisans, architects and merchants. He used these people to rebuild the cities and make them even more beautiful than they had been.

Those who surrender were spared violence. Those who resisted were slaughtered as an example. One could say that brutality was used as a strategy to prevent future bloodshed. Like the Chinese proverb:

杀一(经)儆百 Kill one to warn one hundred in Chinese.
一罰百戒 Punish one to warn one hundred in Japanese.

One can argue that the success of Genghis Khan's conquests is based in part on his not harming the inhabitants of cities that surrendered peacefully.

Of course, I don't know how much of that is true and how much is legend.

And I'm not saying rape, pillage and killing can be forgiven. They can't. These are horrible crimes. Do I think kill one to warn one hundred is an acceptable strategy? No, of course not. It's reprehensible.

What I am saying is this: the words huge, horrifying, evil douche focus on Genghis Khan's crimes while completely ignoring the good he did like creating a written Mongolian language or re-establishing the Silk Road.

Yes, he did evil things but was he just an evil douche?

And the Mussolini comparison is unkind. Mussolini was a fascist, a racist, an anti-Semite and a thug. Mussolini dragged his own people from their beds in the middle of the night and sent them off to death camps without half the chance Genghis Khan gave his enemies.

I can think of many ways that Genghis Khan benefited mankind but not Mussolini. Sorry, not even one.
posted by stringbean at 3:49 PM on April 26, 2010


Sorry for the derail, everybody.

On topic:

Mickey Rourke was great in a couple of movies but I don't see him as Genghis Khan.

It has nothing to do with the man's race. It has everything to do with the man's face (specifically the damage done to it by alcohol, drugs, lifestyle choices, boxing matches and/or plastic surgery).

Genghis Khan united nomadic, ever-rivaling Mongol-Turkic tribes under his rule. Mickey Rourke looks like he'd have trouble uniting his hand and nose in a roadside sobriety test.
posted by stringbean at 3:50 PM on April 26, 2010


Sorry, qcubed. Missed your last post on preview:

To be fair, I'm not saying that Genghis Khan was particularly cruel. After all, to rule much of the known world at the time, or to even be a world leader, you kinda have to be a huge, horrifying, evil douche. Khan was no different.

His use of psychological warfare to terrorize future targets into capitulating instead of fighting was a novel tactic, for instance; it did save some number of deaths, though again, it doesn't excuse the massacres and burning of farmland, and so on. All this is an aside, though.


Yes, we are pretty much in agreement. Thanks for your response. Sorry for the derail.
posted by stringbean at 3:57 PM on April 26, 2010


stringbean: I realize you're trying to make a point of how Genghis Khan did some good things. I'm not arguing against that. But you do realize you've pretty much taken a snarky, off-hand joke comment, and bludgeoned it to death like Mussolini with some fasces, right?

That said, maybe Mussolini hasn't be properly rehabilitated, either. Park Chung-hee was a collaborator who deposed a democratically-elected president and set up a military junta and dragged his own people from their beds in the middle of the night and sent them off to labor camps without half the chance Genghis Khan gave his enemies, but many in Korea like him for kick-starting economic growth.

With historical figures, it really is a matter of what lens you look through. I know you see Genghis Khan in a much more nuanced, and subtle light than I do. I'm sure you think I'm being unfair. That said, I honestly cannot say that I feel his tactics justify what he achieved. So yes, I think he was a huge, horrifying douche. (I excised 'evil'. Satisfied? ;) )
posted by qcubed at 4:19 PM on April 26, 2010


While it could be argued (not without controversy) that a significant chunk of the Japanese population has its origins in the steppes...

Since there are about sixteen million living lineal descendants of Genghis 'Who's Our Daddy ?' Khan, maybe Charles Bronson, perhaps Mickey Rourke, and who knows about the Thick White Duke, are and were more qualified to play the Conqueror than one would think.

On review: even if Astrozombie mentioned it first.
posted by y2karl at 4:28 PM on April 26, 2010


Atreides:
Of course there's nothing wrong about complaining when white actors are cast in roles that are factually Asian. That's not the point of my argument; honestly, the whole Mickey Rourke thing is so ridiculous that it deservedly bears nothing more than scorn and derision, regardless of the merits of Rourke's acting ability.

As far as Japanese animation goes, which did inspire the art style of A:TLA, we're not talking about just hair and eye color, though; the facial structure, the body structure, while highly stylized, is also drawn more to resemble Caucasians. Eyes are almost never almond shaped, but round; women's legs are shaped less like dikon radishes, and more like Western women's. In short, anime characters tend to look Caucasian, even when they're not: the main characters in Haruhi, Akira, Evangelion, Jin-Roh, to name a few, all set in contemporary or near-future Japan, look white, even if they're pure-blooded Japanese.

So while Aang may look Caucasian in the animated series, a lot of it seems to me—and others—to be because all of the other characters look pretty Caucasian, too. It's part of the art style, thus, we base our conclusions on the rest of the context. His name, for example. His style of dress. The source of the story world's mythos. That said, you do mention that a bald kid with an arrow on his forehead probably doesn't need any further differentiation; this is true. In an Asian-themed world, however, why are you assuming "appearing white" (which, in this case, I'm reading as "Caucasian", though feel free to correct me if I'm wrong) is the default? Why is that the base, and all others have to be differentiated from it? Why aren't people of color the default?

Now, when you suggest that I'm saying that anyone who appropriates from Asian culture has to cast people from that race in a movie adaptation, I'd beg to differ. I don't actually see it that way. My problem is that rather, the criticism that I have (and most of the Racebending site has) is that there's only one minority actor in the movie in a leading role. And, as is to be expected, he's the bad guy. With a lot of minorities, just being represented isn't enough anymore. We're past that. So whenever there's a big Hollywood picture, we're always happy to find people who look like us in the films, at least until we watch them. Why? Because in the vast majority of movies, we're the bad guy (Last Airbender, Batman Begins), the funny/sassy/creepy sidekick dragged along like an accessory to match an outfit (Sixteen Candles, anything with Rob Scheider), the first one to die (almost every suspense/thriller/horror/monster movie). If we're lucky, maybe we're the character that imparts some wisdom or help to the Caucasian lead (Last Samurai, Karate Kid).

Finally, when you say that casting Aang with a white dude isn't a great crime, we're in agreement. Your argument, however, doesn't even remotely answer the criticism that I had of how fictional, fantasy worlds are often portrayed.

Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Golden Compass, Chronicles of Narnia all borrow heavily from Europe. The lack of Asian representation, somewhat understandable. Avatar borrows heavily from Asia. Why is it wrong that we are irritated that there's no real Asian representation?
posted by qcubed at 4:33 PM on April 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


I'm all for this, if it's popular enough that it gets people saying JEN-ghiss instead of GHEN-jiss.
posted by dhartung at 4:52 PM on April 26, 2010


WTF IS WITH THIS BULLSHIT AGAIN. I cannot even tyep straight.

I wouldn't care so much if we regularly saw Asians represented in the media. But this happens over and over and over; even when there is a blindingly! obvious! reason! to cast an Asian person, Hollywood will find a way to make it White. It is so maddening -- they take Asian stories, Asian arts, Asian culture to use for their own ends, but when it comes time to represent there ain't a single Asian PERSON in sight.
posted by emeiji at 5:20 PM on April 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Golden Compass, Chronicles of Narnia all borrow heavily from Europe. The lack of Asian representation, somewhat understandable. Avatar borrows heavily from Asia. Why is it wrong that we are irritated that there's no real Asian representation?

And I'm saying there should be. I don't think we're in disagreement here. Specifically, we seem to be arguing over the design of a single fork in a place setting that generally meets our approval.

I've never seen Harui, but generally, the characters in the shows you mention do have some semblance to Asian people, particularly Jin Roh.

So while Aang may look Caucasian in the animated series, a lot of it seems to me—and others—to be because all of the other characters look pretty Caucasian, too.

I'd disagree on that. To myself, all the other characters look particularly Asian, outside of eye shape. Which is why I agree that they should have been cast by people of color, be they Japanese, Indian, or Ainu.

In an Asian-themed world, however, why are you assuming "appearing white" (which, in this case, I'm reading as "Caucasian", though feel free to correct me if I'm wrong) is the default? Why is that the base, and all others have to be differentiated from it? Why aren't people of color the default?

Because from my perspective, in a world where there is an attempt to make people appear Asian, Aang, by your own admission, looks Caucasian. I assume it by default because by appearances, he is Caucasian, the same way I assume Sokka to be Asian (if we're picking races to represent them). Obviously, we have two different beginning points for how we interpret the characters in Avatar. I'm going by physical appearance, you're going by cultural setting. I don't think either is wrong, but they definitely clash.

In truth, Avatar is set in a fantasy world. In this world there are no Asian people, no Caucasian people, or African people. Some people certainly look like some of the aforementioned races, and it is casting's job, in my opinion, to find those individuals who can be represent the characters. In this case, I think that the Caucasian kid best represents Aang. I'd go further and say that your grief with this should not end with this movie, but to the original series creators (two white American guys). They could have quite easily done something to make the physical appearance of Aang relate more to Asian physical characteristics. Regardless of the setting, be it European-like or Asian-like, they opted to go with this character design.

I don't think that Aang should be cast with an Asian actor to satisfy the obvious debt owed by Hollywood to Asian people with regard to their representation on film. I think this because I would see it as an act which would cheapen the degree to which I felt the adaptation was being faithful to the source. (Elves at Helm's Deep - Wha?!)

In sum, I agree there should be a major Asian representation in Avatar. I disagree that it should begin with Aang's character.
posted by Atreides at 5:27 PM on April 26, 2010


Avatar was a pretty disgusting white guilt movie where not can a white person go native, they can also be the Leader the natives needed all along (because they can't lead themselves) to fight off the oppressors.
posted by dunkadunc at 6:35 PM on April 26, 2010


Such a stupid idea.

And while Hollywood is at it, they should maybe first read John Man's Ghenghis Khan, so that the man can be more accurately portrayed, and so that the actors aren't running around calling the Mongol warrior 'Gen-gis' (with a hard 'G').

Scholars today lean more towards a pronunciation closer to Chinggis Khaan.

posted by bwg at 6:47 PM on April 26, 2010


If Ghengis Khan were a metafilter moderator everybody would kiss his ass.
posted by HP LaserJet P10006 at 7:18 PM on April 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


Atreides:
I've never seen Harui, but generally, the characters in the shows you mention do have some semblance to Asian people, particularly Jin Roh.
This is where I'll have to disagree; they've never looked particularly East Asian to me, except in the case of non-main characters. Old people for comedic value; exaggerated comic relief; and so on.

Because from my perspective, in a world where there is an attempt to make people appear Asian, Aang, by your own admission, looks Caucasian. I assume it by default because by appearances, he is Caucasian, the same way I assume Sokka to be Asian (if we're picking races to represent them).
If you read my commentary, I think all of the characters look Caucasian, due to the art form; that said, you'll also see that my view is because of the setting and their names, I view the default as they are more Asiatic.
In that like, I call into question why you think that the Caucasian, "white" appearance is normal and Aang doesn't need to be "distinguished" any further because he's got arrows.

I'd go further and say that your grief with this should not end with this movie, but to the original series creators (two white American guys).
Actually, I have no beef with the original series creators, primarily because they said they had nothing to do with the movie's casting; additionally, they've done, largely, a good job of borrowing Asian culture and synthesizing it into a new fantasy world.

Regardless of the setting, be it European-like or Asian-like, they opted to go with this character design.
Which, again, I view is part of the art form.

I don't think that Aang should be cast with an Asian actor to satisfy the obvious debt owed by Hollywood to Asian people with regard to their representation on film.
I'm not speaking as if Hollywood owes anything to Asians here, and that they should cast Asians "just because". That's blatant tokenism, lacking merits. It's the worst kind of "affirmative action" there is, precisely because it violates the spirit of it.

What I am saying is that in nearly every single instance where they could have cast Asians instead of white folk, they've opted for the latter. 21 for example. Those MIT kids who cleaned out the casinos? From the movie, you'd've never known that they probably had rice at nearly every meal growing up, had almond-shaped eyes, and probably were terrified if they brought home a grade less than 105%. A:TLA in this case is simply continuing the trend.

Worse still, when deciding casting, they didn't even bother to look at any Asian-Americans for the part. No calls went out to minorities except as extras or minor characters. That's the problem here.

In sum, I agree there should be a major Asian representation in Avatar.
We agree here.

I disagree that it should begin with Aang's character.
I don't particularly care if it's Aang or not; like the Khan being evil discussion above, you've pretty much taken a sardonic comment and pushed the discussion much farther than it needed to have gone. :) That said, I'm complicit in that, so.

===

dunkadunc
Wrong movie. In this context, Avatar is referring to Avatar: The Last Airbender.

I mean, feel free to go grar at the 3D-extravaganza that was The Last Samurai IN SPACE!!!, but nobody's talking about that here.
posted by qcubed at 7:56 PM on April 26, 2010


I don't think that Aang should be cast with an Asian actor to satisfy the obvious debt owed by Hollywood to Asian people with regard to their representation on film.

No, not because there is some arbitrary Asian Quota to be filled. But is it really such a leap to assume that characters inhabiting a world that looks like this are Asian? In my house, we used to all come running whenever anyone spotted an Asian person on TV. Now here is this great animated story that seems to have such respect for the culture and its people, something that defies the usual Hollywood stereotypes -- how do we not get our hopes up? That casting announcement was a sucker punch to the gut.

This is like Whedon casting no Chinese people in Firefly when he's got everyone running around yelling 哎呀 in an allegedly Chinese-dominated universe. I mean if you're going to plunder a culture for set-dressings, would it hurt to throw us a fucking bone once in a while?

On the manga/anime front: Do Manga Characters Look White?
posted by emeiji at 1:01 AM on April 27, 2010


Meh. Nothing will beat the miscasting of Keanu Reeves as Siddartha
posted by P.o.B. at 5:19 AM on April 27, 2010


The case against 21 is a great one. I absolutely agree that the movie should have reflected the facts of the story.

Regarding how the characters appear to be racially, obviously we disagree.

If you read my commentary, I think all of the characters look Caucasian, due to the art form; that said, you'll also see that my view is because of the setting and their names, I view the default as they are more Asiatic.

What you're basically saying is that regardless of how the characters appear or are depicted, even if they were all white skinned, blond hair, and blue eyes, the fact that they're given types of names and placed in a specific setting would suggest that people of color should be cast for the roles? The appearance of the character has to play a role in the casting, predominantly when the source material is a visual medium like animation. If Avatar had been a series of novels and no depictions were made of the characters your point would be absolutely valid.

In that like, I call into question why you think that the Caucasian, "white" appearance is normal and Aang doesn't need to be "distinguished" any further because he's got arrows.

I keep on answering this. It's normal for Aang to be cast with a Caucasian kid because on the show he looks like a Caucasian kid. The whole arrow thing was in response to your attempt to dismiss the appearance of the characters as serving only to distinguish them from each other (which why it's mainly done in anime and manga). My point in that area being the skin color used for Aang probably wasn't considered necessary for distinguishing him when he has a big blue arrow on his forehead.

I don't particularly care if it's Aang or not; like the Khan being evil discussion above, you've pretty much taken a sardonic comment and pushed the discussion much farther than it needed to have gone. :)

Dude, stop making sardonic comments!
posted by Atreides at 6:36 AM on April 27, 2010


...and if you've ever seen Japanese animation, you'll know most of them, well, don't look Asian, even the ones set in Asia.

I can't find the article (not this one linked above, it was much more concise and had pictures) among all the Google hits asking "zomg y do all anime peepz look white?!?!?", but the gist of it was that yes, characters in Japanese anime do look Japanese to Japanese people due to a number of cultural cues drawn into each character that Japanese people pick up on but outsiders don't. Japanese people don't think anime characters look white, and there are different ways of drawing "white" people (or whoever) to denote nationality. They only look white because you're used to seeing white people.
posted by Evilspork at 8:38 AM on April 27, 2010


Clearly, someone REALLY REALLY needs to do a biopic of Abraham Lincoln or Queen Victoria, casting someone from Korea or New Guinea in the leading role.

It would actually be kind of awesome.
posted by dunkadunc at 8:54 AM on April 27, 2010


Evilspork:
They only look white because you're used to seeing white people.
Well, of course. I live in the United States. Caucasians are the plurality here. I can walk outside and throw a stone, and I'll probably hit some white dude, though I doubt he'd be happy about being hit.

They look like white people to me in the art, but I assume that they're actually Asian in their character.

In other words, while I think they look white, I view them as non-white. I know they're non-white because of the setting, the names, and that actually-white characters are usually drawn with exaggerated signifiers.

This is the point I'm also trying to make to Atreides.

What you're basically saying is that regardless of how the characters appear or are depicted, even if they were all white skinned, blond hair, and blue eyes, the fact that they're given types of names and placed in a specific setting would suggest that people of color should be cast for the roles?
Given the entire setting, I think a reasonable assumption is that yes, they are people of color. I don't know about you, but I've seen Asians with pale skin (myself included, but that's probably because I try to avoid the sun), blue eyes (there's an arresting photo on Wikipedia of an Uyghur), and there are hair dyes.

The appearance of the character has to play a role in the casting, predominantly when the source material is a visual medium like animation.
Absolutely. However when the setting strongly suggests that they are not-Caucasian, for the casting directors to not even consider non-Caucasian actors for these roles? Does that not strike you as a problem?

I keep on answering this. It's normal for Aang to be cast with a Caucasian kid because on the show he looks like a Caucasian kid.
He looks like an Caucasian kid. Like all the other characters, though some might have seen tanning beds once or twice. The setting and art form suggests to me that they are not Caucasian kids.

The whole arrow thing was in response to your attempt to dismiss the appearance of the characters as serving only to distinguish them from each other (which why it's mainly done in anime and manga). My point in that area being the skin color used for Aang probably wasn't considered necessary for distinguishing him when he has a big blue arrow on his forehead.
But in the setting of the universe, why isn't being a person of color considered the default, rather than white?
posted by qcubed at 9:49 AM on April 27, 2010


But in the setting of the universe, why isn't being a person of color considered the default, rather than white?

White is not the or a default. The default is the visual representation. Where I see people of color, you see Caucasians. It's a subjective situation. Obviously, when viewing animation, we are informed through different parameters.

Given the entire setting, I think a reasonable assumption is that yes, they are people of color. I don't know about you, but I've seen Asians with pale skin (myself included, but that's probably because I try to avoid the sun), blue eyes (there's an arresting photo on Wikipedia of an Uyghur), and there are hair dyes.

I guess what I'm trying to convey to you is that the designers of said universe specifically intended for the people who lived in that universe to appear as they do, blond hair, blue eyes, and white skin. The creators of Avatar opted for their characters to appear exactly as they do. In my opinion, for most of those characters, Asian actors or other people of color could have or should have been cast in those roles because they would look like the character they're representing.

More to the point, you're making an assumption that because a character exists in a fictional world which borrows heavily on Asian culture, that they should be played by an individual of that heritage regardless of the actual appearance of the character. You state that it's logical and rational because that's the associated culture, while ignoring the actual physical attributes of the characters. Likewise, I could argue on this logic that if there was animation in which the characters looked to be Asian in every physical way, but were placed in Victorian England and given English names, that a live action movie based on the animation should obviously be cast with Caucasian actors. If a director is going to be faithful to an animated medium, I want them to cast actors who will be truthful to the character designs.

The main gist of this disagreement rests on the different interpretations we have toward how the characters look. I'm not concerned about the apparent race of the characters, just that the people who are cast appear to look like them. While I have said that Aang appears Caucasian, if they had found a Chinese kid in Shanghai who was a dead ringer for Aang, "Wow, he really looks like Aang!" I'd be completely satisfied.
posted by Atreides at 11:11 AM on April 27, 2010


While I have said that Aang appears Caucasian, if they had found a Chinese kid in Shanghai who was a dead ringer for Aang, "Wow, he really looks like Aang!" I'd be completely satisfied.

Except they didn't even try.
posted by qcubed at 11:18 AM on April 27, 2010


Clearly, someone REALLY REALLY needs to do a biopic of Abraham Lincoln or Queen Victoria, casting someone from Korea or New Guinea in the leading role.

I have been imagining Gary Coleman as Napoleon all day.
posted by emeiji at 1:31 PM on April 27, 2010


So this Rourke guy who is white can be considered and cast for the role of a Mongol warlord.

In sum, I agree there should be a major Asian representation in Avatar. I disagree that it should begin with Aang's character.

But we shouldn't start casting Asian actors in an anime which represents and heavily borrows from Asian culture. Especially Aang, beause ya'know..all Asians got them slanty eyes and yellowy looking skin.

Why the fuck can't we start with Aang? After seeing the poster for the Airbender movie, I think the boy they decided to cast wasn't a bad idea. BUT that doesn't mean that there was no possible way an Asian actor could have been cast. God forbid the lead actor to actually be Asian.

In truth, Avatar is set in a fantasy world. In this world there are no Asian people, no Caucasian people, or African people. Some people certainly look like some of the aforementioned races, and it is casting's job, in my opinion, to find those individuals who can be represent the characters.

Well you know..the only fair skinned people I saw as elves in The Lord of the Rings were white people. Do you think maybe they can re-shoot the movie and cast me as Arwen? 'Cause that would be sweet.

They could have quite easily done something to make the physical appearance of Aang relate more to Asian physical characteristics. Regardless of the setting, be it European-like or Asian-like, they opted to go with this character design.

Or, holy fucking shit... NOT ALL ASIANS LOOK ALIKE. Groundbreaking isn't it?

While I have said that Aang appears Caucasian, if they had found a Chinese kid in Shanghai...

My brain..ugh.
posted by guniang at 9:34 PM on April 27, 2010


Sooo.... did anyone catch that live action Dragonball Z movie they made last year? Let me give you the short version. White people.
posted by P.o.B. at 11:40 PM on April 27, 2010


Or, holy fucking shit... NOT ALL ASIANS LOOK ALIKE. Groundbreaking isn't it?

SERIOUSLY!? I thought they all were factory manufactured from the same mold and everything!?!

But we shouldn't start casting Asian actors in an anime which represents and heavily borrows from Asian culture. Especially Aang, beause ya'know..all Asians got them slanty eyes and yellowy looking skin.


Sweet, I'm a damn racist now. Growing up with best friend who was Korean, and where one of my most pissed off moments of my life was when a bunch of rednecks speeding by in a truck called him a chink, was all just me being confused about my bigotry. Not to mention finding Japanese culture fascinating enough to gain a minor in the language, learn the history and write a senior thesis based upon it, and other wonderful things (like choosing Chinese history for my MA thesis). If only I knew more about Asian people and their culture! Thanks for clearing that up! I'll be sure to cheer extra hard next time I see Tom Cruise show the Japanese how to be a samurai and ask myself, why couldn't they have cast Sean Connery for the role played by Ken Watanabe!

Hyerbole aside, feel free to honestly address my statements, but it's tacky to cherry pick certain lines and make exaggerated or implied claims toward the motivation of why they were made. I think I pretty much wrote an agreement to the fact that Hollywood should cast more Asian actors, and that there should be more Asian actors in a movie like Avatar. I'll also agree with qcubed that in casting Aang, they should have at least sought to see if an Asian actor could fill the role. I still stand by the fact that I think the characters should be cast with actors who are similar in appearance to them as they appear on the tv show due to the fact the movie is based on a visual medium where appearances are important elements of the show.


And oh, I agree with P.o.B...the casting in Dragonball Z is idiotic. Which was a disappointment since it was produced by the awesome Steven Chow.
posted by Atreides at 10:56 AM on April 28, 2010


SERIOUSLY!? I thought they all were factory manufactured from the same mold and everything!?!
Oh, we are, in a foundry in China. But they're good about adding in a randomizer and appearance selection technologies, kinda like how you get in the top-tier MMOs.

As far as Dragonball Z goes, and the casting being idiotic. True dat, though the idiocy there is kinda endemic and prevalent throughout that entire franchise. While I haven't seen the movie, I can only imagine how exciting watching over nine thousand minutes of constipated "charging up" can be.
posted by qcubed at 12:06 PM on April 28, 2010


I'll be sure to cheer extra hard next time I see Tom Cruise show the Japanese how to be a samurai and ask myself, why couldn't they have cast Sean Connery for the role played by Ken Watanabe!
Personally, I think they should have. Remember what I said earlier, there are no Asian actors who can actually emote satisfactorily. Definitely not Ken Watanabe, or those kids in Daremo shiranai.
posted by qcubed at 12:07 PM on April 28, 2010


True dat, though the idiocy there is kinda endemic and prevalent throughout that entire franchise. While I haven't seen the movie, I can only imagine how exciting watching over nine thousand minutes of constipated "charging up" can be.

I could never get into the series, though I met tons of people who eagerly awaited every release of the show on VHS and DVD. It did seem like 4/5ths of the show amounted to build up for a fight in 1/5th of the time. To the movie's credit, it generally avoided that issue.
posted by Atreides at 3:21 PM on April 28, 2010


Howard Hughes watched the movie obsessively in his last years.
Is there anything that Howard Hughes didn't do obsessively in his last years?
posted by jrishel at 10:40 AM on April 29, 2010


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