When will Hollywood be able to handle non-white heroes headlining summer blockbuster movies? Judging by the caucasianizing of the leads of both Prince of Persia and The Last Airbender, the answer seems to be "Not yet, anyway."
A good piece in today's LA Times looks at the reactions to the casting of white actors in what, by all rights, should be non-white roles for both movies, including this somewhat surprising justification for Jake Gyllenhaal's casting as the Prince of Persia:
Asked point blank by the Times of London, “Isn’t Gyllenhaal a bit pale to play a Persian?” [producer Jerry] Bruckheimer delivered this history lecture. “Persians were very light skinned,” he said. “The Turks kind of changed everything. But back in the 6th century, a lot of them were blond and blue-eyed.”
[Disney-hired Middle East consultant Reza] Aslan confirmed the veracity of Bruckheimer’s historical appraisal. “Iranians are Aryans,” Aslan asserted. “If we went back in time 1,700 years to the mythological era, all Iranians would look like Jake Gyllenhaal.”
Airbender's makers don't seem to share such bold attitudes, with the article talking about moves taken to appease those complaining about the racial recasting of the animated series' characters in the switch to the big screen, including a special pre-release screening for those critical of what they call "whitewashing" the franchise, but Guy Aoki, co-founder of the Media Action Network for Asian Americans, isn't convinced:
If ‘The Last Airbender’ does really well, it sends the message in Hollywood that discriminating against Asian Americans works... He can fill up the background with Asian characters but that doesn’t mean it’s a diverse film.
The entire piece is worth reading. Go and take a look.