Shyamalan OK with Airbender critics 'up my ass all the time'

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Dec 14, 2012, 4:31 PM EST

OK, here it is, the final word, for now anyway, on the casting controversy and racism accusations surrounding M. Night Shyamalan and his upcoming film The Last Airbender.

"It's a compliment when everybody is up my ass all the time, it really is," Shyamalan told a small group of reporters, including one from SCI FI Wire, during an interview yesterday in New York. "You've got to look at it as, if they dismissed you, they weren't paying any attention to you. They're trying to dissect you to show you why you're not that great, which is wonderful thing for them to try to do for my entire life. My job is to just keep making movies. It'll go away, or I'll prove them right or wrong, right? So time will tell. I'm fine with that. Your critics are ... you want your hard teachers to tell you, 'You're no good, you're no good because of this and this,' even if they secretly believe the opposite. It's good to be tough on yourself."

Shyamalan, moments earlier, had gone into tremendous detail about his casting choices, reiterating points that he made in a story that ran earlier on SCI FI Wire. He did so frankly, but without any of the anger or frustration that characterized that earlier conversation.

He argued that the subject matter borrows from all cultures, including Indian, Thai, Japanese, etc., and insisted that it's a "small group" of about "5,000 to 7,000 people" that are "very, very vocal" about the fact that he "didn't cast the correct Asians in it."

However, he said, "Anime is based on ambiguous facial features. It's part of the art form. You got a problem with that? Talk to the dudes who invented anime. It's not my issue, OK? That girl [Katara] looks like my daughter. That boy [Aang] looks like Noah [Ringer]. There is no Inuit that looks like Katara. It's not true. It's just not true. She looks like my daughter. My daughter is a dupe of Katara. Our family saw ourselves in it. A Hispanic family saw themselves in it. My daughter's best friend is Hispanic. She saw it, and their whole family thinks they're all Hispanic, and that's true. That's the beauty of anime, [that] we all see ourselves as incredibly ambiguous and diverse. I wanted to be diverse. I wanted to be more diverse. I had to [build upon] whoever came in, the cultures that came in. This wasn't an agenda for me. It was just very open to me."

During the editing process on The Last Airbender, Shyamalan trimmed several scenes set on the Earth kingdom and cut out the entire storyline of the character Suki, played by Jessica Andres. The Earth sequences included stops in a Mongolian town, a Korean town and an African-American town, but the scenes were dropped in part because much of the proposed second Last Airbender film—Shyamalan and Paramount are envisioning a trilogy—would be set in the Earth kingdom.

"I think when we're done with these three movies it will be, without even a second place, the most culturally diverse movies ever made by Hollywood," Shyamalan said. "So the irony for me is if you look at me and say I am a problem, that I am the poster child for racism in Hollywood. ... You look at the movie poster and you have Noah and Dev [Patel, who plays Zuko] back to back, and my name over it, and this is your issue with the state of Hollywood? I'm satisfied."

The Last Airbender opens nationwide on July 2.