I have quite a few thoughts on this, and I wonder if they are, um, extremely me-biased.
Obviously the question has come up rather a lot -- why are people so incensed about the live AtlA casting, but not about the casting of non-Asian/Pacific Rim voice actors?
And my gut feeling always goes directly towards the day I found out that one of the major voice talents in "Dave the Barbarian" (don't judge me :-D) was Erica Lutrell
, playing the oldest sister in a family of pre-Christianity Vikings. And it wasn't a great role of operatic scope and versatility (she was basically a pre-era mallrat) -- but if she was forced to wait around for a role that matched her face, she would have wound up playing yet another one of those obnoxious "sassy" belligerent black sidekick girls (YEAH I MEAN YOU, "AMERICAN DRAGON") that piss me off so much, that are never, ever accompanied by anything other than a hip hop soundtrack. (There is nothing wrong with a hip hop soundtrack. But there are a hell of a lot of other possible soundtracks in the world, for god's sake. And some of us black girls are actually quite introverted
and completely devoid of sass. I couldn't muster up sass if you paid me in gold-pressed latinum. Startling, I know!!) Note: This was 2004. I think there's a tad more variety now.
The voice acting community is very small, and voice acting is a very different skill set than visual acting, something I think even a lot of industry insiders don't really understand properly, seeing all the stunt casting the do with big-name Hollywood actors being shunted into animated programs and, all too often, failing to shine (not always! But sometimes, abysmally). And (I believe) you absolutely cannot cast someone who needs to be very much trained into a (planned) long-running series, as you might be able to in a one-shot movie situation. So yes, a lot of the same people in that small community get voice acting jobs over and over again, and the ones that get the most jobs tend to be GOOD (so good that you cannot recognize them sometimes). I cannot, for example, begrudge Phil LaMarr, Grey DeLisle, or Tara Strong anything they might choose to do ever ever ever. They are genius, chameleon, multi-multitalented people. Phil LaMarr needs laud and praise and an award of some kind, seriously
. Or another example -- I would hate to see Dante Basco excluded from voicing teenage boys because he is now in his thirties, which would definitely happen in live-action. And, yeah, Tara Strong. Who is obviously not a baby or a ten year old boy in real life...but has made these roles into staples.)
So with AtlA, I'm not inclined to hold any grudges on that score -- I know they put some effort into multi-ethnic casting on the one hand, and on the other hand, more or less everyone they cast in main roles was seasoned. (Even Aang's tiny voice actor had already done another long-running voice-acting gig and knew the score.) And yes, eventually they replaced Iroh's voice actor with a white one, but one who had long studied the original actor's voice patterns and idiosyncracies specifically to be able to do justice to the man's work -- with respect.
I am still, after all these years, inclined to see an adorable black-haired "Sanada Ryo" in my head whenever I hear blond Canadian Matt Hill speak, regardless of role -- even when he does live action. Seriously, I hear the guy talking, I see his mouth moving, and I can't help but imagine a cartoon Ryo in a soundstage with headphones on while Hill lip-synchs. The picture of a Japanese teenage boy is firmly settled in my head for all time. I'm sorry Matt!!!
That is to say: The visuals remain the same, and they remain the thing that has the most impact. (The voice actor's take does matter -- I watched AtlA in French and Spanish and believe me, a different voice interpretation can skew the characterization ENTIRELY -- in French, Aang is totally a 16-year-old, and in Spanish Toph is that close to being an outright man -- but a different voice actor does not tend to really change the race of a character onscreen. "AtlA" exists in English, French, German, Japanese, Thai, Spanish, Dutch if I'm not mistaken, Korean I'd bet money, as well as others -- none of these versions are "less real," and none of this can vastly alter the ethnicities of the people we see onscreen.)
So, overall, I fault the voice acting industry about a thousand times less for their behavior than I do the visual film people, who sit at tables and say awful, horrible things that I then read about on blogs. ("But WHY does the character have to be [insert nonwhite, nonmale caterory of person here]? Obviously there has to be a specific reason.") There is ALWAYS room for improvement, especially as far as actors getting work who tend to be unfairly excluded, but it's a complicated thing with nuances in it as far as impact on audience goes.
There are no #@$&*&((*#$* nuances in this live-action production. It is just badness.
That's my two cents.
touches on some of these topics -- he's focusing on live acting, here. "Believe me, as an actor, it’s no easy answer. My first gut feeling is, the best actor should be cast for the job no matter race… But maybe that’s just an ideal that is unreal when it comes to making a movie, and making a big budget movie at that. See, my whole career is based on playing roles that were not written race specific, matter fact, if I had to wait for Hollywood to come along with a script for a Filipino American, I would have no career at all."