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Racebending is a neologism that describes the changing of a character's perceived race or ethnicity during the adaptation of a work from one medium to another. It was coined as a term of protest, but its meaning has shifted and developed.


Whitewashing, particularly common in film, refers to casting a white actor for a character who, in the original work, was of another race.

The term "racebending" was coined by one of the founders of the website Racebending.com, which was created to protest the casting of white actors in the 2010 film The Last Airbender, where the originating TV series Avatar: The Last Airbender featured characters of East Asian appearance.[1] The term "racebending" was derived from Avatar characters' ability to manipulate or "bend" the classical elements of water, earth, fire, and air.[2]

In 2010, Racebending.com and the Media Action Network for Asian Americans urged boycotts of The Last Airbender as well as Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time due to their practices of racebending. Prince of Persia was criticized for casting white actors for the leads instead of actors of Iranian or Middle Eastern descent.[3]

Fan activism over The Last Airbender led to the term becoming prevalent and becoming the name of the activist movement.[4] Activists used the term interchangeably with "whitewashing" to describe white actors being cast as non-white characters in adaptations of media.[5]

Other uses[edit]

Usage evolved, and by 2015, media studies academic Kristen J. Warner wrote that the term has "many definitions and contexts", from the film industry practice of color-blind casting to the amateur labours of love that are fan fiction. She describes how writers can "change the race and cultural specificity of central characters or pull a secondary character of color from the margins, transforming her into the central protagonist."[6]

Paste's Abbey White said in 2016 that the term can apply to actors of color being cast in traditionally white roles. White said, "In the last several years, racebending has become a practice used more and more to help networks diversify their ensembles and capture a bigger audience. Not only has it resulted in more racial visibility on the small screen, but in a far more unexpected way, racebending can generate deeper and more significant depictions of characters."[7]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Hart 2015, p. 208
  2. ^ Chu 2015, p. 169
  3. ^ Lee, Chris (May 22, 2010). "Hollywood whitewash? 'Airbender' and 'Prince of Persia' anger fans with ethnic casting". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved October 19, 2015. 
  4. ^ Young 2015, p. 61
  5. ^ Young 2015, pp. 85–86
  6. ^ Warner 2015, pp. 38–39
  7. ^ White, Abbey (August 29, 2016). "5 TV Shows That Benefited from Racebending". Paste. Retrieved January 23, 2017. 


  • Chu, Monica (2015). "From Fan Activism to Graphic Narrative". Drawing New Color Lines: Transnational Asian American Graphic Narratives. Hong Kong University Press. ISBN 978-988-8139-38-5. 
  • Hart, William (2015). "Racebending: Race, Adaptation, and the Films I, Robot and I Am Legend". In Kapell, Matthew Wilhelm; Pilkington, Ace G. The Fantastic Made Visible Essays on the Adaptation of Science Fiction and Fantasy from Page to Screen. McFarland. pp. 207–222. ISBN 978-0-7864-9619-8. 
  • Warner, Kristen J. (2015). "ABC's Scandal and Black Women's Fandom". In Levine, Elana. Cupcakes, Pinterest, and Ladyporn: Feminized Popular Culture in the Early Twenty-First Century. Feminist Media Studies. University of Illinois Press. pp. 32–50. ISBN 978-0-252-08108-8. 
  • Young, Helen (2015). Race and Popular Fantasy Literature: Habits of Whiteness. Routledge Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Literature. Routledge. ISBN 978-1-138-85023-1. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Gilliland, Elizabeth (2016). "Racebending fandoms and digital futurism". Transformative Works and Cultures. 22. ISSN 1941-2258. 
  • Fu, Albert S. (2014). "Fear of a black Spider-Man: racebending and the colour-line in superhero (re)casting". Journal of Graphic Novels and Comics. 6 (3): 269–283. doi:10.1080/21504857.2014.994647. 

External links[edit]