By Arturo R. García
In the post-Airbender era, it’s more important than ever to talk about questionable casting decisions, and outright white-washings like the Akira remake is shaping up to be.
But it’s also important to keep an eye on who’s not talking about it.
With time running out ’til filming starts – GeekTyrant says shooting is due to begin in August – it’s becoming increasingly hard to decide if the project is just laughable, just offensive, or both. As if it this project wasn’t cringe-worthy enough when Zac Efron was reportedly up for the role of Kaneda, Racebending and other sites revealed more FAIL-worthy details this week:
The story, to be adapted from the original manga, as opposed to the anime, will now take place in “Neo-Manhattan.”In spite of this, the lead characters in the remake will retain the original character names, Tetsuo, and Kaneda – which would have been a reason for optimism, if it wasn’t for the list of actors being mentioned in connection with each part:
- Robert Pattinson
- Andrew Garfield
- James McAvoy
Average Estimated Age: 27
Character age: 15
- Garrett Hedlund
- Michael Fassbender
- Chris Pine
- Justin Timberlake
- Joaquin Phoenix
Average Estimated Age: 30
Character age: 16
On top of that, the characters are reportedly still supposed to be members of a biker gang in this new incarnation. So, the selling points as of now include a cast whitewashing with people who are way too old for these characters, making for potentially the most awkward-looking bikers since Wild Hogs.
Our friends at Racebending.com, of course, made the case for diversity:
Last year, a Racebending.com volunteer ran a count of the 241 Warner Bros movies from 2000 to 2009 and found that only 2% had an Asian first-billed lead. Aside from The Matrix trilogy starring Keanu Reeves, the majority of films with Asian leads starred Asian nationals like Jet Li and Rain.
Although Asian American actors are sometimes cast as supporting actors in films like this month’s Sucker Punch, they still struggle for representation in leading roles in Warner Bros. films. If not in a film called Akira, for characters named Kaneda and Tetsuo, when will Asian Americans get to star in a Warner Bros film?
In contrast, even though 40% of movie tickets are purchased by people of color, 90% of the films released by Warner Bros between 2000 and 2009 featured a white lead.
Because one out of every 10 modern-day Manhattanites are Asian American (Lower Manhattan is 41% Asian,) it would make just as much sense–if not more sense, given the names “Kaneda” and “Tetsuo”–for the leads to be Asian American as it would for the leads to be white. Tetsuo and Kaneda should be cast with Asian American leads.
Besides this sound argument, Racebending has also created a Facebook petition to show Warner Brothers and Legendary Pictures that there is an audience out there who wants to see some semblance of respect for the original work.
Warner Brothers isn’t talking about it yet, of course. The studio did not return a Thursday call from Racialicious seeking comment. But what’s really sticking out at this point is the relative lack of discussion on the matter from the geek community’s bigger outlets.
One would think that fan outcry over the mishandling of one of manga’s greatest works, particularly in the wake of the Airbender uprorar, would garner more attention. To be fair, it’s possible they’re waiting for the final casting to take place. But as of Thursday evening, Newsarama’s film section was all about the Marvel Comics movies and Simon Pegg’s Paul, and CBR’s normally-reliable Film Reel at Comic Book Resources has nothing on the story, and there’s nothing at Comics Alliance and not a peep at ComicVine, it’s just … off.
Wait, that last one’s not quite true. ComicVine’s anime-centric affiliate, AnimeVice, had a short story that started like this:
Once again, I’m sure this bit of news will cause many otakus’ heads to explode. I expect the beige walls of the communal parlor that is the internet to be absolutely coated with blood, bones and brains.
There’s a similar undercurrent of Othering to what little coverage the Akira issue is getting around other sites – ComicBookMovie.com seemingly only has a story up because a guest contributor submitted it, and sites like IGN are quick to pin the Airbender protest on Racebending – not just for proper credit, but almost apologetically, as if to placate the business outlets they rely on for the “exclusive” interviews and rumors they and their ilk are normally quick to pounce on: we don’t have a problem with the casting, it’s those people.
Seemingly the only writer outside of the usual progressive outlets who is actually taking a stand on the issue, and not couching her coverage with the usual, “What do you think?” and “Some people are accusing Warner Brothers of ‘whitewashing’ Akira” chestnuts you can find with a Google search is Emily Asher-Perrin at Tor.com, who asks, “Where’s the Hollywood Wake-Up Call?”:
The Last Airbender film famously called a lot of unwanted attention to itself by whitewashing their cast as well, particularly the lead character Ang. The most colorful people in that cast were, predictably, the villains. The trend is getting harder and harder to ignore.
One of the main responses to ire over the casting of Akira is that there are no young Asian actors with enough star power to get the big box office numbers that Hollywood is banking on. But isn’t that exactly the point? Where are these young actors? Why aren’t they being given a chance? It’s not as if they don’t exist; Grace Park and John Cho are pretty solid proof. Who is keeping them out?
It made me realize for the first time that all of the Asian actors I remember watching as a kid are gone now—and no one has stepped up to take their place. Jackie Chan was a favorite of mine as a kid, but he has retired. So has Jet Li. Chow Yun Fat hasn’t been around for a while. Michelle Yeoh occasionally appears in an action flick. Lucy Liu is…come to think of it, where is Lucy Liu? A lot of these actors created a place for themselves in cinema, using their own crews and creating their own projects, but Hollywood doesn’t seem at all anxious to fill their shoes.
Geeks like to tag themselves as being progressive. So why the silence on this issue?
About This BlogRacialicious is a blog about the intersection of race and pop culture. Check out our daily updates on the latest celebrity gaffes, our no-holds-barred critique of questionable media representations, and of course, the inevitable
Keanu ReevesJohn Cho newsflashes.
Latoya Peterson (DC) is the Owner and Editor (not the Founder!) of Racialicious, Arturo García (San Diego) is the Managing Editor, Andrea Plaid (NYC) is the Associate Editor. You can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The founders of Racialicious are Carmen Sognonvi and Jen Chau. They are no longer with the blog. Carmen now runs Urban Martial Arts with her husband and blogs about local business. Jen can still be found at Swirl or on her personal blog. Please do not send them emails here, they are no longer affiliated with this blog.
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