Racebending and other Asian-American Groups Speak Up Against Akira Whitewashing

By Arturo R. García

Earlier this week, Racebending – the group who organized the boycott against 2010’s Last Airbender film – sent letters to the studios behind the upcoming Akira movie adaptation, following reports that the movie, based upon Katsuhiro Otomo’s iconic manga series, would be subject to a similar whitewashing.

The letters were addressed to Warner Brothers president Jeff Robinov and Thomas Tull, chairman and CEO of Legendary Pictures, and was also signed by these Asian-American community groups:

Korean-American organizations in Chicago and Los Angeles also spoke out in support of the letter, which cited both the potential economic impact Asian-American communities could have on the film, as well as Manhattan’s own ethnic make-up:

In the United States, Asian Americans represent over 15 million media consumers and counting. Our spending power will grow to more than $700 billion by the time AKIRA is released in 2013. Despite this, our community remains an untapped market. From the silent picture era and even to this day, we continue to face a glass ceiling when it comes to accessing first-billed roles in Hollywood.

Last week, the Asian American community was appalled to see entertainment media outlets report that all of the actors currently being considered for lead roles in AKIRA are white. This news was also negatively received by over 6,000 media consumers of all ethnicities. Because Asian Americans are present in every major city in the United States, there is no need to change the ethnicity of the main characters while resetting this story to Manhattan. One out of ten Manhattan residents are Asian American and at 41% of the population, Asian Americans are the largest racial group in Lower Manhattan. Casting white actors for Asian lead characters will reinforce a glass ceiling and reduce opportunities for Asian American actors.

Last week, Deadline reported the movie would change the series’ setting from a post-apocalyptic Tokyo to “Neo-Manhattan,” and the film’s main characters, Tetsuo Shima and Kaneda, would retain their names, but be played by white actors, with names like Robert Pattinson and James McAvoy reportedly being considered.

In fact, none of the actors who have allegedly been considered for Tetsuo or Kaneda have been Asian-American: Pattinson, McAvoy, and other names like Michael Fassbender and Joaquin Phoenix were only the latest white actors reportedly circling a part in the movie, following James Franco, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Zac Efron and Leonardo DiCaprio, whose production company, Appian Way, owns the movie rights to the story. Seemingly the only actor of color to have been discussed for a role in the film is Morgan Freeman, who had been rumored to be in talks to play The Colonel. Otherwise, the only PoC connected to the film is Albert Hughes, who has been tapped to direct the two-film adaptation.

The revamping of Akira has also spurred Racebending to create a Facebook petition against the whitewashing, which has garnered more than 6,000 followers as of Wednesday night.

Image courtesy of Dark Horse Comics
Morgan Freeman image courtesy of Flixster.com

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Racialicious 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 Reeves John 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 team@racialicious.com.

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Written by:

  • Eva

    Does anybody on the planet actually want this movie?! I can’t wait to see how much money it loses.

  • Janea Braden

    Mr. Freeman, do NOT embarrass people of color by accepting that role!

    • AJ

      Agreed, Mr. Freeman the world implores you to stay classy!

  • Anonymous

    This is ridiculous! If the movie is good people will come out to see it, so there’s no need (or excuse) to change the main characters’ ethnicity to appeal to “a wider audience”. That’s an excuse that has been used for ages. if people won’t come out to see a good action movie because it has PoC, that says more about them than the movie.

  • http://crommunist.wordpress.com Crommunist

    I realize this might not be exactly who you’d look to to represent your cause, but Cracked posted an article that touches on this issue as well:


  • http://www.escarondito.blogspot.com Escarondito

    This is such a complex issue to hit properly. Once they moved the story from Neo-Tokyo to Neo-Manhattan all bets would’ve been off as to how to cast the film. Until they decided to keep the names of Tetsuo and Kaneda. At that point their white washing became absolutely blatant. If they were named Ted and Ken, go ahead and make your white film that will flop. But keeping their Asian names, making them older, and putting white faces behind the iconic characters…*Chappelle Voice* That’s Racist!