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:
- Asian Pacific American Media Coalition (a coalition that includes organizations like the Japanese American Citizens League and East West Players)
- Asian American Justice Center
- Media Action Network for Asian Americans
- National Korean American Service & Education Consortium
- Organization for Chinese Americans – Greater Los Angeles
- Taiwanese American Citizens League.
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