George Takei Steps Up His Protests Against Akira Whitewashing

By Arturo R. García

Actor George Takei’s penchant for activism has helped shed light on efforts to protest the upcoming big-screen adaptation of Akira – first with the tweet pictured above directing fans to join Racebending’s petition against the possible whitewashing of the story’s principal characters, and now with an interview with The Advocate that has garnered attention around blogging circles.

Weeks ago, a shortlist of actors reportedly being considered for the main roles of Kaneda and Tetsuo was revealed to be composed exclusively of white actors – in spite of the original character names being retained for the new version.

In the interview, Takei notes the practice’s history in Hollywood, specifically citing the film adaptation of Pearl Buck’s The Good Earth, and mentions the folly of changing the characters’ race in another, more recent film:

The idea of buying the rights to do that and in fact change it seems rather pointless. If they’re going to do that, why don’t they do something original, because what they do is offend Asians, number 1; number 2, they offend the fans. The same thing happened with M. Night Shyamalan. He cast his project [The Last Airbender] with non-Asians and it’s an Asian story, and the film flopped. I should think that they would learn from that, but I guess big studios go by rote, and the tradition in Hollywood has always been to buy a project, change it completely and flop with it. I think it’s pointless, so I thought I would save Warner Bros. a bit of failure by warning them of what will most likely happen if they continue in that vein.

In an ideal situation,Takei went on to say, would be for the movie to be cast with Asian-American actors. As Racebending had previously reported, only 2% of Warner Brothers films from 2000 to 2009 had an Asian actor in the lead.

Not only has Takei’s interview with The Advocate been quoted on mainstream entertainment sites like Perez Hilton and Moviefone, but it also appears some geek-oriented outlets are finally taking notice of the issue: Newsarama and NerdBastards have linked to Takei’s interview in a complementary fashion, though Newsarama’s J. Caleb Mozzocco still doesn’t seem to quite understand the issue at hand, as he followed his link with this statement:

While I admit being attracted to the sheer insanity of casting twenty-something white guy Robert Pattinson and 30-year-old white guy Justin Timberlake as Japanese teenagers Tetsuo and Kaneda, if they don’t land Pattinson while he’s still  a chick-money magnet, I can’t imagine this going over well at the box office or in film reviews.

“Insanity,” of course, is not what this is about. But, at least people are talking about Takei’s statements and remembering that he’s been able to balance his progressive stance with his sense of fun:

  • Yojez

    if they cast robert pattinson in Akira I will kill myself

  • Mr. Means Well

    This is a pretty long recurring issue, though. Not just with animation like Akira and The Last Airbender, but that movie 21 about the kids from MIT who go to Vegas to make it big at blackjack. Almost all the students in real life were asian, but in the movie they were all white. I mean, animation is one thing, but studios have even whitened the roles of living people.

    I support Takei fully, especially as an Akira fan, but I’m really not at all surprised.

  • Digital Coyote

    My love for Mr. Takei burns more brightly than ever.

    That is all.

  • Kwaku

    I think you should factor in the snark coming from the Newsarama article.

    On one hand I think these racebening/whitewashing problems are often more complicated but we give them credit. For me the issue is always that the movie should reflect the diversity of the U.S. and not necessarily to have all the races in a book/movie/manga match the Hollywood adaptation. For example, I would hope that the two leads in an American Akira are Asian-American but if we have that, I’m okay with Morgan Freeman being the Colonel.

    On the other hand racism place a huge role in deciding to set the movie in America in the first place. Because of the idea that Asian-Americans are still foreign even-though there have been Asian-Americans in large numbers for as long as some white ethic groups. Hollywood studios/networks make English language movies/tv shows that are set in 18th Century France and ancient Rome but you never really see them doing the same for foreign places with non-white populations.

    WB could make an English language Akira movie set in Japan with Asian-American and Asian actors, just like there was an English language movie about Alexander or Maire Antoinette, but they don’t. Seeing a white ancient Roman speak English is okay but seeing an Asian 21st Century boy do it is, apparently, too odd.