WB taps Tom Cruise to play Billy Cage–née Keiji Kiriya

By Guest Contributor Marissa Lee, cross-posted from Racebending

Warner Bros has finally glommed onto a lead actor for its adaptation of the Japanese science fiction novel All You Need is Kill.

Set in a post apocalyptic future, All You Need is Kill is about a young Japanese soldier, Keiji Kiriya, who serves on an international fighting force fighting an alien invasion. Keiji gets stuck in a “Groundhog’s Day” scenario where he keeps reliving the day he died.

Set to play the main character in the film adaptation? On December 1st, 2011, Variety reported: Tom Cruise.

Is Warner Bros on a racebending roll?

Throughout November, Warner Bros kicked around names for its adaptation of another property with Japanese origins: Akira.

After considering Brad Pitt and Keanu Reeves, WB nabbed Garrett Hedlund (Tron Legacy) for Kaneda, continues to evaluate a shortlist of unknown Caucasian actors for Tetsuo, and has offered Kristen Stewart (Twilight) the role of Kaneda’s love interest.

Gary Oldman and Helena Bonaham Carter were also propositioned for supporting roles. After Gary Oldman turned down his offer to play the antagonist in the adapted story, the Colonel, Japanese stage actor Ken Watanabe was reportedly offered the role. A casting call has also gone out for a “Japanese American” for the role of Yamagata, a side character from the manga.

Warner Bros is also jump starting an adaptation of the Japanese anime Death Note.

One of these films will have an Asian American lead, right? Or at least an actor of color in the lead role?

Why the All You Need is Kill casting isn’t subtle at all

In Hiroshi Sakurazaka’s novel, the lead character, Keiji Kiriya, is a Japanese soldier who is part of an international military unit. For the purposes of the American adaptation, director Doug Liman (The Bourne Identity)has said that the actors will be “totally American.”

And somehow, “totally American” ended up meaning “white,” even though characters need not be white in order to be American.

In the script, Keiji Kiriya’s name was changed to “Billy Cage,” even though named Keiji have been fighting in the American military for generations.

Sound familiar? That’s because history is repeating itself. Starship Troopers, another science fiction novel about an international army fighting aliens, featured a Filipino protagonist named Juan Rico. In the 1997 film adaptation, his name was changed to “Johnny” and he was cast with a white actor. An opportunity for an Asian American actor in the genre of science fiction was completely lost.

Science Fiction/Fantasy is a genre that has characters with names like Kal-El, T’challa, Worf, Neytiri, Teal’c, Cthulhu, Meriadoc Brandybuck, Leeloo, and Slartibartfast. Why was it necessary to change Keiji Kiriya to Billy Cage?

To add insult to injury, unlike Akira (a story that only contained Japanese characters), the original All You Need is Kill already featured characters who were white!

The other lead characters in the book are Rita Vrataski and Ferrell Bartolome, both from the U.S. Armed Forces. Even with an Asian American actor in the lead role, white actors would have had ample opportunities to play important roles in the film!

Instead, the production went out of its way to retool the script, erase Keiji’s name and ethnicity, and essentially, lock Asian American actors out of one of their only chances to star in an action movie this decade.

Impact on Performers and Communities of Color

Our concern is that Warner Bros casting practices employ racebending to reinforce the systemic racism that is already present in Hollywood. Setting Akira in neo-Manhattan could have been a great opportunity to reflect the diversity in modern day New York City, opening up lead role opportunities for not only Asian Americans but also other performers of color. There was ample opportunity for Warner Bros to demonstrate a commitment to diversity by finally casting a young lead actor of color.

Likewise, casting an Asian American in All You Need is Kill would not have locked out white actors from other lead roles in the movie, especially since nearly all Warner Bros movies feature white lead actors.

Harold and Kumar (from back in 2004) aside, it doesn’t seem like Warner Bros is interested in developing unknown Asian American talent–even though they are more than ready to whitewash several lead characters that were Asian to accomodate white actors.

Not to mention, Warner Bros will also be presenting a yellowface joke in it’s Christmas release, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows.

(Awkward coincidence given the whitewashing of roles in Akira and AYNIKis a modern evolution of yellowface..)

Not confidence inspiring.

Maybe Asian American actors are like poor Keiji Kiriya: doomed to constantly relive missed opportunities. When the rare Asian lead character comes along…

  • LateToTheParty

    Rico was from Buenos Aires, but it was implied that he was Filipino given that he (and his grandmother?) spoke Tagalog (which I believe is the national language of the Philippines).

  • http://rvcbard.blogspot.com RVCBard

    Can’t say I’m surprised. After all, Tom Cruise IS “the last samurai.” Um. Yeah.

  • http://rvcbard.blogspot.com RVCBard

    Can’t say I’m surprised. After all, Tom Cruise IS “the last samurai.” Um. Yeah.

  • http://rvcbard.blogspot.com RVCBard

    Can’t say I’m surprised. After all, Tom Cruise IS “the last samurai.” Um. Yeah.

  • http://rvcbard.blogspot.com RVCBard

    Can’t say I’m surprised. After all, Tom Cruise IS “the last samurai.” Um. Yeah.

  • Keke

    The problem is that unfortunately, as “post-modern,” as we would like to think we are, movie execs believe that general movie going audiences are uncomfortable with seeing a person of color as the lead protagonist, if in the movie at all.  This bears out when you look at movies like Hunger Games when two of the characters were people of color.   Many of the comments ran along the lines of “NO!!!  They’re BLACK?!!! But WHY?!!!!”   But when the movie “21″ came out, all but one character was White and I was like “But….they were all….Asian American….WTF?!!”  I think it DOES make many White movie goers uncomfortable to see any person of color in any role that gives them power and control, but the reality is, we live in an increasingly diverse world.  By 2020, this country will NOT be majority White and in order for us to begin to embrace each other, our media has to reflect that.  Besides, movie execs don’t seem to realize that yes, people of color also spend money at the theaters and they are so blind to that, that they are catering to the small minded bigots out there.  

    Unfortunately, I think it all boils down to the racist little notion that people of color cannot have basic human emotions and deal with basic human situations because “we are not exactly a “normal” human, we’re a “different” type of human”  *gags*  Thus, many kinds of movie producers feel that an audience won’t “relate,” to the main character.  I try not to feel as if it’s a question of whether or not, deep down inside, some people really just don’t feel that people of color are actually people at all, because that would just make me all kinds of sad………   

  • Keke

    The problem is that unfortunately, as “post-modern,” as we would like to think we are, movie execs believe that general movie going audiences are uncomfortable with seeing a person of color as the lead protagonist, if in the movie at all.  This bears out when you look at movies like Hunger Games when two of the characters were people of color.   Many of the comments ran along the lines of “NO!!!  They’re BLACK?!!! But WHY?!!!!”   But when the movie “21″ came out, all but one character was White and I was like “But….they were all….Asian American….WTF?!!”  I think it DOES make many White movie goers uncomfortable to see any person of color in any role that gives them power and control, but the reality is, we live in an increasingly diverse world.  By 2020, this country will NOT be majority White and in order for us to begin to embrace each other, our media has to reflect that.  Besides, movie execs don’t seem to realize that yes, people of color also spend money at the theaters and they are so blind to that, that they are catering to the small minded bigots out there.  

    Unfortunately, I think it all boils down to the racist little notion that people of color cannot have basic human emotions and deal with basic human situations because “we are not exactly a “normal” human, we’re a “different” type of human”  *gags*  Thus, many kinds of movie producers feel that an audience won’t “relate,” to the main character.  I try not to feel as if it’s a question of whether or not, deep down inside, some people really just don’t feel that people of color are actually people at all, because that would just make me all kinds of sad………   

  • Mickey

    Well, you already know what they are going to say:  “The general public (i.e., white  audience) will not want to see a movie with an Asian lead.”

  • Mickey

    Well, you already know what they are going to say:  “The general public (i.e., white  audience) will not want to see a movie with an Asian lead.”

  • Mickey

    Well, you already know what they are going to say:  “The general public (i.e., white  audience) will not want to see a movie with an Asian lead.”

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Javan-Nelums/696759111 Javan Nelums

    You know with all of this White Washing in movies and Mainstream I suggest that people start to  a protest like in Wall Street. Occupy Hollywood.