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…