Thu
Mar 24 2011 10:47am
Whitewashing Akira: Where’s the Hollywood Wakeup Call?

AkiraAkira. Coming to theater screen near you. Prepare yourself for an epic adventure of untold proportions. Starring….

Robert Pattinson?

Um, what is going on here exactly?

Akira is Japanese. Pattinson is not. For those of you who are unfamiliar with what I’m talking about, that’s basically all the catch-up that you need. Hollywood producers, yet again, have managed to piss off a good portion of the world by trying to make the same mistake that they made last summer.

That’s right, Shyamalan, I’m looking at you.

This is a hot button issue, which makes me a little reticent to talk about it. I know that everyone gets uncomfortable as soon as the forbidden words get bandied about: “racism!” “sexism!” “homophobia!” It’s the easiest way to start a fight in a group of people who you don’t know. And frankly, most of the internet is a group of people who you don’t know. A lot of us try to stay as far away from it as we can because we want the internet to be informative and hopefully fun.

But let’s talk about it. Let’s talk about the fact that, yet again, a character who was Asian in the original story text might be cast in the film version as some white guy. I’m not an anime or manga aficionado by any stretch of the imagination, but I’m more than willing to call something out for what it is. And that’s racist. Yeah, I used the word—everyone grab your virtual pitchforks.

Racebending.com is attempting to draw attention to this strange phenomenon, and they have certainly gotten press for their efforts, if not the results they are hoping for. Akira’s not the only film they have a beef with; they’re currently taking issue with the casting of The Hunger Games. As they rightly point out, in the book, Katniss Everdeen has brown hair and olive skin. While the film’s director has assured us that Jennifer Lawrence’s hair can be dyed (really? it can? mercy, let me contain my shock), it still does nothing to appease those who perhaps viewed Katniss as a biracial, or at the very least Mediterranean, character.

The Last Airbender film famously called a lot of unwanted attention to itself by whitewashing their cast as well, particularly the lead character Ang. The most colorful people in that cast were, predictably, the villains. The trend is getting harder and harder to ignore.

One of the main responses to ire over the casting of Akira is that there are no young Asian actors with enough star power to get the big box office numbers that Hollywood is banking on. But isn’t that exactly the point? Where are these young actors? Why aren’t they being given a chance? It’s not as if they don’t exist; Grace Park and John Cho are pretty solid proof. Who is keeping them out?

It made me realize for the first time that all of the Asian actors I remember watching as a kid are gone now—and no one has stepped up to take their place. Jackie Chan was a favorite of mine as a kid, but he has retired. So has Jet Li. Chow Yun Fat hasn’t been around for a while. Michelle Yeoh occasionally appears in an action flick. Lucy Liu is…come to think of it, where is Lucy Liu? A lot of these actors created a place for themselves in cinema, using their own crews and creating their own projects, but Hollywood doesn’t seem at all anxious to fill their shoes.

It leaves me at something of a loss. I don’t know how to improve this situation by doing anything other than expressing my displeasure, and that is what makes it frustrating. My only hope is that someone with enough clout will eventually take notice of the environment they are creating, look past the studio wallet and surprise us with the right choice.

Until then, my fingers are crossed. Tetsuo’s probably are too.


Emily Asher-Perrin used to watch Rumble in the Bronx, Operation Condor and Supercop with her dad whenever they were on TV. You can bug her on Twitter and read more of her work here and elsewhere.

90 comments
Gerd K
1. Kah-thurak
Oh come on... racism? How about stupidity? Or the firm believe that 13 year old girls will rush into the cinemas to see Pattinson and hence fill the producers bank accounts? Both seem perfectly reasonable explanations without going into lame discussions about racism...
Anna_Wing
2. Anna_Wing
There are quite a lot of young actors in Hong Kong, the PRC. Taiwan and South Korea with the star power to draw a huge audience. In Asia, which is where most of the audience is, these days. I too am surprised at the foolishness of this casting decision, since if the film's makers wanted to make it a sure international hit, casting a Hong Kong or South Korean star would have been the way to go. Or a Japanese, I suppose, given the source.
Mike Conley
3. NomadUK
Oh come on... racism? How about stupidity?

I see no reason one can't have both; they usually go hand-in-hand.
Anna_Wing
4. Jazzlet
@ Kah-thurak

It is perfectly possible that racism was in the mix along with your suggestions, particularly an assumption that your thirteen year old girls would find a white actor more attractive than an Asian one. Blithely dismissing the possibility of racism in this context seems facile, defensive even.
Lucas Huntington
5. L.P.Huntington
Robert Pattinson?!??? I hope that's somebody's idea of a joke...
But I googled and found the list of other "possibilities" and they are all equally lame.
If they aren't going to do it right, why in the hell are they doing it AT ALL?????
Matthew B
6. MatthewB
This is an extension of the fact that they are more generally Americanizing the movie (iirc it's set in NYC) - another mistake imo. It's a distinctly Japanese story, shaped at a very fundamental level by the traumas of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I suspect they're going to try to use 9/11 as a stand-in for those, which would take the cultural appropriating and whitewashing to a whole new level.

More broadly speaking, this is what happens when you remake art from a purely profit-oriented motivation. Maybe we're just overreacting and the film will be as exciting and meaningful in its new form, but i'm not going to hold my breath.
Anna_Wing
7. Maac
Is this going to be an adaptation, where they take the basic story and set it in a different place with different names (but, apparently, the same title, WTF)? Or are they putting in in Japan and keeping the Japanese names but still casting white dudes? I have some room in my heart for the first, and enjoy it sometimes -- in both directions (the Korean film "Untold Scandal," a Chosun-era adaptation of "Dangerous Liaisons" comes to mind, that was pretty brilliant, and I enjoyed the American version of "La Cage Aux Folles" more or less) but not so much the second.
Gerd K
8. Kah-thurak
@4 Jazzlet
I knew I should never have posted on this topic. Now, quite naturally, I am defending the racists, and in the next step I will be the racist. Thanks I'm out. Have fun.
Mouldy Squid
9. Mouldy_Squid
Setting aside the backhanded racism, why on earth does Hollywood think that a live action Akira would be a hit in the first place? The manga was involved and difficult to follow, the original anime film was confused and required more than a little effort to understand. Condensing Akira down to two hours is a Sysyphean effort let alone trying to dumb it down to a level where it will appeal to the masses.

Good or bad, this film will flop; the audience for it just isn't large enough to re-coup the cost. Even if they can get enough bums in seats to pay it off, I doubt that the vast majority of the audience will enjoy or understand it. This project was doomed from day one.
David Thomson
10. ZetaStriker
I just boycott these movies and vote with my dollar. If I really want to see them, I'll pirate them, even though normally I'm very much against that practice.
Anna_Wing
11. BenL
These allegations of racism are pretty ridiculous, and for some reason only seem to crop up when it comes to anime adaptations. Remakes of foreign live action films happen all the time. When Hollywood remade The Ring, Naomi Watts wasn't Japanese. And when they remade Infernal Affairs into The Departed, they cast Leonardo DiCaprio. Is this racist? Or is this Americans adapting foreign films for an American audience, starring American actors that are mostly white? I don't remember hearing a huge public outcry bemoaning that there were no Asian actors in those films.

And it's not just Asian cinema that gets pilfered by Hollywood. When Hollywood adapted Let the Right One In and not a a single main character was Swedish. Does Hollywood hate Swedes? This might not be racist, but surely it's offensive to Swedish people everywhere, right? No, not at all. When we remake European movies, nobody perceives some slight against the original culture. We understand perfectly that Hollywood is putting it's own American spin on the movie.

And Hollywood isn't the only place where movies get remade. India has remade Man on Fire, Memento, Weekend at Bernie's, and Mrs. Doubtfire, to name but a few. None of them star white actors. Racism?
YouDont NeedToKnow
12. necrosage2005
I've noticed something that I don't really like about those wonderfull people at Racebending.com. They will complain about Hollywood not wanting to keep the origional race from the source material, but yet they haven't said anything about that wonderful and talented actor, Idris Elba, being cast as Heimdall in the Thor movie. I know that people out there will call me a racist for saying this, but you don't know me, so please don't call me untrue names.

The truth, as I see it anyway, is that Hollywood is only out to make money for their investors. Fans of comics and CBM's both American and Asian are really the only ones that know the story that is behind he movie. If you go out and ask 100 people on the street not only what Akira is, but anime and manga I'll bet that most people won't know. Ask those same people who the people on the short list to play Shôtarô Kaneda and Tetsuo Shima are, and I'll further bet that if not all of them will know at least one person on the list is, the majority will know almost all. They're going to hire people that they think will make them as much money as they can. It is also why we are currently getting all of these remakes, reboots, and sequel/prequel movies. They will bet on a sure thing that they know will make them more money.
Anna_Wing
13. cranscape
Kah-thurak: How exactly is it stupidity? Girls will go see Pattinson. They are making the Hollywood-smart choice (at least on paper) and that choice tends to be racially specific and not by accident. The story choice would be a Japanese actor to play a Japanese character, yes? And this isn't just any Japanese character. This is iconic stuff we are talking about. The fact they have little respect for that leads me to believe they should have just left the project in the pile. Plenty of white hero stories out there for them to make if that is what they want. No need to retrofit this one. And that's all before we get into the fact the story itself is also very Japanese in sensibility. Will they bland that down too? Once again -- just make a different movie then.
Nick Ickowicz
14. Nolder
personally I don't really see the issue with "whitewashing" something in an attempt to appeal to a broader audience
people need to stop kidding themselves
the vast majority of entertainment is made to make money
especially in the film industry
there's very little "art" involved in it anymore
at least not in the media most of us will experience

so why do people get so worked up when producers/directors/studios decide to cast the roles for their movie which they feel will net them the biggest profit?

additionally if we're going to pretend like this is art, why shouldn't
they get to portray a reinvisionment of something however they like?
it's their take on it, their art

and why doesn't anyone ever complain about the japenese horror flicks that get whitewashed?
the grudge, the ring, one missed call, ect, ect

it seems to me that the only time people complain about this sort of
thing is when it's an anime turned live action film that gets
whitewashed

now think about that for a second
as popular as anime is many people, especially in america, look down on
it as merely silly cartoons from japan which loser nerds watch because
they can't grow up
the risk in turning something many people already have a negative opinion on into a film is a huge gamble
but populating that film with unknown actors in an attempt to seem "more authentic" (which can utterly backfire)? that sounds like a movie just begging to fail

I really think it's just the anime fanboy/girl subculture that makes a big deal about this
not only is that hypocritical but it's also just damn annoying

you know how your favorite games/books/animes almost never get made into movies or suck if they do and you cry about it forever? well this is why
support your franchise and stop complaining about the little things

especially before the movie even comes out
Gerd K
15. Kah-thurak
@cranscape
I just named stupidity because it should allways be considered when analyzing why a bad decision has been made... Dont blame malice, if stupidity is a perfectly good explanation ;-)
Anna_Wing
16. Maac
Or is this Americans adapting foreign films for an American audience, starring American actors that are mostly white?


See, ideally we could do this without the “mostly white” part. I’m not sure how I feel about this adaptation not being “exact enough” -- if it’s an adaptation after all -- but too many casting calls far before production even starts are slanted towards Caucasian actors, only choosing actors of color when there’s a specific (and often stereotypical) “reason” to have a non-white actor. (People don't have "reasons" for being born their race, nobody is "of color" just to make a point, so why should story characters have to be there to make a point?) The Idris Elba example would only work if the playing field today were even, and this is far from true. I do not think raising the question is ridiculous.
Matthew B
17. MatthewB
For those that can't see it, the most basic problem with whitewashing is that it promulgates the myth that white people can't relate to non-white actors. In addition to limiting opportunities for non-white actors and exacerbating so many of the problems our society has with race, this is an outright insult to the intelligence of white audiences.
Anna_Wing
18. cranscape
India has remade Man on Fire, Memento, Weekend at Bernie's, and Mrs. Doubtfire, to name but a few. None of them star white actors. Racism?



A remake that is set in their own country is more like the American version of The Office vs the British original. In Akira's case it would be a white dude with the original characters name and still set in Japan. What in the world is he doing there? And if they move the whole story to America it loses the cultural specific context and probably should just not be made at all. Akira is not a situational comedy after all. Cross dressing, carting a dead body around, and story gimicks like Memento aren't on the same playing field as Akira.


Idris Elba



The only thing I question about Idris Elba is why he isn't cast in every movie. One of those eternal mysteries.
Anna_Wing
19. traintosanity
I'm not sure about this being labeled as racism either, not when the term was tossed about not so long ago against people who were questioning a black actor playing a Norse god in Thor. Granted, the situations aren't exactly identical, but I think there's enough similarities to further dilute the meaning of the term. And comics do seem to have less concern for rigid continuality than other medium, so that particular change doesn't really seem it should matter too much (and did seem to quite rapidly and rightly die off).

With Akira, though, yeah, seems like an act based on trading fidelity to the source material for higher profits more than any kind of deliberately malicious act. I have to admit I don't know anything about Akira, honestly, but the casting that is being rumored seems pretty ridiculous. Even if they're moving the story to NYC and using 9/11 in the place of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, they seem to be keeping the Japanese names for the characters? Unless it gets stellar reviews from fans of the original and from people who are coming to the story for the first time (like me), I can't say the casting interests me much or gives me any hope it'll be a great film, but I'll wait and see.

It is too bad that actors and actresses like those mentioned, John Cho and Gracie Park, as well as those like Daniel Dae Kim and James Kyson-Lee, who have made names for themselves as of late, aren't at least being considered for roles here. Star Trek managed to do very well with some relatively lesser known actors, and I'm sure Akira could do the same, I'd certainly love to see some new faces here.
Anna_Wing
20. Maac
(Also, something can be racially problematic without being malicious or even conscious, or making the person who has made a mistake "evil" and "labeled." The R-word really needs to stop being so scary so that we can actually discuss it and DO something about it.)
Matthew B
21. MatthewB
@ Maac Good point. As Avenue Q taught us, everyone is a little bit racist. ;)

People need to stop freaking out every time someone calls them on it and just deal with it. Unless you're tattooed with swastikas and like burning crosses while wearing a white hood in your spare time, occasional bouts of race-based insensitivity aren't character-defining traits. They're minor flaws that you can acknowledge and work on.
James Whitehead
22. KatoCrossesTheCourtyard
I don't think it's racism; just Hollywood being stupid & dumbing down it's audience some more.

Remember, this is the same industry that considered Katherine Hepburn "Box office poison" for years.

Hell! They use subtitles for US TV shows on the english speakers 'cause they don't think the average viewer has the intellectual ability to figure out what a shrimp boat captain from New Orleans says to a clamdigger from Maine.

Hollywood is a bottom line driven place. The big question is how much have you made for me lately. That's why there are more & more remakes and retread plotlines for thrillers, comedies, budy flicks, thrillers, etc...

I always felt that Altman's "The Player" summed up the industry & producers nicely. ;-)

John Cleese tells a story of being at a Hollywood party & talking with a number of producers about his hit at the time Fawlty Towers. They were, Cleese recounts, telling him how much they loved the show & how they wanted to do a US version of it. They only wanted to make one change, they wanted to write out the Basil Fawlty character.

@Maac & mrburack, good points. I will say that part of the problem is that often when you offer an opinion contrary to the consensus of the posters you get shouted down as 'racist', 'sexist', or whatever other 'ist' people use.

Just as we may all be a 'little' racist, we are all far less tolerant of differing points of view than we think we are.

Kato

PS - For the record the Airbender movie sucked because other than the character names & title it had nothing to do with that great show.
Marcus W
23. toryx
As others have already alluded to, "racism" as a term has become so culturally sensitive that the use of it can completely circumvent an entire discussion.

Nonetheless, even though I have absolutely no interest in Akira (nor manga and anime) I do find Hollywood's choice of casting a white guy for the role to be be quite objectionable. Just as I'm upset about the casting for The Hunger Games and the decision that the swedish versions of the Millenium Trilogy and Let the Right One In had to be remade using American actors and themes. In my mind this promotes the notion that if it isn't American, it isn't right and that's really not a sentiment that we should continue to encourage in this day and age.
Mouldy Squid
24. Mouldy_Squid
@BenL #11

Remaking movies and re-casting isn't the issue here, really. Akira is a uniquely Japanese story, it cannot easily be americanized, if it can be americanized at all (which I doubt).

Horror films are easily re-made since the main tropes of horror are universal. The Ring, for example, was a successful remake because it relied on the frisson of supernatural and technological horrors. As such it can be moved from country to country without any real damage to the story.

Akira, on the other hand, is a story that relies upon the history of a horrific act that has been perpetrated exactly twice upon exactly one country. The entire sub-text and emotional impact relies on the fact that Japan was bombed by atomic weapons. Akira doesn't work successfully if it is set in any other country.

Therein is the problem. How do you tell a story that is uniquely Japanese, that must be set in Japan but without using Japanese actors? Casting a caucasians in these roles is not only ham-handed, it can easily be construed as racist.

This isn't a fanboi-rage thing, this is a literature thing. If Hollywood insists on changing fundamental aspects of the story to make it marketable to an American audience, then the film will fail artistically and financially. Like it or not, the anime and manga fans will make or break this film, not tween attraction to Robert Pattison.
Anna_Wing
25. illmunkeys
Yep, you probably should have refrained from the racism charges and stuck to the fact that they took thee title and changed everything else. Setting, characters, story are all going to be different. In these cases, I don't even know why they license the name. Fans of Akira are not going to see it. The number of males Robert Pattisson can pull in is slim, and very few girls are going to be interested in the subject matter. They should title the movie something else and relinquish the license to Akira.
Anna_Wing
26. Maac
Akira, on the other hand, is a story that relies upon the history of a horrific act that has been perpetrated exactly twice upon exactly one country. The entire sub-text and emotional impact relies on the fact that Japan was bombed by atomic weapons. Akira doesn't work successfully if it is set in any other country.



Oooh, good points. Thank you for clarifying some stuff for me. (I saw AKIRA, but so long ago I don't remember it, and never read the manga.)



Everyone's a little bit racist sometimes



I don't want to tread on the humor too much there, as I've brought out that line myself when appropriate :-D (and the musical is adorable), but it's also important to note that not everyone is or can be racist in the same way, and it can have extremely varied impacts. (But we should still discuss it and not consider it a complete and immediate personal dismissal.)
Emily Asher-Perrin
27. EmilyAP
@ Maac and mrburack: Thanks very much for pointing out exactly what I had planned to say--that it would really be more helpful if people didn't immediately get offended as soon as racism was brought up, and made an effort to understand where the arguments are coming from.

@Kah-thurak: While I understand your desire to point the finger at Hollywood bank accounts, as you said, "dont blame malice, if stupidity is a perfectly good explanation." Frankly, racism is caused by stupidity just as (or more) often than malice. I'm not claiming that the people making the movie "hate Asian people" and that's why they're making these decisions. But holding them accountable is the only way to stop this sort of blind racism that comes from only caring about how many 13-year-old girls go and see your movie.

@Nolder: I'm sorry, but saying that they are whitewashing to appeal to a broader audience is exactly the problem. First off, there is no reason why actors of different ethnicities can't appeal to a caucasian audience. Also, the US is made up of many different ethnic groups, so suggesting that the "broader audience" would take issue with that is discounting large portions of our population.
Anna_Wing
28. reaeverywhereelse
The worst example of this sort of thing was the made-for-cable production of Earthsea, which reversed the races of the characters. Heros, not villians, must be white, apparently.
Anna_Wing
29. Maac
I think my computer ate my comment, which was essentially.

MouldySquid, thank you very much for this clarification:


Akira, on the other hand, is a story that relies upon the history of a horrific act that has been perpetrated exactly twice upon exactly one country. The entire sub-text and emotional impact relies on the fact that Japan was bombed by atomic weapons.Akira doesn't work successfully if it is set in any other country.



It's been ages since I saw Akira, and I never read the manga. Further, I'm not against cross-national adaptations in general (despite my "minority"status :-D) so I was not initially het up about this remake. So this was the further insight I needed. Stuff to ponder.

I had written other stuff, but I forgot it.
Nick Ickowicz
30. Nolder
I fail to see the problem in it sorry
it's their adaption of Akira, it isn't meant to be an exact copy of Akira
it is being made for people not into the anime/manga subculture
and to make money of course
in order to do this the studio and director will likely change several things about the story, including the ethnicity of the main characters

you're right in that there's no reason that an asian actor couldn't appeal to a white audience (which as you pointed out isn't entirely white in the first place)
but obviously for whatever reason the producers/director don't agree with that assessment
and really in the end I think people make too big of a deal about race one way or another
I personally care more about the skill of the actor than who they are or what they look like
I saw The Last Airbender and the whole whitewashing thing didn't bother me in the slightest
the fact that it was a terrible movie did

I guess I just take issue with people implying they have some sort of right to complain about what company does with their product
if you don't like it then you wont see it and I think that's fine
saying that they "should have used asian actors" to me is just as wrong as them not including the asian actors in the first place if for a different reason
Matthew B
31. MatthewB
@Kato
Let's examine at what "shouted down" looks like in the context of this discussion.

1. Kah-thurak dismisses any discussion of racism in this issue as "lame."
4. Jazzlet says that sounds facile and possibly defensive.
8. Kah-thurak is bowing out because he's afraid someone will make an accusation of racism.

Here was not even an accusation of racism; it was someone saying racism should not be eliminated from the discussion out of hand while simultaneously acknowledging Kah-thurak's point. That's not intolerance of alternative viewpoints - that's polite discussion.

I'll grant you that an actual (virtual) "shouting down" does sometimes happen, but that's more likely to happen with extreme viewpoints and blatantly trollish comments. More often it's our own discomfort at the whole topic that causes disengagement. In general, i'd say that if a topic makes you uncomfortable, running away from it isn't necessarily the best course of action. Whatever it is, examine the topic and especially the specific statement or accusation if there is one and try to step outside your comfort zone to see if there might be some truth to it before you respond or flee.
Anna_Wing
32. BenL
@Mouldy_Squid:

I think you make a lot of very accurate points, and I don't dispute that remaking Akira is going to be terrible. But I do dispute that it's racist. Most of Japanese anime, including Akira, deals with uniquely Japanese themes that would lose a lot of what makes it great if done by Hollywood. And because of that, the movie is going to more than likely be unwatchable garbage.

But even though everyone here seems to know that it's going to be terrible, Hollywood is persisting in it's folly. So the question is: now that the movie's being made, is doing so with white actors racist? And to that, I still answer "no".

If the movie's set in Tokyo and they cast a bunch of white people, that to me looks racist. But by moving the setting to New York or some other American metropolis and making it a story about Americans, seems to me no different than what was done for The Departed. I can see how the innate Japanese-ness of the Akira subject matter distinguishes this case a little bit, but I don't think it's inherently racist to coopt something from another culture and put your own spin on it. Hell, Takashi Miike made a western movie.
Mike Conley
33. NomadUK
there's no reason that an asian actor couldn't appeal to a white audience but obviously for whatever reason the producers/director don't agree with that assessment

Yes. 'Whatever' reason. I wonder what it could be?
Michael Burke
34. Ludon
I'm torn on this issue. While I'd like to see respect for the source material maintained on adaptation film projects, I also believe that we (as the Human Race) will reach equality and maturity when we each a point when any person can be assigned - or cast - to any task - or role - according to their ability to carry out that task - or role with no thought over skin color or gender.

Maybe I'm not as torn as I thought. As I look back at 'according to their ability to carry out that task.' I realise that maybe the problem is not identifying the 'race' or gendrer, maybe it's in identifying the task. Remember the anger over the news that Starbuck was going to be a woman in the new series? Well, the casting move worked because the series was not intended to be just a re-make of the original story. It was to be a re-telling with new twists. There is the difference - which others have touched on in their comments - the re-make or the re-telling. Maybe we should be arguing (pushing?) for the entertainment industry to be clearer in their statements of intent then hold them to standards for their intent. If they are doing a remake or adaptation of an existing work - be it Old Man's War or The Bible - we should expect and insist that they maintain some level of respect for that existing work. On the other hand, if they intend to do a re-telling of an existing work - such as I, Robot and Battlestar Galactica - they should be expected to be clear in their promotion of the project that they intend to change things. We, as viewers should then be accepting that if their intent is to do a re-telling or re-mix, they may have a free hand to try out their ideas.

By the way, I feel that Sci-Fi had been very clear about their intent in their promoting BSG while 20th Century Fox was not clear in their I, Robot promotional material. "Based on the book by..." is not clear enough. I've talked to people who think they have no need to read Asimov's book because they've seen the movie.

One last comment. Science fiction and fantasy have come up against the stupidity of the bottom-line thinking of the studio execs many times over the years without it being racial. (But still sexist in part of this example.) Gene Roddenberry often told of the network response to his first Star Trek pilot which included the command to 'get rid of the woman and that guy with the pointed ears.'
Mouldy Squid
35. Mouldy_Squid
@BenL

So the question is: now that the movie's being made, is doing so with white actors racist? And to that, I still answer "no".


Well, that is the issue it seems. It all depends on what changes have been made to the story. I don't really know, and if someone here does, it would be a great help if they could post it.


If the movie's set in Tokyo and they cast a bunch of white people, that to me looks racist.



And that is the rest of the issue, I think. I believe that most of the people who are complaining of racism in this film (because of the casting) are assuming that the film will be set in Tokyo. That is a fair assumption, if you ask me, since the story pretty much requires it.


But by moving the setting to New York or some other American metropolis and making it a story about Americans, seems to me no different than what was done for The Departed. I can see how the innate Japanese-ness of the Akira subject matter distinguishes this case a little bit, but I don't think it's inherently racist to coopt something from another culture and put your own spin on it. Hell, Takashi Miike made a western movie.



The Departed was successfully re-made (and a damn good film) because the themes of police corruption and the frisson of deep undercover Helsinki-syndrome are, again, pretty much universal. That kind of story can be transplanted almost everywhere and still work. Akira, I maintain, cannot. Set Akira in the US and the story must be changed to the point it is no longer Akira. It is simply too Japanese to be anything else.

The problem of racist casting in this film is predicated upon where the story is being set. If they move it to the US then, yes, casting white actors in the roles is no more racist than any other casting choice Hollywood has made (and that is a entirely different can of worms). But then it wouldn't be Akira. If they keep it set in Japan and uses Japanese names for the characters it will can be Akira, but casting of white actors then does look like racism; perhaps not pre-meditated racism, but racism by stupidity.

Racism might also not be the best choice of words for this issue. Cultural insensitivity may be a better label. It's not like Hollywood is producing a 1940s US comic book. There are connotations with the word 'racism' that don't necessarily apply to this particular situation.
Anna_Wing
36. Maac
I don't think "Airbender" or "Earthsea" had anything like as much wiggle room, since neither of those was crossing any country lines whatsoever -- they weren't "translating" for a new audience or moving anything to a new setting, even. The adapters just chose to willfully ignore.

When we speak of racism in the casting of "Akira" -- how can I put this? It can't be regarded in a vacuum. Casting in Hollywood is heavily weighted towards choosing white actors, even when other actors are available, in general. Non-white actors are generally chosen only when their non-whiteness is there for a blatant plot point (with rare exceptions). Even moreso when it's a main character being cast. So even if, like me, one is not automatically against a cross-national adaptation, and even if we argue that this is a trans-national adaptation set in a "white" country (which the the US isn't, really) and so it automatically follows that we must put in white actors -- well, that doesn't address my bolded parenthetical, there.

And frankly Asian-American actors are terribly underrepresented in our media. Which affects real-life Asian-Americans (and I specify, Asian Americans for a reason, because Jackie Chan's latest hit does not actually help them in this sense) who get asked, for example, if they speak English when they've been here for generations, or surprised looks when they don't have some sort of "nonstandard" accent or mentorly wisdom to impart. It keeps a whole segment of our co-nationals effectively "foreign" forever. That ain't right. So I think a little extra attention/discussion there, specifically about race, is completely warranted, in a way that the things like the Idris Elba situation cannot possibly parallel. There is not a shortage of roles for white men in Hollywood, and roles for whites are wildly diverse enough (villain, hero, sidekick, nearly every if not every political affiliation, class status, job, hobby, or personality you could think of) that no single role will seriously affect any perception (or visibility) of whites in the U.S. Therefore Idris is not impacting white actordom in the U.S. in any real, lasting way. The same cannot be said for "Airbender."
Anna_Wing
37. Maac
(Er, my point there being they could put some Asians in Akira, dangit! And I'd be interested to see the call sheets if they even tried.)
Anna_Wing
38. Maac
(I should have written "the reverse cannot be said for 'Airbender'" -- regarding its impact on work for Asian-American actordom.)
Emily Asher-Perrin
39. EmilyAP
@Nolder: Caring about the skill of an actor makes perfect sense. However, there are many skilled Asian actors out there who are not getting the opportunities they deserve because there aren't enough parts for them out there. Most casting calls in Hollywood ask for "a caucasian male" or "a caucasian female" instead of opening a role for people of all ethnicities. Could the casting agents on Last Airbender have found an Asian actor to play Ang? Of course they could have. Instead, they grabbed a kid from Texas. If that doesn't bother you, that's fine. But it will continue to upset a lot of people who have every right to be upset.

@Ludon: I hold the same hope that you do that one day racism will no longer be an issue in the acting world (or anywhere for that matter). Unfortunately, because it is still an issue, it's really not fair to take away potential parts from actors of different ethnicities for anyone's bottom line. I absolutely agree with your assessments on I, Robot and BSG, but if Akira is going to be a loosely based work then there is still a fault here; the fact that Hollywood seems convinced that Americans cannot understand a Japanese story insulting to all of us.
Anna_Wing
40. Jazzlet
@ mrburak and Maac, exactly.


@ Kah-thurak I am certainly not going to accuse you of being maliciously and actively racist, although as I judge people by what I know of myself (as most of us do) I have assumed that you may have the odd prejudice floating around, sorry if that offends, but I know I do and I'm not condemning you for it. One of my prejudices is against people who try and shut down perfectly reasonable discussions by belittling them or making jokes about the topic.


@ Ben.L another one of my prejudices is the assumption that all American remakes of European fims and TV programmes are trash, so I certainly do complain when Hollywood takes the spirit out of a European idea. It's unfair, but prejudices are.
Mouldy Squid
41. Mouldy_Squid
@Lundon #34

Akira is an unique situation. The new BSG was successful as a "re-telling" since there were no really major changes to the story or the world. It was still fundamentally about an exile (biblical connotations aside). In many ways the changes that were made are more meta-textual than contextual. The characters did not matter so much as characters, but rather as archetypes; the self-questioning leader, the prodigal son, the risk-seeking trickster. So long as the roles are there, it does not matter who plays them. So long as the basic story remains the same (human hubris leading to near extinction and exile), it hangs together since the story itself is archetypal. Really, there wasn't much of a change at all, it was simply updated to modern sensibilities and socio-political commentary. It was the same story.

Akira, on the other hand, cannot be treated in the same fashion. The characters aren't as archetypal, the story relies on a specific cultural matrix and its context is history-specific. Akira cannot be re-told or re-interpreted. Any attempt to do so will involve changing the fundamentals of the story which will make the story un-Akira. It would be like re-telling Dune without setting it on Arrakis.
rick gregory
42. rickg
I think this quote from Mouldy_squid is key to the debate...

Akira, on the other hand, is a story that relies upon the history of a horrific act that has been perpetrated exactly twice upon exactly one country. The entire sub-text and emotional impact relies on the fact that Japan was bombed by atomic weapons. Akira doesn't work successfully if it is set in any other country.


I'm not sure that the story can be told to a non-Japanese audience and retain the resonance it will have for Japanese people simply because we don't have the background of having had nuclear weapons dropped on our cities. To the degree that we generalize that into "horrific incident perpetrated against a country" yeah, 9/11 is the closest this generation of Americans gets. But using the Akira story just isn't going to work and, once you bend too many elements of a story, you're not really adapting the story at all, you're using the name for marketing purposes. Face it, they're trying to tap into two things - the fascination with anime/manga among younger people and Pattinson's Twillight driven box office power.


I don't see this as racism - it's business. Are there Asian actors that could do this role justice? Of course there are. Would audiences relate? Sure... we're not dumb. Heck could they do the story as originally written and we'd relate? Probably - good stories can be compelling even if we won't have the same emotional reaction that a Japanese audience might. But there are no Asian stars with the current box office pull of Pattinson and so, since the movie is being made NOW, they're going to produce it so that it brings in dollars NOW.

The question isn't really why no Asian actor is in the running for Akira, it's why no Asian actors currently have the same exposure as Pattinson so that the issue of box office pull isn't even relevant.




James Whitehead
43. KatoCrossesTheCourtyard
@31mrburack, I understand what you were saying & I do agree that, within the confines of this conversation, my point has not come up; for which I am very glad. I have, however, been part of & 'lurked' on conversations where this does happen.

This simply could've been a business decision where the producers were trying to figure how to increase their target market. Hedging their bets to make back their money; 'cause that's what they have to do.

I do think it is a terribly narrow-minded approach to take to assume that the general US audience won't go to a movie unless there are 'white folks' in the starring roles. You would've thought that the huge success of "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" and "The Joy Luck Club," to choose two examples, would've showed them that this assumption is wrong.

As has been said above, vote with your dollars. Sure, we can discuss this as we have, but hit them where it hurts, their profit margin. They keep losing money for stupid decisions like this one, they might change their thought processes; 'course this being Hollywood I'm not getting my hopes up.

Kato
Anna_Wing
44. goodfellow_puck
@Kah-thurak: It is absolutely RACISIM. Robert isn't the only name being floated. Both main characters have multiple WHITE only actors being sourced for the roles. Try reading here about why this is a long history of racisim in Hollywood: http://www.racebending.com/v4/learn/

@BenL: Just because you didn't hear about people being upset at other films casting white people instead of Asian, doesn't mean it didn't happen (IE "If it didn't happen to me--likely a white guy--then it doesn't exist" privilege). I was certainly annoyed about The Ring and watched the original instead.
"Americans adapting foreign films for an American audience, starring American actors" Yeah, see here's the thing about your line of thinking: In America, white people being default is not representative of our culture or our people as a whole. Constantly having only white actors take these roles is BS when we have such a varied racial makeup here. The racisim in the system is just more obvious in situations like these.

@Nolder: See above.

@Maac: "The Idris Elba example would only work if the playing field today were even, and this is far from true." Yes, exactly!

@Moldy_Squid: Supposedly it will be set in "Neo" Manhattan. L.O.L. And at this point, still keeping the original Japanese names. What do you think, will this end up like the horrifying DBZ movie?

As for the original OP: Thank you for writing about this, even if people ignorant of the history of racism or as it manifests in Hollywood will tell you calling it here out is wrong. Maybe some of them will try listening and reading up at http://www.racebending.com/v4/learn/ or google "white privilege." Ever since my husband and I read about this Akira update, we were horrified. Again. I love Avatar the Last Airbender, but outright refused from the beginning to even see the movie (whether it was good or not), based on the casting alone. More people should stop and listen when others call racisim, sexism, or homophobic, instead of get defensive. It could be the wrong thing to say, but usually it's the right call completely and you might learn something about your privilege.
As far as the actors go, I do not see why they cannot find appropriate Asian actors for these roles. If not here (and why NOT?), then it's not as if Hollywood hasn't tapped European, Canadian, Austrailian or New Zealander, etc. white people for roles. There are thousands of amaaaaaazingly talented actors in Japan, Korea, China and others. There is no excuse!
Anna_Wing
45. Amy Goldschlager
Once they moved the action from neo-Tokyo to neo-Manhattan, I knew things would not go well. I also can't believe how OLD the actors are who are being considered for the roles of Kaneda and Tetsuo. I mean, Akira is essentially about puberty, and all of these actors are way past that.
Matthew B
46. MatthewB
The "vote with your dollars" approach is not enough. To paraphrase H.L. Mencken, "No one in this world has ever lost money by underestimating the intelligence of the great masses of the plain people."

Until people generally acknowledge that this is a problem, nothing will change. Between actual racists who oppose a more prominent role for minorities and self-serving colorblindness that is more blind to the problems faced by minorities than it is to their actual skin color, little progress is being made.

A post-racial society is not a society with no racial issues. It's a society that doesn't talk about race despite its issues.
Anna_Wing
47. TheAdlerian
I think it's Hollywood racism but also some other things.

Firstly, I don't understand why we can't have an Asian MC since films like Crouching Tiger and House of Flying Daggers are classics. I think they did well in the US and people LOVE Bruce Lee, and so on. My point is that there's a record of people not just liking Asian actors, but loving them.

Secondly, do we HAVE Asian actors in the US anymore?

I ask because in the "Karate Kid" remake they cast a Chinese Kung Fu artist when Karate is Japanese and the two countries don't even get along well. The original had Pat Morita who was Japanese and famous at the time. Can anyone name a well known Chinese or Japanese actor?

I can't and I think that's because Asians aren't going into the arts in the US. That would make it tough for Hollywood to cast them.
Matthew B
48. MatthewB
And one more thing...

It's important for all of us to remember Mel Brooks' take on these sorts of issues: "If I got a paper cut, that’s a tragedy. If you fell down an open manhole and died, that's comedy." It's a lot easier to dismiss someone else's problem.

(I know, i'm really harping on this issue, probably more than it deserves, but as a white Jew with an African American daughter, i've been on the receiving end of prejudice and have also been forced to acknowledge my own problematic assumptions.)
Mouldy Squid
49. Mouldy_Squid
@goodfellow_puck #44

I never saw DBZ, the anime or the film (not really the kind of anime that I like) so I couldn't make a comparison, but now that I know that the setting for the Akira re-make is in the US I can offer only this: it will suck. It will be a complete train-wreck that might have a great opening weekend because of the star-draw, but that will be it. Any kind of comic book movie relies on fan support to be successful. There are exceptions to this rule, granted, but without a solid base of support the film will fail no matter how good of an adaptation it is. Watchmen is my case in point. Personally I thought that it was a fairly good adaptation of the original source, but the fans of Watchmen did not. Without the fan support and their word of mouth encouraging others who would not normally have seen it to go, the film failed.

I cannot imagine any fan of the Akira manga or anime film being even remotely interested in seeing the re-make (except out of morbid fascination). Setting the film in Manhattan has simply killed any chance of the film succeeding either financially or critically.

If you are going to set it in the US, why on earth would you keep the original character names and then cast white actors in those roles? Oh, right, because they are relying on the cache that the original film has.

They chose poorly.
Anna_Wing
50. Maac
I don't see this as racism - it's business. Are there Asian actors that could do this role justice? Of course there are. Would audiences relate? Sure... we're not dumb. Heck could they do the story as originally written and we'd relate? Probably - good stories can be compelling even if we won't have the same emotional reaction that a Japanese audience might. But there are no Asian stars with the current box office pull of Pattinson and so, since the movie is being made NOW, they're going to produce it so that it brings in dollars NOW.



But that IS racism: Race-based thinking and race-based (subconscious) assumptions made by businesspersons. Racism doesn't have to equal "Oh I hate you and now I shall throw flaming objects at your lawn and loved ones." Or even a conscious "all you can't act and are not really Americans." This is exactly what the people bringing up race are having a problem with -- institutionalized racial marginalization. Racism of thoughtlessness, of not realizing. Racism of forgetting-to-consider. Racism of casting directors going "this person just came in and totally fit what I had in mind!" without stopping to consider why what they had in mind was a white person. (I have heard exactly one director say that about a little black kid -- that was a bit part in the show "Wonderfalls," if I remember correctly.)

I don't think one can divorce the R-word from the conversation that easily. For starters, non-white actors are never going to get the pull of Pattinson if no one will cast them in anything fun, big, or quote unquote mainstream.

Fear not the R-word.... so far we are all being pretty nice to one another in this discussion!

I think...hmmmm. I think, because I am a chronic middle-of-the-fencer, that my problem with this film is that they have not translated enough things in order to be true to the spirit of the thing, but are still trying to capitalize on the name "Akira." I tend to excuse a lot of things if the work in question is done skillfully, and I believe there has to be room for thought experiments, but nothing about what I'm hearing about this production is convincing me that it has been done with that sort of care or caring.

My problem with actors of color not getting or even being considered for enough jobs that they would be perfectly qualified for is a semi-separate, but very related, and much larger problem. I am not at all willing to make a complete separation. I hope that is even slightly sensible.

I ask because in the "Karate Kid" remake they cast a Chinese Kung Fu artist when Karate is Japanese and the two countries don't even get along well. The original had Pat Morita who was Japanese and famous at the time.

The name was an homage to the original. I'm not sure if that really worked well, to be honest. But the boy does spend about five -- unsuccessful -- minutes trying to learn karate (in China) from an imported Japanese television program, and what he learns from Jackie Chan is kung-fu -- at one point he says to his mother very pointedly: "Chinese people do KUNG FU, mom, not karate!" So there are shout-outs. Again, they are capitalizing on the name and the franchise, and I'm not entirely sure that goes smoothly, but what nuances it for me is that they did prove that they had some awareness, and they did it within the actual film (not making excuses in interviews after the fact).
Anna_Wing
51. Maac
I think I'm being flagged as spam.
David Thomson
52. ZetaStriker
Honestly, if they change the setting to America I wont mind the whitewashing in this, now that I think about it. But there are specific cases, The Last Airbender and Prince of Persia coming most strongly to mind, where the ethnicity of the main character should have been considered more important.
Emily Asher-Perrin
53. EmilyAP
@Maac: Sorry about that--not quite sure why the system has been withholding certain comments. I'm trying to get into the post as often as I can to publish posts that are being flagged incorrectly. It's up now. :)
Nick Ickowicz
54. Nolder
@goodfellow:
this entire discussion seems to be getting a bit heated so I think I'll bow out after this
I just wanted to ask you, don't you think that it's racist that you refused to watch The Last Airbender based on the ethnicity of the cast alone?

please don't be insulted or think that I am actually accusing you of being a racist
I am merely trying to point out that if your opinion on a film is so cemented in the "correct" race of the actors that star in it and that whether or not you will see a film depends on the cast rather than other factors (how well you've liked the directors other films in the past for example) then it seems as though you're being somewhat hypocritcal by calling out hollywood on it's racism
Matthew B
55. MatthewB
@Nolder
"I just wanted to ask you, don't you think that it's racist that you refused to watch The Last Airbender based on the ethnicity of the cast alone?"

That's a good point to consider, but i don't think it's a valid criticism. I suspect they are not refusing to see the film because the cast is white. They are refusing to see it in protest of perceived injustice to the source material and more abstractly to the non-white actors who didn't get a shot at the roles. It's a subtle distinction, but i hope you can see the importance of it.
Anna_Wing
56. blue0eye0ninja
My objection is that there should have never been an adaptation. I pray to the Hollywood gods just to leave atleast one classic anime alone. What's next...Ninja Scroll 2015 starring Mr Pitt!?!

I'm still in shock, why did they have to adapt AKIRA? Why?
Anna_Wing
57. Maac
Yay, I'm appearing! :-)

Y’know, on much further thought, I’m okay with Gyllenhaal in “Prince of Persia” -- partly because he is matrilineally Jewish (bar mitzvah and everything), a perfectly valid group to be found in the area at the time (the movie’s setting has the Persian Empire stretching into Africa, Europe, and as far East as the Chinese border) and partly because the titular “Prince” is a foundling and adoptee. They mention his “low” and “debased blood” rather a lot (and the character’s childhood self looks down self-consciously when asked who his parents are, and never answers). It’s a major plot point that we don’t really know what he is or where he came from. Also the blood thing would probably have been a very problematic line to be hearing (for me), over and over again, with a less, shall we say, “mainstream” actor. In terms of look and verisimilitude, the phenotype works. However (and in terms of less-represented groups of actors getting work), with the other characters, particularly the Persian royal family, I think more effort could have been made. There were certainly enough Mediterranean/Maghrebi/”Ottoman” names listed as extras in the credits.
Teresa Jusino
58. TeresaJusino
The thing is, the reason why they're remaking Akira is because it's already popular. It already has a strong fan base. Otherwise, why do it at all?

So, if it's already popular - the way it is, as a Japanese story with Japanese characters - 1) why remake it? and 2) why remake it while changing the very things that made it popular to begin with? Remakes are worthwhile to get a different director/writer's take on a project. Some remakes or reimaginings turn out really well. However, the very act of setting the story elsewhere and casting a white actor is indeed racist, because like toryx said above somewhere, they're basically saying that this story is only worthwhile if it's American. It's not just the casting of a white actor in the lead that's racist, it's the disregard for the culture of the story as a whole.

If Hollywood studios are interested in creating stories like Akira, then they should do so. Write a new story, set in the US, where you explore similar themes in an American way! Don't makeover stories that already exist in your image.

And as people have brought up Idris Elba, and I'll bring up the brouhaha re: Donald Glover as a potential Spider-Man, I have this to say about that: it's a shame that minority actors HAVE to be cast as white characters, because 1) there aren't enough stories about minority characters made in Hollywood, and 2) too many times, when there IS a story with minority characters, as is the case with Akira, white actors are given those roles. So, you don't want minority actors playing roles that are supposed to be white, as is happening in Thor, yet you see no problem with white actors playing all the minority characters in movies like Akira...

So....where are the minority actors supposed to go? That's the issue at the heart of the racism discussion, and that's what needs to be fixed. It's not just about one movie, it's about the entire entertainment industry.
Nick Ickowicz
59. Nolder
@mrburack:
that's fair enough I suppose
though I'll say again that I don't think it's really wrong of studios to try to make the most money they can from a film
it is still a business afterall

I compare it to a strip club
they're going to want to hire the "sexy girls" so they can draw a bigger crowd and make more money rather than "ugly girls" you know?
studios are going to use actors they feel will draw the biggest crowd to make more money
this might kind of suck for "ugly girls" and non-white actors but I still respect the fact that these are businesses

of course you and others are entitled to hold those businesses to a higher standard and protest their films if you like
we all have a right to our opinion
Matthew B
60. MatthewB
@Nolder: Beyond the fact that it's fallacious and a just plain bad analogy for the situation, in the context of this discussion, you might want to re-think an analogy that equates white with sexy and non-white with ugly.
Nick Ickowicz
61. Nolder
you're really reading too much into the analogy if you think I'm implying that non white is "ugly"
Anna_Wing
62. Teka Lynn
The problem with casting a white actor in an Asian part, when there is no good reason to cast an actor of a different race, is that it is, at best, LAZY and THOUGHTLESS casting. One pool of actors (white) receives the majority of attention (and money) and other actors are neglected, even if they would be better suited for the part. Actors of color are overlooked for no good reason in "mainstream" movies, where the general policy is to cast white for the leads.

There is a long, and very ugly, history of Hollywood to put white actors (perceived as having more commercial appeal) in blackface or yellowface, while denying these roles to black or Asian actors. It is vanishingly rare for an actor of color to be cast in a "colorblind" role, as opposed to one specifically targeted to race. And even then, as we see, white actors STILL get the "non-white" roles. Why?
Michael Grosberg
63. Michael_GR

Robert Pattinson?

Um, what is going on here exactly?

Akira is Japanese. Pattinson is not.

Errr, Akira is not the protagonist of "Akira". If pattinson plays the lead, he'll play the equivalent of Kaneda or possibly Tetsuo.

Personally I'd like to see some color in this list - I'm not an expert on ethnic groups in Japan but Tetsuo was drawn as having a darker shade of skin than Kaneda's. And as long as its set in the US there's really no reason to use Asian actors - latinos or african american can work just as well. Race was not a major part of Akira in the same way it was in Avatar: The Last Airbender.
Emily Asher-Perrin
64. EmilyAP
@Nolder: The argument that doing what is best for your business financially negates your moral obligations as a human being is not something I'm comfortable with. Just because people will often do whatever makes the most money doesn't make it right, even in a capitalist country. By that argument, you could go so far as to say that slavery should have been continued because it made cotton barrons more money. If your business practices are damaging to any group of people, you don't have the high ground.

@Michael_GR: Sorry, about that--I meant that the story itself is Japanese. A little fix on the italics front hopefully cleared that up. :)
Lis Riba
65. lisriba
Ages ago, someone made a hysterical video of a whitewashed Akira @
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jafd97yJFOI . Have you seen this yet?

Tru dat, yo!
Anna_Wing
66. DarrenJL
Akira is a little kid. I doubt they'll be casting Pattinson in the role. Even as Tetsuo, race aside, he's too old.
Marcus W
67. toryx
EmilyAP @ 64:


The argument that doing what is best for your business financially negates your moral obligations as a human being is not something I'm comfortable with.

Unfortunately, this particular argument is becoming increasingly popular here in the US. It's growing very quickly and having a rather large impact on our society. So while I personally abhor the notion, Nolder's argument is not an unexpected one and I expect a lot of people would support it.
Michael Burke
68. Ludon
And toryx's comment applies to more than just the entertainment industry.
Anna_Wing
70. Maac
Because some of us are being kept out of the good jobs via contrived and biased means. ;-)
Anna_Wing
71. Kia
"The argument that doing what is best for your business financially
negates your moral obligations as a human being is not something I'm
comfortable with. Just because people will often do whatever makes the
most money doesn't make it right, even in a capitalist country."

There's no need to even go back that far. Profit was the excuse for segregation then, and it's the excuse for segregation now.

There were many white business owners who felt they would lose their white clientle (i.e. profit) if they served blacks as well. It's the same issue/excuse with Hollywood in present day.
Anna_Wing
72. Gerry__Quinn
TeresaJusino@58:
"However, the very act of setting the story elsewhere and casting a white actor is indeed racist, because like toryx said above somewhere, they're basically saying that this story is only worthwhile if it's American. It's not just the casting of a white actor in the lead that's racist, it's the disregard for the culture of the story as a whole."

This is beyond ridiculous. Every culture in the world makes local adaptations of works of foreign origin all the time. Are you saying this universal cultural activity is racist? How about the Bollywood Macbeth, for example? Was that racist because it starred Indian instead of Scottish actors? Or was it okay because only white people can be racist?
Marcus W
73. toryx
Gerry__Quinn @ 72:

Slavery was practiced in other nations besides the U.S. Does that make it any less wrong?

Everyone else doing it doesn't make it right. I like to think that a nation that's leading the way (as the U.S. always had in the matter of movie making) actually has a greater responsibility to lead by example. Too bad they/ we don't seem to care about that.
Anna_Wing
74. Gerry__Quinn
toryx@73:
Are you seriously asserting that the universal cultural practice of making local adaptations of foreign works is somehow wrong?

I find such a viewpoint ludicrous in the extreme.
Marcus W
75. toryx
Gerry_Quinn @ 74:

No. I'm just pointing out that the argument "Well everyone else does it!" is a poor one.

Similarly, calling everything you disagree with "ludicrous" or "beyond ridiculous" does not a good discussion make.
Anna_Wing
76. Jazzlet
And you have to wonder how much business sense the overwhelming using of white actors actually makes in a country that, as I understand it from across the pond, has significant numbers of non-whites in it's population.
Chin Bawambi
77. bawambi
I do disagree with some folks here that Akira couldn't be re-cast properly in America but in reality any discusion of America can never be without race as a subtext at a minimum and any neo-NYC construct in particular without a multi-ethnic cast would be epic fail as this will surely be. I loved the movie (never read the manga) but check out some of the cast options - Morgan Freeman is the only non-white main character discussed. In the words of Public Enemy "Burn Hollywood Burn!" On a lighter note, almost all discussions on race as well as any other serious subject are much less heated in rhetoric on this website on a regular basis - stay classy Tor.com!
Anna_Wing
78. Gerry__Quinn
toryx@75:
I did not make the argument that "it's okay because everyone does it". I certainly pointed out that everyone did it, but I did not say that was what made it okay.

You seem to be back-pedalling now on your apparent agreement with the assertion I characterised as ludricous (i.e. that the practice of making local adaptations of foreign works is somehow wrong). But if you disagree with it what did you mean about the responsibilities of the US movie industry in @73?
Anna_Wing
79. Kia
Gerry_Quinn@78:

Though in some ways it is monetarily satisfying to regionalize, are you operating under the reasoning that Japanese-American actors do not exist in America? Or said Japenese-American actors would not meet the need to regionalize this production with a cast suited to the requirements of both the story and its introdcution to American audiences?
Marcus W
80. toryx
Gerry_Quinn @ 78:

I'm not back pedaling at all. I absolutely agree with what Teresa @58 said. I simply don't think that what other countries are doing is relevant to the discussion. She's not saying that adapting films is bad. She's saying that always adapting films to a so-called American viewpoint is.

We're not talking about a worldwide phenomenon. We're talking about America. The U.S. is one of the most culturally diverse countries in the world. There's no shortage of non-white actors. There's no shortage of people who are interested in a film starring non-white actors. Yet Hollywood persists in choosing white actors when there's no reason to do so.

It's not about making local adaptations. It's about being blind to the multi-racial culture we happen to exist in and refusing to recognize that yes, there are valuable actors of an ethnicity that isn't anglo-saxon and no, the country isn't going to go up in arms if you cast someone in a starring role who doesn't happen to be pale skinned with blue eyes.

People keep arguing that Hollywood is just going with what works. Well how the hell are they ever really going to know what works when they persist in following the same old American whitewashing they've always done?

Short answer is, they won't.
Anna_Wing
81. Gerry__Quinn
She IS saying that adapting films is bad, or at least that it's bad when Americans do it. And you seem to be saying the same in 23. For example you said you were upset about the American remake of Let The Right One In. You think this promotes the notion that "if it isn't American, it isn't right". No wonder they're so glum in Stockholm.

I think that's absurd, and I mention films like the Bollywood Macbeth because they show clearly why it is absurd. Could anyone seriously think that the existence of such Bollywood films promote the notion that "if it isn't Indian, it isn't right"? (Maybe there really is the odd fanatical Indian nationalist who gets a warm feeling for exactly that reason, but worrying about the occasional extreme viewpoint like this is hardly useful.)

In fact there are two separate issues getting conflated here. The first issue is whether it's okay to take a Japanese film set in Tokyo and adapt it (with permission) to a New York setting. I maintain that it's perfectly okay.

The second issue is who acts in it. Since it's set in a future New York, a natural expectation would be that it would reflect the population of present day New York, or the population that that would be expected to evolve into.

Since the story is busy enough as it is, I imagine the director would be concerned to avoid complicating it by raising racial issues. Given the probable audience, I'm thinking generic multiethnic US future with any ethnic tensions or differences pretty much ignored or downplayed. That's what my thoughts on casting would be if I were asked, which I won't be.

There seems to me no particular reason to cast Asian Americans as distinct from any other group. I suppose there would be no harm putting in a nod or two towards the Japanese origin of the story, but it's not essential. So if there's a question about casting here, it seems to be related to such questions as whether some groups are underrepresented in the casting of such films in general, and whether it matters, and whether the lead is too often a white guy. Certainly I think a case can be made that the latter is the case, and the reason is that white guys sell more seats. I'm not convinced anything useful can be done about it bar promoting breakthrough actors from other groups. And I suspect Asian Americans are not very forward in general about going into the acting business - if not, their underrepresentation is just One Of Those Things. They seem to be pretty well represented in theoretical physics, on the other hand.
Anna_Wing
82. maryanne
"white guys sell more seats. "

I understand where this conventional wisdom comes from, but I'd like to challenge it a little bit. White guys didn't help the sales for Dragonball or 21. Meanwhile, the lack of white guys didn't hurt movies like Crouching Tiger, Rush Hour, the Karate Kid remake, Slumdog Millionaire, Hero, or Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay.

I think Hollywood should give white audiences a little more credit. White people are perfectly willing to go see a movie with non-white lead actors if it doesn't suck. Conversely, white people will not be so blinded by a whitewashed cast that they flock to see an obvious stinker like Dragonball: Evolution. Non-white audience members watch white actors all the time and manage to relate to the character being portrayed; as a white person, I'm kind of insulted at the idea that I somehow lack the ability to do the same.

To me, the desperation to cast a white actor in Akira is a really bad sign. If you are banking solely on your lead actor's lack of melanin, that's a good indication that your movie has nothing else going for it.

Anna_Wing
83. TrulyAnon
Eh. While I found Avatar to be reprehensible, I don't feel the same applies to Akira. It's important for Race to be considered in casting, but it shouldn't be a driving factor in telling the story. I'm not clear on why Pattinson is the go to guy for this, but I don't think that race has anything to do with the central issue.
Anna_Wing
84. Janelums
Me personally, I think the whole thing is nothing but cultural imperialism. Like take street fighter movie in 1994. I thought that Ken and Ryu would be the main characters, but they choose American Gulie to be the main lead. (because he's white)

Even if they do have an Asian in the cast. It wouldn't be serious. I think Aisan and POC should do their own thing, like Spike Lee, Takeshi Kitino, just to name a few. Make movies the way it suppose to be.


Like this is why I'm writing my own story the way I want to happen.
Multi-ethinic cast.
Also
Joaquin Rafael Phoenix is not white, He's Puerto Rican Latino.

I think that Hollywood is going to run itself to the ground by the way things are going.
Anna_Wing
85. Michael LaPlace
If this movie is carried out with white actors playing the Asian roles, then everyone involved in it will be sentenced to death.
Anna_Wing
86. Gerry__Quinn
As I understand it, there are no Asian roles in this version - it is set in New York. Same as the US remake of Godzilla.
Anna_Wing
87. Kia
There are asians in New York.
Anna_Wing
88. Gerry__Quinn
Indeed, and there are whites in Tokyo. But what I meant to say was that it does not appear that there are any specifically Asian roles.
Anna_Wing
89. matt66
@TrulyAnon
Well, if race isn't the central issue, why are the names going to be Japanese but the actors are not? Even the anime the characters are drawn to look asian.

I really feel the casting of the non asian actors in an asian story will be a terrible pr for Warner Bros. This is a lose, lose situation if you think about it. If the film becomes a commercial success with the casting as they are, that means Warner Bros and the filmmakers have benefited from discrimination/racism. If the film becomes a failure, the studio and the filmmakers would've made a fool of themselves.
Sold Out Activist
90. SoldOutActivist
You make movies to your audience, not the source material. 90% of the world doesn't give a shit (or know) the original character was a different race or gender. And it's that 90% which buy movie tickets, not the 1% who bitch about the specifics. Go cry to your indie films.

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