Posted on Wednesday, March 23rd, 2011 by Angie Han
Last year, there was a great deal of controversy surrounding the casting of M. Night Shyamalan’s The Last Airbender, a live-action movie version of the heavily Asian-influenced cartoon. The characters in the original series appear to come from a range of ethnic backgrounds, but the film version recast the majority of them as white. More recently, bloggers and Hunger Games fans voiced unhappiness with the casting of blond-haired, blue-eyed Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen, who is described in the books as olive-skinned with dark hair and grey eyes — in other words, not necessarily white and definitely not blond-haired and blue-eyed.
Now, the latest project to get flak for “whitewashing” (as it’s called) its roles is Warner Bros.’ live-action remake of Akira, the iconic Japanese animated film. A recently revealed shortlist indicated that only Caucasian actors are currently in the running for the lead roles of Kaneda and Tetsuo. (The shortlist also showed that the studio is only considering actors ten years older than the originally teenaged characters, but that’s an issue for another day — we already knew it wouldn’t exactly be a faithful adaptation.) Read more after the jump.
Racebending.com launched in 2009 to protest the whitewashed casting of The Last Airbender, coordinating protests, letter-writing campaigns, and petitions against the film’s choice of actors. Since then, the site has remained active in speaking out against similar situations. (They’re also vocal about praising shows and films that add diversity, as they did with Pretty Little Liars when the show cast biracial actress Shay Mitchell in the role of Emily Fields, who is white in the books.) Their most recent project is a petition criticizing the Akira shortlist. From the campaign’s Facebook page (via You Bent My Wookie):
On March 21st, 2011, Deadline.com reported that eight actors have been solicited for the roles of Tetsuo and Kaneda in AKIRA. All of the actors solicited were white. If not in a film called Akira, for characters named Kaneda and Tetsuo, when will Asian Americans get to star in a Warner Bros film?
Please virtually “attend” this petition event to show your support! It will provide us with a headcount so we know how many people feel strongly about this issue.
We would like to present the numbers from this petition to the studio to show them that all media consumers–not just Akira fans and not just Asian Americans–support keeping casting Asian Americans in the lead roles in AKIRA.
To add context: the U.S. remake of Akira is set in “neo-Manhattan,” so we’re not talking about injecting white characters into a Japanese setting. That being said, it’s sad that a remake of an Asian film doesn’t even seem willing to consider casting Asian (or other non-white) actors. A survey conducted by Racebending.com found that out of 241 Warner Bros. pictures released between 2000 and 2009, “only 2% had an Asian first-billed lead”; Asians make up 4.5% of the U.S. population at large and 10% of the population of present-day Manhattan.
The casting of white actors for Akira wouldn’t be such a big deal if Hollywood as a whole weren’t so overwhelmingly white. On a film-by-film basis, it doesn’t really matter if Katniss has blond hair or Kaneda is a white boy. However, both instances are part of a disturbing larger pattern that leads to the consistent underrepresentation of non-white people. It saddens me that this is a conversation we’re still having in the 21st century.