Akira adaptation to feature predominantly white cast

Does race matter?

Written by ronin
Published about over 6 years ago. Filed Under: Breaking Eggs

Some of you may remember the controversy last year with M. Night Shyamalan's Last Airbender, a live action version of the hit Nick Toons show Avatar. The show was clearly heavily influenced by Asian culture. Even though the film was directed by a individual whose heritage is from that continent, the entire cast was white.

Understandably fans where furious at the all white cast. Of course some argued that race doesn't matter, as long as the character is portrayed correctly. Parallels can be drawn with comic book characters and the argument surrounding their portrayal. But sometimes the issues aren't solely on how characters are depicted, but what they represent and within what context. Take Last Airbender as an example. Notwithstanding the fact that the characters were depicted as ethnic minorities, the context they were in was ethnic. Therefore having an white cast (referred as white washing) would be, and was, distracting.

Leading the charge on this issue was Racebending.com and now they are at again, this time with the movie adaptation of Akira by Warner Bros. A recently revealed shortlist indicated that only Caucasian actors are currently in the running for the lead roles of Kaneda and Tetsuo. To date the short list has included Leornado Di Caprio, Zac Efron, Robert Pattinson, Andrew Garfield, and James McAvoy. And so, Racebending.com began their campaign with the following from the campaign's Facebook page:

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.

However, in contrast to the point made above about context, the U.S. remake of Akira is set in "neo-Manhattan." Furthermore in such instances, it really shouldn't matter what race has been casted and why. Race is not the issue of the stroy, and manhattan is a cosmopolitan city. It's not like they are trying to cast a white actor as a samurai in feudal Japan....okay bad example (Although I did enjoy The Last Samurai)

In Last Airbender, it would have been appropriate to diversify the entire cast, rather than associating each "nation" with a skin colour. This would have had the benefit of furthering the essence of the film -that nations are differentiated by their powers, not the colour of the skin - whilst appeasing disgruntled fans.

In any case, as shown in a survey by Racebending.com, 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. To add this, if an Asian Actor cannot even get a leading role in Asian remake, then what does that say about our society. the fact that we are still having to have discussion on this issue in the 21st century is nothing short of depressing.

We live in a multi cultural world, and so movies should reflect that. If there is one thing that the movie industry can show, it is its ability to change our perception (or reinforce them). So why not show the world as this multi cultural and diverse place, if only to promote integration?


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