The White-Washing of Akira?

"Akira" deserves better than to be the latest in Hollywood's White-washing of Asian/Asian American characters.

The Last Airbender. Dragonball: Evolution.  21.

In the last few years, we’ve seen several big-budget Hollywood “adaptations” of popular stories. These stories star and follow an Asian/Asian American character, but in the big-budget adaptation, these characters are “mysteriously” played by “ethnically-ambiguous appearing” Caucasian actors.  

The Last Airbender is set in an Asian-inspired world populated by characters inspired by ancient Chinese and Inuit cultures. Yet, in M. Night Shyamalan’s silver screen treatment of this beloved Nickolodeon cartoon, Aang and his friends are played by White characters (even though many of the extras were Asian). Shyamalan also elected to cast Asian Indian actors to play the first movie’s villains.

When I was in high school, Dragonball was one of the most beloved anime series on television. But recently, a movie adaptation of this movie cast the oh-so-very White Justin Chatwin as the movie’s spiky-haired protagonist, Goku.

21 is based on a book that documents the story of a group of Asian American MIT students who learned to count cards and made heaps of money in Vegas. But the 2008 movie adaptation featured a largely-White cast of actors, despite the fact that the book — Bringing Down the House — upon which the movie is based involves discussion of how the race and gender of the MIT Blackjack Team influenced their scheme.

And then, today, /Film posted a rumour that Zac Efron — a Caucasian actor — has been offered the titular role of Akira in the upcoming live-action adaptation slated to be directed by the Hughes’ Brothers. (Although, I wonder if they actually mean he is being offered the role of Akira, which is a relatively small part of the movie. Or, do they mean that he is being offered the role of the movie’s protagonist Kaneda, who is actually pictured on the movie poster? I mean have these people who are writing about the Zac Efron rumour actually seen Akira?)

Zac Efron: "Do these blue eyes and dirty-blond hair make me look Asian?" Uhm, not really, no.

Akira is a wildly-popular anime movie based on a six-volume manga, and is considered a landmark movie that has defined modern anime. It is a complex story set in a futuristic, dystopic Tokyo, and it features Japanese characters living in a Japan destroyed by nuclear war. It makes absolutely no sense for Akira, Kaneda, or any of the other characters to be played by obviously non-Japanese actors.

Yet again, Hollywood just doesn’t get it. Yet again, we will hear about how “it was about casting the right actor, not an Asian actor”, or about how “there just aren’t enough ‘bankable’ Asian American actors” to cast.

Bullshit. Justin Chatwin sucked (so I’ve heard) as Goku. Noah Ringer as Aang was among the worst child-actors we’ve been subjected to in a long time. Is Zac Efron really the best that the Hughes Brothers think they can do? Did they even try to find one of the many struggling Asian American actors out there — many of whom would be “bankable” if a production company ever bothered to cast an Asian face in an Asian protagonist role.

And besides which, this is fucking Akira — one of the most popular, most well-loved, and most timeless, genre-defining anime movies there is. Hollywood doesn’t have the right to fuck this one up.

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