You'd have thought Hollywood might have learned something after last year's race controversy surrounding the casting of M. Night Shyamalan's 'The Last Airbender.' The movie, based on a popular animated series, got a great deal of negative press for placing white actors in roles that were far more ethnically diverse in the source material. Pundits took to calling the practice "white-washing," and unfortunately it still seems to be alive and well if the recent 'Akira' casting shortlist is to be believed.
Warner Bros. is set to produce a live-action version of the classic anime film, which is set in Neo-Tokyo and features main characters named Akira and Kaneda. Those names certainly have a Japanese flair to them, which makes it interesting to see actors like Robert Pattinson and Michael Fassbender on the list of potential actors to fill the roles.
This isn't sitting well with website Racebending -- an Internet destination launched in 2009 for the sole purpose of criticizing the casting of 'The Last Airbender' -- and they've started a new campaign so fans can let Warner Bros. know just how unhappy they are with this 'Akira' news.
Hit the jump for more details.
Racebending released this statement on the issue:
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.'
It should be noted that this long-in-the-works remake of 'Akira' has never pretended to be a completely faithful updating of the anime. The setting of the live-action version has been shifted from Neo-Tokyo to Neo-Manhattan, for starters. The characters will also be older in the U.S. version, as well. Still, it seems odd to retain the distinctly Japanese names. But if Warners and company change too much of the film, it runs the risk of not being recognizable to the 'Akira' fans who have come to know and love the property, which is an existing fanbase they'll definitely want to attract.
The guys at Racebending have a point: If an Asian actor can't even land a role headlining something as distinctly Japanese as 'Akira,' what chance do they have of ever crossing over into leading roles in mainstream Hollywood productions? However, it doesn't seem as though Warner's is actually racist, just that they're like every other studio in Hollywood: far more concerned with the bottom line than anything else. If they're going to spend $100 million on a movie, odds are they'll cast actors with name recognition to the masses. It's just a shame that actors of other ethnicities don't seem to be getting the opportunity to garner name recognition in this country.
It's disappointing that no Japanese or other Asian actors are on the shortlist for a lead role in 'Akira,' but the even bigger travesty is that they're attempting to make this in the first place. We hate to be Debby Downers, but the idea of a Hollywood-produced live-action 'Akira' seems rife with the potential for disaster.
Are you folks offended by the possible casting of caucasian actors in lead roles in a live-action anime update? Can you think of a young Asian actor who'd be perfect in one of these parts? Chime in below.