Star Trek legend George Takei is leading the charge against Hollywood's whitewashed version of anime classic Akira. He wants Warner Bros. to do the right thing and cast Asian actors in the saga. But will the studio listen?
In March, a leaked casting list for Warner Bros' Akira translation unleashed a fury of WTF across the internet. The rumored list for contenders were as follows: Robert Pattinson, Andrew Garfield, and James McAvoy for Tetsuo, with Garrett Hedlund, Michael Fassbender, Chris Pine, Justin Timberlake, and Joaquin Phoenix for Kaneda. Not a single Asian actor. Naturally, people were furious. Was Akira going to fall victim of the whitewashing that happened to Dragonball and Airbender? All signs are pointing to yes, unless something could be done. Enter Takei and the facebook virtual petition "Don't Whitewash Akira."
In an interview with The Advocate Takei calls the Caucasian translation pointless and downright offensive not only to fans but to the Asians everywhere.
The manga and anime phenomenon is mostly white in this country. It originated in Japan, and, of course, it has a huge Asian fan following. But it's the multi-ethnic Americans who are fans of Akira and manga. The idea of buying the rights to do that and in fact change it seems rather pointless. If they're going to do that, why don't they do something original, because what they do is offend Asians, number 1; number 2, they offend the fans. The same thing happened with M. Night Shyamalan. He cast his project [The Last Airbender] with non-Asians and it's an Asian story, and the film flopped. I should think that they would learn from that, but I guess big studios go by rote, and the tradition in Hollywood has always been to buy a project, change it completely and flop with it. I think it's pointless, so I thought I would save Warner Bros. a bit of failure by warning them of what will most likely happen if they continue in that vein.
His message is a warning to the studios — they're setting themselves up for a flop if they keep following this path. Although he knows that it is an uphill battle for studios to greenlight massive projects like this without a bankable star.
One can't name a single Asian-American whose name you can take to the bank and get a project financed. We are making headways. I'm not a pessimist. We have made tremendous headways from the time I started in this business in 1957. Asian faces are part of the ensemble in many TV shows playing not roles that are specifically Asian, but playing doctors and detectives. Advances have been made, but we have still not caught up with the African-American achievements.
In a perfect world Takei wants Asian-American actors cast in the lead roles for AKIRA's Kaneda and Tetsuo (among other roles). We'd like that too, but it would be a big risk for Hollywood to take with a director like Albert Hughes attached. If WB was willing to spend the big bucks on a massive behind-the-camera name, like Ridley Scott, James Cameron or J.J. Abrams, we'd be a bit more optimistic for the casting process. But right now, WB must be feeling the pressure to attach a name to the project for marketing and financing purposes.
But that doesn't change the fact that Takei's right, and this film deserves a cast that reflects its Japanese roots — and it'll probably fail otherwise. Warner Bros. should hire the best casting director money can buy, and find a Kaneda that both fans and mainstream public can identify with. That's worth way more than another movie with Robert Pattinson in it.