Wow! We're so glad that he's taking such a serious stand!
In the film industry, it's become pretty much common practice for big-screen adaptations of popular Asian graphic novels and video games to be what's known as "whitewashed," which means the studios casting white actors in roles that are meant for other ethnicities!
The most recent example of this rumored to be the long-awaited film version of the Japanese graphic novel Akira, but thankfully, Star Trek actor George Takei has taken a stand against the practice, and has publicly asked Warner Brothers execs to re-consider before any official decisions are made!
Here are some HIGHlights from the interview on the matter:
Were you surprised to find out Warner Bros. is courting white leading men for roles in the adaptation of Akira?
George Takei: It’s not a surprise because that’s been a Hollywood tradition. For example, when I was very young, I read Pearl Buck’s epic novel of China, The Good Earth. And that film, all of the principal major roles were cast with Caucasians. As a matter of fact, Luise Rainer, who played the wife, won an Oscar for that. Paul Muni was her husband. It’s an old Hollywood tradition that we’ve always been battling, not just Hollywood but Broadway too, if you remember Miss Saigon and the furor over that. So, no, I really wasn’t surprised, but the audience has changed now, and I’m surprised Warner Bros. is not keeping up with the audience. 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.
It seems this is particularly still a problem for Asian and Asian-American actors. Do you see something like this happening with a role written for a black actor?
Oh, absolutely not. African-Americans have made enormous advances. There are a whole host of bankable stars who are African-American. Can you name one bankable Asian-American star? No. There isn’t. You have Denzel Washington, Samuel Jackson. A whole host of them. 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.
Why do you think there seems to be a reluctance to cast Asian-American actors in leading roles?
I don’t think it’s a reluctance, they just don’t know better. They have the experience of Shyamalan’s project, and I would think any savvy production company would learn from that. So I’m really baffled by the lack of learning from experience. Hollywood doesn’t like failures, and there’s a string of failures in the past. With this effort, I’m trying to warn them of what is likely to happen with this Akira project.
What would you ideally like to see happen with the Akira adaptation?
Well, ideally, they should do it properly and get Asian-American actors cast in those roles. In the adaptation they would of course be speaking in English and understandable to a popular American audience. That’s the whole point. They bought a project that is popular and enormously loved by its fans, and if they want the fan following to support the film, that’s the way you do it.
And all we have to say that is BRAVO! Well-said, sir!
We can't commend him enough for speaking up! It seems so FOOLISH that they would cast a story that's so fundamentally Asian with white actors - ESPECIALLY when it's been proven to bring about box office and critical failure, as well as displease the fans!
How can they expect to stay true to the integrity of the story?!
Hopefully Warner Bros. will see George's very valid and logical points, and they'll reconsider how they want to cast it!
Our fingers are crossed!
[Image via WENN.]