Warner Brothers to Whitewash Akira

by magdalen o’reilly

Someone once asked me why I don’t go to the movies anymore. It’s partly because I used to work at a theatre and it was one of those jobs that makes you hate society. It’s also because of movies like Akira. Fans of Japanese animation will gush endlessly about the original sci-fi classic, and for good reason.  It’s action-packed and ultra-violent but also explores deep philosophical questions about mankind. The story follows  Shotaro Kaneda and Tetsuo Shima, two members of a teenage biker gang, but the film is ultimately about man pushing science too far and running the risk of destroying itself in the process. It’s widely considered one of the greatest films to ever come out of Japan, and contributed to the increasing popularity of anime in the Unites States. Whether your a fan of anime or not, Akira was a great film. And it still is- that’s the problem.

Warner Brothers  (WB) began casting for the their new live action remake of Akira in 2011.  The public outrage came when it was announced that the cast was comprised entirely of white actors. The setting had been changed to “Neo Manhattan” as opposed to “Neo Tokyo” and early versions of the script included less than subtle references to 9/11. Actor George Takei spoke out personally against what he called a complete “whitewashing” of the Japanese classic. Production of the film was put on hold this January as the negative press for the film continued to increase. The WB cited budget and script issues as the main reasons. But the film is still slotted to be released in 2013.

This film seems poorly thought out, not just from a story standpoint but from a production point as well. Akira is a cult classic, beloved by the nerd community. The idea of changing Akira- especially in such a drastic way- is like changing The Terminator or Casablanca. Why not? Because it’s a terrible idea, that’s why. These movies are popular for a reason. And what I feel is the most insulting is the idea that American audiences are incapable of identifying with an Asian protagonist. Local Willamette filmmaker Mike Bazenele had this to say,

“I think it’s because Hollywood knows that casting non-white leads will automatically alienate the dim-witted, racist portion of the population, which is a terrifyingly significant portion of their target audience for most high-profile blockbusters. It’s a business decision based on our society’s tendency to value profits over ethics.”

This isn’t a new phenomenon, so I’m not surprised. But I am more than a little upset by the whole thing. If this production shows us anything, it’s the WB has no real interest in making films. They’re interested in profiting from them, however, and are willing to dishonor old classics and insult the intelligence of their audience to get it. Since money is the only language they understand, protesting with your pocketbook is the best way to make your voice heard. If you really want to enjoy Akira, the original 1988 version is available on Netflix and at your local video store.