Earlier in the week George Takei sat down with The Advocate to discuss his petition against Warner Brothers casting primarily white actors in an upcoming American adaption of the Japanese manga and anime classic, Akira. His main point is that Hollywood should cast more Asian-American actors in movie roles. A fair point on its own. However his arguments are full of curious inconsistencies. Take a look...
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.
Mr. Takei, I'm confused. The American fan base for manga and anime is mostly white, a reasonable statement considering whites make up 72.4% of the population... but the only fans of Akira (and manga?) are multi-ethnic? It don't think you can find an anime or manga "fan" in this country who doesn't like either of the Akira adaptions. Are you trying to argue that a movie should be cast based on its ethnic fan base? That makes sense on a commercial level I'm sure, but multi-ethnic Americans aren't exactly Akira's largest demographic. Hell, I'm pretty sure there are just as many people who have enjoyed the manga or movie and wouldn't consider themselves to be traditional anime/manga fans.
It's this next part that really threw me for a loop.
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.
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.
For the plethora of reasons for which The Last Airbender flopped the lack of an Asian cast was (surprisingly) not one of them. The god awful script, terrible direction, overuse of subpar special effects... none of those would have been affected by swapping out the cast members for those of Asian origin. When critics complained about the casting it had nothing to do with their genetic history but their terrible acting. Suggesting that the movie's failure was in any way related to the lack of Asian cast member has to be the most asinine thing I've heard all week. After a small group of people were equally annoyed at the lack of Asians cast Paramount commented that, "The movie has 23 credited speaking roles — more than half of which feature Asian and Pan Asian actors of Korean, Japanese and Indian decent." Perhaps we should blame that pile-of-shit movie on Asia?!
I shouldn't have to point this out, but Avatar: The Last Airbender is an American story influenced by Asian cultural elements and features a wide breath of culturally inspired characters. Per Takei's argument Katara and Sokka should have been cast with Native Americans from around the southern pole area.
Takei had one last comment about Akira...
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.
Wait... he wants everyone to be Asian because Akira is Asian but doesn't have a problem if they're speaking English instead of Japanese? Because he understands that the studio wants the film to be popular for an American audience? Movie studios tend to produce big budget flicks in attempt to appeal to the largest amount of viewers possible. Producing Akira for anime and manga fans alone would be a commercial disaster. For the same reason they're going to film the movie in English they're going to pick well known (and hopefully good) actors. The hypocrisy is palpable. I would love for an Akira adaption to star the likes of Daniel Dae Kim, Ken Leung, or Ken Watanabe (though we'd be limited to Japense actors considering we want to remain honest to the story's origins, right?). Not because they're Asian, but because I know they would do a damn fine job. If an Akira adaption is going to take place I want the studio to pick good actors first, ethnic actors second. Besides, they're apparently changing the location of the movie from Tokyo to New York. It doesn't even make sense to have an all Asian cast in the same context.
When you take a look at Takei's arguments you see that this involvement has less to do with Akira and more with himself. Takei has long been a proponent of Asian-Americans in film and television. He certainly deserves respoect for his advocacy. Yet it's apparent that he's inserted himself into the debate only to stir the pot up once more. Without any real consideration for Akira, the fanbase, or the movie studio, he has seen an opportunity to once again take to his soap box.
If Takei had any real respect for Akira he would be supporting a petition to prevent the movie from being made at all. The manga is a classic and by no means needs a live action adaption. The animated movie, though a classic in many respects, was a bastardization of the original story and should have been the absolute adaption limit. Anyone who truely respects Akira would have been adamant against any Hollywood adaptation from the very beginning.
Takei's argument is nonsenical, has nothing to do with the integrity of Akira, and are only about more roles for Asian actors regardless of any reasons for/against their involvement.