Media Consumers for Entertainment Equality


Tetsu-whoa! Akira Rumor Round-Up

May 9, 2011

A lot of casting and financing rumors about Akira have been bubbling up in the big online entertainment rags, so we’ve compiled them in this article. Warner Bros. seems to be stubbornly moving forward with the project even though A-listers and financiers are running away.

Casting Squabbles between the Director and the Brass

According to Vulture, Warner Bros. new President, Jeff Robinov, has been micromanaging the casting and even put out a personal offer to Brad Pitt for the lead role of Kaneda (based on the manga’s protagonist, Shōtarō Kaneda.) The offer to Pitt was made in part because the studio feels it needs a “big name” to sell the film. The director, Albert Hughes, was not happy with the offer to Pitt and negotiated with Robinov to be allowed to put out an offer to Mila Kunis for the supporting role of Kei.

Alas–well, alas for WB–both Pitt and Kunis turned down Akira. And they’re not the only ones who turned down Akira: allegedly, James Franco, Ryan Gosling, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Robert Pattinson and Michael Fassbender also all passed on the project. (As reported by the trades, Warner Bros. and the production’s top choices for characters like Kaneda and Tetsuo Shima were all white actors. Meanwhile, non-white actors, including Asian American actors, are still waiting for the chance to be considered.)

Big Budget Bets

Part of the reason why Warner Bros. is so insistent on seeking a big-name star (except for offering the role to relative unknowns Garret Hedlund and Michael Fassbender…) is because Akira is rumored to be budgeted for $230 million. (In comparison, the film Inception cost $180 million.)

Although it is unclear if this budget is for the first movie or both movies–the project is supposed to be a two-parter–Legendary Pictures, initially a co-financier, has pulled out of the project. Apparently, Legendary Pictures (which usually works with WB to finance films like the aforementioned Inception) is no longer interested putting money on such a risky investment.


Enter a new contender: Keanu Reeves. According to the Hollywood Reporter, the multiethnic actor (1/8 Native Hawaiian and 1/8 Chinese from his father‘s side) has people talking to the studio about playing Kaneda. Reeves is currently filming 47 Ronin with a bevy of stars from Japan (Sadly, the American-produced film from Universal is not going to be an opportunity-maker for Asian American actors, either.)

We can sort of see why Warner Bros. would want to go with one of their previously established stars–Reeves is arguably Warner Bros. biggest actor of Asian descent (granted, only 2% of WB films from 2000 to 2009 had an Asian lead, and they were mostly Asian nationals like Jet Li and Rain.)

At the same time, it’s unsatisfactory to see Reeves (who has played white characters, multiethnic characters, and even Siddhartha) default to Hollywood’s only go-to actor when they need to find someone to portray an Asian lead character. Hollywood isn’t exactly hard at work to discover this generation’s next hot “Keanu.”

For Asian American actors who aren’t Keanu Reeves, opportunities to play lead characters continue to be few and far between. Will Warner Bros. exceed expectations and cast an Asian American actor alongside Reeves to play Tetsuo? Can a $230 million Akira project that barely resembles the source material make enough to make a profit?

Categories: Akira, blog
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About the Author

Marissa Lee is one of the co-founders of Racebending.com

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  • Julian

    I like how if Hollywood won’t cast a white guy, they cast some mixed guy whose ethnicity closely resembles that of white guy.

    I still can’t believe that dumb fuck of a President Jeff Robinov is trying to get the role Kaneda out to Brad Pitt!! I don’t mean to sound like some bitchy fan boy, but the whole damn point of the characters being teenagers in the original was because it was a coming of age tale for characters like Kaneda and Tetsuo.

  • Julian

    of a white guy is what I meant.


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  • Aiyo

    My #FAIL senses were tingling, now they are just going crazy.

  • Shaniqu4

    I agree with Julian. On a side note, the main characters are supposed to be young and I thought that “Akira” was about the reckless, dissatisfied youth and they rebelling against the corrupt government (among other things). But I must sarcastically give it to Warner Bros. Here I thought that the heroes of the story would all be portrayed by white male actors while the females would be fetish-fueled Asian actresses. Now I see I’m wrong.

  • Logan

    If i remember correctly, Akira was a story for post economic boom japan trying to relate to it’s post nuclear holocaust past. subject matter which i’m pretty certain only the Japanese have any real cultural/sociological/psychological capacity for. Trying to relate that kind of experience by anglicizing the characters and location, or even just ignoring the topic all together, is not only insensitive, but will be viewed as a failure, on account of our culture once again vandalizing and mutilating another for profit. Sort of like Cultural Imperialism.

  • You know may (I use may loosely) work if they have people of different backgrounds and still offer the roles to asian actors. Like for Tetsuo and Kaneda: Asian actors from Japan (yeah it matters because it’s more believable when you have actors from the actual country that they are portraying), Kei: Asian or another minority (Asian as a default). Also the city don’t have to be set up in Japan (Hollywood producers don’t know much about foreign lands), Make it a mega-city island with a multicultural backdrop. We do live in a multicultural society.

  • Thawhtet8

    Even worse, He ain’t look like a gang banger! He’s more like Keanu Reeves and hobo.We still got lead left like Resistance leader and the bald general guy!

  • Thawhtet8

    They should change it to “What happened to other city in Akira world”.

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  • Dan
  • Jon

    Oh (redacted because the blog owner would do it anyway)! They just greenlit it!

  • thereallife

    If you’ve ever read the LA Times demographic of the Academy of Motion Pictures membership; they consist of 74% WHITE MALES.  No wonder there are very few roles for Asians.  All the writers and produces are White.  I pray that hollywood dies a quick death because they don’t represent America or reality. 

    No wonder the young generation spends more time watching youtube than TV or Movies…they want to see what’s really out there, not a bunch of bullshit scripts written by racist old white men.  NOTHING IS EVER GOING TO CHANGE UNTIL THESE RACIST WHITE BABY BOOMERS THAT CONTROL CONGRESS AND HOLLYWOOD DIE OFF!!!!!