Media Consumers for Entertainment Equality
What is Racebending.com doing about AKIRA? What can I do?
We are working with Asian American organizations to contact the production asking them to consider Asian American actors.
We could use some help raising awareness about the issue. Retweet our Tweet about the situation to help get the word out. Join the Facebook Petition and tell your friends so we can get an exact number of people who are upset about the decision to whitewash this film. Blog about the situation on your own blog and/or encourage your favorite bloggers to do the same.
Watch our website for more updates!
If Akira is being reset in New Manhattan, wouldn’t it make sense for the main characters to be white?
People of color are present in every major city in the United States. One out of every 10 Manhattanites is Asian American. It would make just as much sense for the leads to be Asian American as it would for the leads to be white. Because Asian Americans do not get many lead-role acting opportunities, Akira would provide great roles to young actors of color. Tetsuo and Kaneda could easily be cast with Asian American leads, and we hope that is something WB will consider.
Because one out of every 10 modern-day Manhattanites are Asian American (Lower Manhattan is 41% Asian,) it would make just as much sense for the movie’s characters to be Asian American.
You’re forgetting that white people live in New York, too.
We acknowledge that white people live in New York…but they aren’t the only people who live in New York. What we don’t understand is why nearly every movie, television show, or other entertainment product set in New York has white leads and white characters. We don’t understand why the media would have people believe that only white people live in New York City or are worth depicting in films set in New York. Because half of the population of Manhattan consists of people of color, we don’t understand why the roles of Tetsuo and Kaneda have only been limited to white actors.
Limiting the roles of Tetsuo and Kaneda to white actors is not about being true to the demographics of New York, but about reflecting a practice in Hollywood that privileges white actors over actors of color.
The majority of Americans are white, so movies star white people.
While it is true that currently the majority of people in the United States are white, white male actors are still disproportionately overrepresented in films, especially in lead roles.
If casting were fair, colorblind, and based on demographics, there would be more Hollywood movies starring women than men. 1 out of 8 movies would star a Black or African American actor. 1 out of 5 movies would star a Latino character. Every summer, there would be at least one big movie starring an Asian American actor. Every year, at least one or two movies would star Native American actors.
What if white people can’t relate to Asian American characters in movies?
That doesn’t even make sense. People of color are expected to–and do–relate to white characters in movies, all the time!
We believe that white people are equally capable of relating to characters of color. It’s not rocket science.
(We also believe that people are good at relating to films about robots, sea sponges, and talking stuffed bears.)
This story has been rewritten for Americans, so why would they cast Asians?
If this movie is so “American,” why are half of the white actors they are auditioning from outside of the US? If Tetsuo is supposed to be “American” in this version, why are none of the actors they are auditioning American?
(Robert Pattinson, Andrew Garfield and James McAvoy are all from the UK.)
Newsflash: Asian Americans exist, too. Many Asians are Americans. This population is all too commonly forgotten–possibly because it is also rarely represented in film and other entertainment media. American =/= white. Asian Americans are Americans, too.
It’s very rare for Hollywood to choose to make a film based on a story about Asian characters at all. When Hollywood does make a story about an Asian character, the character is often changed to a white character.
Asian American actors get very few chances to star in films. By failing to showcase the diversity found in the American landscape, the practice of “racebending” a character of color with a white actor does a great disservice to viewers of all ethnicities.
This practice reinforces glass ceilings against actors of color, who are prevented from playing white characters as well as characters from their own communities. This practice directly impresses upon media consumers that the most qualified people to represent people of color are white actors. This practice directly and indirectly sends the message that the only stories worth telling in major productions are stories about white people.
Why should the race/ethnicity of Tetsuo and Kaneda in the original work affect the movie at all?
Some fans of AKIRA are offended by the resetting of Neo-Tokyo to Neo-Manhattan because they feel AKIRA is a metaphor for Japan’s reaction to being the first and only country to have experienced an atomic bombing.
Others feel that the ethnicity of Tetsuo and Kaneda matters simply because so few opportunities are afforded to American actors of Asian descent, and casting white actors to play Asians while preventing Asian Americans from playing anything is a form of discrimination.
If ethnicity didn’t matter to Hollywood, actors of all ethnicities would have been invited to audition for AKIRA.
Kaneda and Tetsuo don’t look Japanese to me. They look white to me.
Many people hold the misconception that Japanese people draw anime characters to be white. This could not be further from the truth.
Just because they look white to you does not mean they are white. They’re not.
Please read Sociological Image’s article Why Do the Japanese Draw Themselves as White, Matt Thorn’s article The Face of the Other, or TVTropes.com’s Mukokuseki page to learn why Japanese people don’t do that.
Why can’t white people be named Kaneda or Tetsuo? Asian Americans have names like John and George!
We’re not banning white people from naming their kids “Kaneda” or “Tetsuo.” We’re also not saying that Asian Americans can’t be named John or George.
We’re saying that the vast majority of roles for characters with names like “John” and “George” are reserved for white actors. Asian Americans don’t even get to audition. So when there are roles for characters named “Tetsuo” and “Kaneda,” and still, only white actors are invited to audition? When Warner Bros rarely makes movies with Asian American lead actors, ever? That isn’t remotely fair.
The Asian Americans fighting for Asian American actors to play Tetsuo and Kaneda in the American AKIRA are fighting to be represented. They are fighting against over a century of Hollywood discrimination.
(That being said, there might be a stigma attached to naming your child after “Tetsuo” in AKIRA.)
In All You Need is Kill the main character, Keiji, is being changed from a Japanese soldier in the United Defense Force to an American soldier, so why can’t he be white?
We want the production to remember that the American Armed Forces is diverse and that historically and currently many Americans of Japanese descent have served in the military. Even if it makes sense to make Keiji an American, it doesn’t make sense to change his name to Billy. This role would provide a great opportunity for an actor of color. We are not saying the main character can’t be white, but we do want to point out that it would be nice to have a movie about an American soldier where, for once, the solder is a person of color.
What ethnicity are the characters in The Hunger Games book series?
The Hunger Games trilogy of novels is set in Panem, a post-apocalyptic version of North America set centuries after the modern day. [source] Race and ethnicity as defined today are not clearly delineated in Suzanne Collins’s writing. This does not mean that the characters are ethnically or racially “neutral.” Certainly the actors who will be selected to play them will have a perceived ethnicity that has already influenced their chances of success in the entertainment business.
The following are our notes and thoughts on how modern day American cultures are reflected in the futuristic fantasy world of The Hunger Games novels.
District 12 is located in modern day Appalachia. Although the trilogy is set several centuries into the future, the protagonist, Katniss Everdeen still speaks with a regional Appalachian accent.
In terms of media representation, this is significant because it is rare for people with Appalachian accents to be depicted in film. Characters with Appalachian accents are rarely heroes and are often unflatteringly stereotyped as unintelligent hicks. Whether or not this accent will be used in the film is unknown.
The people who live in “The Seam,” the poorest part of District 12, are described as having dark hair, grey eyes, and “olive” skin. The “olive” descriptor used to describe many of the main characters in the novels (Katniss, Gale, Haymitch) seems to trip people up the most.
The Fitzpatrick Skin Typing scale is a categorization system that was developed by a Harvard dermatologist in 1975. On the Fitzpatrick scale, “olive” skin coloring is often described as eitherType III, a type of skin that occasionally will burn when exposed to sunlight, or Type IV, a type of skin that rarely burns. We can reasonably conclude that most of the people who live in the Seam and have “olive skin” do not have “very white or freckled” Type I skin, nor very dark Type VI skin. However, because dark black hair and Type III and Type IV skin tones span several different ethnicities–including mixed ethnicities–we cannot conclude that the people in the Seam are necessarily white, nor should they necessarily all be depicted by white actors.
We did learn something interesting while researching diversity in the Appalachia. A group of “tri-racial” people known (sometimes pejoratively) as the Melungeons are of mixed European, African, and Native American descent. They are originally from the Appalachians and historically faced discrimination. Although it is never explicitly stated that the people of The Seam are of Melungeon, Melungeon people are known for having dark hair and olive skin.
THE MERCHANT CLASS OF THE SEAM
In contrast to the poorer miners living in The Seam, Katniss’s mother is described as a pale skinned woman with blue eyes and light-colored hair. Her mother and Katniss’s sister, Prim, stand out in the Seam because they are some of the very few people in that community who are blonde and white. Likewise, the character of Peeta, a blonde teenager, is also a member of the merchant class. Casting all of the characters in the Seam with white actors would erase the symbolism Collins employed to demonstrate that classism, colorism, and racism intersect in Panem.
RUE AND THRESH
Rue and Thresh are two characters from District 11. They are written in the novels as having thick, dark hair and dark brown skin. We can reasonably conclude that these characters would be considered people of color in our world and that they should be represented by actors of color in the movie.
In an April 7th, 2011 interview with Entertainment Weekly, Collins stated that Rue and Thresh are “African American.” [source]
The protagonist, Katniss Everdeen, is the daughter of a white mother from the merchant class and miner of indeterminate mixed ethnicity from the Seam. According to the novels, Katniss takes after her father in appearance–olive skin and straight black hair.
Given this story takes place hundreds of years into the future, Katniss is almost definitely of mixed ethnicity–making her one of very few protagonists in young adult fiction who would be considered multi-ethnic by “real world” standards.
However, in an April 7th, 2011 interview with Entertainment Weekly, Collins states the following: “[Katniss and Gale] were not particularly intended to be biracial. It is a time period where hundreds of years have passed from now. There’s been a lot of ethnic mixing. But I think I describe them as having dark hair, grey eyes, and sort of olive skin.” [source]
Should Katniss be white in the The Hunger Games movies?
According to this February 25th, 2011 article from The Wall Street Journal, the only ethnicity the production of The Hunger Games listed on the casting call for Katniss is “Caucasian.” By listing an ethnicity for Katniss in the breakdown, the production has limited the opportunities for actors of color, including multi-ethnic actors, to audition for this role.
We believe the production of The Hunger Games should place their focus on Katniss’s physical characteristics, rather than reserving the role for “Caucasian” actors. Katniss’s olive skin and black hair are traits that could be possessed by someone of any race, including someone of mixed race.
“Katniss’s olive skin and black hair are traits that could be possessed by someone of any race, including someone of mixed race.”
We believe that as long as they fit the physical description, non-white actors should have the same opportunities to audition for the role of Katniss that white actors currently have.
There is nothing preventing white actors from portraying roles like Katniss and Gale, but there are clearly barriers preventing non-white actors from accessing the same opportunities.
What has Racebending.com done to encourage the production of The Hunger Games to consider actors from diverse backgrounds for the role of Katniss?
Racebending.com has placed repeated calls to Lionsgate to speak to their diversity officers. In addition, Racebending.com has sent letters to Lionsgate President Alli Shearmur, who will be overseeing the production of The Hunger Games. Click here to read a letter that was sent on November 9th, 2010. In the letter, we remind Lionsgate to consider actors of color for the role of Katniss encourage Lionsgate to “affirm its commitment to diversity” and “encourage the production of The Hunger Games to pursue a fair and open casting process.” Our attempt to contact Lionsgate received no response.
We contacted the production of The Hunger Games directly in February and March 2011.
Why is it important for the cast of The Hunger Games to be diverse?
The Hunger Games heralds an unprecedented opportunity for young actors of color to star in a tentpole film. The Hunger Games is a young adult novel series that explores several adult issues, including the intersection of class and race. Race and ethnicity as defined today are not clearly delineated in Suzanne Collins’s writing. This does not mean that the characters are ethnically or racially “neutral.” Certainly the actors who will be selected to play them will have a perceived ethnicity that has already influenced their chances of success in an entertainment industry that currently privileges white actors.
The characters from this futuristic fantasy world are not necessarily white. We do not think the casting of these characters should be only limited to white actors.
There are already several opportunities for white actors to play important characters in the story–such as Peeta, Prim, and Finnick, all of whom are described as blonde in the novels. Allowing more than just white actors to audition for other roles in The Hunger Games would open up opportunities to actors of color and flesh out the fictional world of Panem. It would also help the production avoid awkward cliches, such as the token black sidekick whose touching and untimely death serves the purpose of further advancing the white hero’s character development and narrative.
If all of the lead protagonists of The Hunger Games are cast with white actors, the production may unintentionally present an unrealistic and stereotypical vision of a future where the only people who make significant decisions and have interesting stories are white. People of color and people of mixed ethnicity should be present and play important roles in movie depictions of a future America.
The Hunger Games is a fantastic opportunity to create a diverse group of young movie stars.
Index of Frequently Asked Questions