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Asian American community reaches out to Warner Bros. about AKIRA

March 30, 2011

On Tuesday, March 29th, Racebending.com and several Asian American community organizations voiced concerns about the casting process for AKIRA and other upcoming Warner Bros. productions including adaptations of Death Note and All You Need is Kill. The organizations are requesting a meeting with the studio and these productions.

Last week, the Asian American community was appalled to see entertainment media outlets report that all of the actors currently being considered for lead roles in AKIRA are white.

A letter Racebending.com sent to Warner Bros. Pictures Group President Jeff Robinov was signed with support from several Asian American community organizations:

In addition, the following organizations recently voiced their support of their letter:

A similar letter was also sent to the office of Thomas Tull, chairman and CEO of Legendary Pictures.

The letter points out that in the United States, Asian Americans represent over 15 million media consumers and that the community will have an spending power of $700 billion by AKIRA’s projected release date in 2013. Warner Bros. has reached out to the Asian American community and has cast Asian Americans in supporting roles in films, and will be releasing the third installment of New Line Cinema’s Harold and Kumar series, a franchise created before New Line Cinema’s merger with Warner Bros. in 2008. Even so, over the past decade, Warner Bros. has rarely produced films starring American actors of Asian descent in a first-billed roles.

Because Asian Americans are present in every major city in the United States, there is no need to change the ethnicity of the main characters while resetting this story to Manhattan. One out of ten Manhattan residents are Asian American and at 41% of the population, Asian Americans are the largest racial group in Lower Manhattan. Casting white actors for Asian lead characters will reinforce a glass ceiling and reduce opportunities for Asian American actors. [Click here to read the full letter]

“Actors like Robert Pattison and Andrew Garfield have the privilege of playing iconic white characters that Asian American actors would never be considered for,” said Racebending.com co-founder Marissa Lee. “When white actors are also asked to play iconic Asian characters, Asian American actors lose their shot at starring in anything.”


Actors currently under consideration for the roles of Tetsuo and Kaneda in Akira. Image Credit: IndiWire

Comprised of thousands of supporters from over 50 countries worldwide, Racebending.com was founded to protest discriminatory casting in the film The Last Airbender. The organization continues to follow film and television productions in order to promote diverse and fair casting opportunities. The organization has presented at academic conferences at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Pennsylvania, and will host a table and panel at WonderCon 2011 this weekend.

We hope to hear back from Warner Bros. soon, in order to schedule a meeting in April.

Update: In July 2011, Racebending.com and representatives from the Asian American community met with five executives at Warner Bros. to begin what we hope will grow into a fruitful dialogue between our organization, the greater Asian American community, and Hollywood studios.

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  • http://twitter.com/Atherworld Kevin Stern

    If they whitewash Akira, I won’t even watch it on cable. I want a real live action version. Not some parody.

  • http://www.facebook.com/ninjafan Meghan August

    Exactly steven also if the casted edward from twilight i would throw up

  • Michael

    This is good to hear, but if Warner Bros. gives the Asian-American community the run-around, or ignores Racebending and the other organizations outright, then it’s time to crank up the heat. No more waiting for them to respond.
    All of us who are against this type of racist casting need to not only knock on their doors to get them to listen to us, but we also need to get other people to join us in boycotting the movie. That’s the only way to get through to Hollywood. We can all complain as much as we want about such practices, but if such a movie makes big money, they won’t care for our arguments.
    The movie needs to flop. Look at Last Airbender — despite protests, the movie still made substantial money. It may not have made as much as the studio wanted, but it wasn’t a flop and that means there likely will be a sequel.

    • Charles

      It actually hasn’t been greenlighted, and probably won’t be for significant reasons: M. Night Shyamalan has become a joke, and hardly any consumers actually respect him anymore, Racebending.com got the word out as they should have, and actually made more fans for the TV show of TLA than the movie by making the problem known to the general public. Also, with the backing of asian actors and organizations, a sequel to TLA would just be even more of a joke and most likely make less money than the 1st.

  • Blank_Redge

    @ Michael:

    Boycotting would be the right way to go, but the problem we have is deep pockets, or (more to the point) lack thereof.

    Whereas WB has deep pockets for LOTS of advertising, Racebending is still, by and large, a grassroots community. Kind of a big hurdle, yo. o_O

    • Michael

      I understand that. It is a David vs. Goliath battle. But we still cannot give up. We do have the Internet to help spread the word. While it’s not the great equalizer, it does at least provide a voice for those without a Hollywood studio’s bank accounts.

      We’ve seen how a video can go viral in the blink of an eye, and that most people call out people on their transgressions, as was the case with Alexandra Wallace.

      I do see that more people are arguing against this casting than did against Last Airbender.

  • Michaeljpatrick

    So…would they change the character’s names to Kenny and Teddy or something too? This makes no sense. But I don’t see the need for a live action version of Akira to begin with.

    • Tylerxkj

      All the originally teenage characters are presumably going to be played by men in their 20′s or even 30′s. It undermines much of the drama.

  • http://twitter.com/Kumori345 Eileen Dinh

    The best thing to do is spread the word. Make this article go viral. I mean if alexander wallace can cover that much publicity in just three days then this article can to. Just needs help from the power of the internet.

  • Anonymous

    http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=160772770646669

    Keep up the support! Click “attending” on this virtual petition here!

  • Lillil

    Or – you could do the opposite. You could financially support Asian American Actors and Musicians. Buy that DVD with an Asian American lead, even if you don’t like the DVD. Buy Utada’s latest album, even if “it isn’t as good as her Japanese ones”. Maybe even join Project Catapult on facebook – getting everyone together to buy one CD or DVD and Catapult it onto the charts – proving that these actors are bankable.

    • Michael

      We could all do both — boycott AND support Asian-American entertainers. I like to support independent artists and filmmakers in general, so when it comes to Asian-Americans, I also give them some benefit of the doubt since they’re working on small budgets.

      But, still, while we should seek to support Asian-American artists and filmmakers, try to also support the better ones. Supporting any of them, regardless of talent, can backfire.

      Yet, anyway, I do agree with your general, we do need to give our money to Asian-American entertainers, and boycott racist dealings by Hollywood, if we want anything to change.

  • Xioulong

    These studios are insane. I couldn’t watch this mess if they paid me. They might as well spit in the creators faces.

  • nikki

    they didn’t even ask actors who were even HALF or Part asian.

  • B A T M A N

    if they go The Departed route in a different city (Neo Manhattan) even changing the names of the characters then i wouldn’t call it “race bending”. BUT if they do a straight adaption like Dragonball and Airbender (both of which h-town totally screwed up on) then i’d make this claim.

    • Tobu

      Personally, I would call that “total” racebending, and/or a very sneaky way to cover their tracks with people who haven’t heard of the original.

      The point isn’t whether the characters’ names match their faces. The point is that either way, two classic and iconic starring roles originally written for Asian actors are being handed over to Caucasian actors, who already have their pick of the massive number of white heroic roles out there.

    • Alyson

      You have a point there, but I like what the letter in the original post said about Asians living everywhere and having a large presence in New York City. There’s such a tendency in our culture to equate “American” with “white.” If they wanted to Americanize and change the names of characters for this remake, and the list of actors they were considering consisted of actors from a variety of racial backgrounds (thus reflecting America/Manhattan in particular), I doubt as many people would be upset. But this isn’t an “American” remake, it’s a white remake.

  • Anonymous

    I really hate it when Hollywood changes a story from the way it was intended. Honor the source film, Warner Bros. Hire asian actors & keep the film in Neo-Tokyo. Or else I definitely will not go see it.

  • Anonymoose

    I wish they would not change the location to “Neo-Manhattan” also…

  • Akirafan

    Wow, that is lame. Akira is my favorite movie, and if they ruin it by pretending everyone important is white, I’ll boycott Warner Bros for a long time.

  • TBone

    They already screwed us with The Last Air Bender, now this. I heard a live action Bleach is also going to be cast with White actors as well. Is Ichigo’s name going to be translated as “Strawberry”?

    • Thaw

      uhhh! Doesn’t Air Bender have a redneck tribe of waterbenders!

      • http://www.racebending.com Marissa Lee

        The Swampbenders are based on cultures from Southeast Asia.

        • Thaw

          But they have red neck accent and have swamp buggy!

          • http://www.racebending.com Marissa Lee

            Asian cultures also have people differentiated regional accents and swamp folks who use boats…

            Remember, these Swampbenders also have Asian names (Vietnamese, specifically) and espouse Buddhist philosophies. (Although it is also interesting to note that a large number of Vietnamese Americans live in the American gulf coast, and many have Southern accents.)

  • Mormeguil69

    I really don’t see what is so problematick. If you want to use spending power…caucasian still have it. A human being is a human being I don’t see how being white, black, asian, purple or anything makes any difference with “respect” to the source material.

    Finally…Akira and most anime have caracters that really don’t look asian if anything it would feel closer to the source caracter.

    • KAneda888

      Finally…Akira and most anime have caracters that really don’t look asian if anything. Wow by far the most ignorant statement on here

    • Charles

      Wow ignorant to the max. I don’t know who you are, but you obviously don’t have much knowledge on the development of japanese animation and the significance it has on its population. What would make them look more Japanese for you? Squinty eyes? A cast of all black hair and buck teeth? Those are all markers established by western media to make distinguish “foreigners” from a predominantly white population.

    • Thaw

      Well, I think he only saw the american soldiers and the Jamaican guys and african american leader of Killer Clowns (look like a black face)!

  • Loveless_27

    I will personally boycott this movie if it were to be white-washed like this!!!

  • CaseyK

    This should be an Asian production with Asian actors. Put Takashi Miike at the helm.

  • Anonymous

    So in addition to being ethnically inappropriate aren’t these guys all a bit too old to be in a teen biker gang?

    What the hell is Warner’s thinking?

  • NOOOOOO!

    Hollywood has the reverse-Midas touch when it comes to remakes–everything they touch turns to …let’s say drivel, just to keep this conversation civil. Even if they were to put some thought into casting, and find appropriate actors, it is almost guaranteed that they would miss the point completely. That said, the failure to even consider a talented Asian actor for this role just drives home the point how little the execs care about making a genuine effort to do justice to the original.

  • Thaw

    Even they hire asian actors, we should be thinking about if they would turn it into Softie movie.
    P.S- They are changing Neo Tokyo into Neo New York! Totally reducing the gang banger themed settings.

  • Kez

    I am so angry at this “live action” remake…i am white and British but I am so angry at what they have done to this classic!! First of all the Location isn’t Neo-tokyo but New York but cast is caucasian!!! This has nothing to do with the film so how can it bear the same name!!!!!! This is ridiculous, i have been waiting for the live action remake for years but I will not be a part of this nonsense, if you are not going to honour the cast/origins & plot of a classic DO NOT change it! This is completely stupid & I can’t believe it is being released just to please the mainstream audience!!!

  • Arvin Jal

    This still happens in the 21st century. Sad. In return how about we cast the next installment of Superman featuring Kal- EL and the Kryptonians with Asian actors ?

  • Ako

    I hate having to announce my race before I comment but I am a black woman and am furious about this as well. I am in complete support of protest and boycotting this film if it moves forward with an all white cast. I absolutely LOVE Akira and if hollywood whitewashes this movie I will absolutely NOT see it. Yes black people don’t get cast a lot either but Asian Americans are barely represented at all and I would love to see more of them in Hollywood. Asian guys are hot anyway and plenty of women think so. Hollywood needs to wake up and realize white men and women should not be cast in roles clearly not meant for them. I am also angry at the fact I heard the women are probabaly going to be Asian, leading more credence to a stereotype. My question is also this: the man who owned the rights to the manga and anime and sold it, why does he not have any say so in its creation?

    • Guest

      To answer your question: the company (and Otomo) that owned the rights to Akira simply don’t have any say because Hollywood bought the rights for millions.

      And to be frank, it’s all about the money. The manga and anime industry is a business and they love money…even if it means selling some of their best work to the West. :/

  • Burgerdude

    I’m so damn tired of New York City! What about Chicago?!? or how about filming it IN TOKYO or another major asian city?? Seoul?? Any place but NYC

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  • Thaw

    i once heard before the website “Racebending” was open. It was about trying to make Space battleship yamato adaption with white actors and a ship named “Arizona” (the one sunk during pearl harbor).
    P.S- Let Tetsuo be one of the chosen actor especially twilight guy (can’t wait to see the twilight guy turned into a pile of blob, I hate em)!

  • Critical Eye

    While I’m not completely familiar with Akira, I have learned not to trust hollyWEIRD, because when it comes to making films rooted in Asian culture, hollyWOULDN’T and hollyWON’T do the right thing. There’s still this imbecilic, racist, arrogant Eurocentric reasoning that thinks that white folks have to be involved in everything -even narratives THAT DO NOT CONCERN them. I did not see the Last Airbender, won’t be seeing Akira, and I’d doubt a film adaptation of FATAL FRAME/Project Zero (a Japanese-oriented videogame created by TECMO) would be done right. Movies based on Asian-originated source material MUST he helmed and MUST be CONTROLLED by Asians.

    As a Black Man, this tired-ass yellowface, blackface, brownface, and redface BULL%#^! Must stop!!

  • http://www.facebook.com/tinkerjenn Jenna McCoy

    I don’t think Akira should be done as live action period. Whitewashing it just adds insult to injury, and I’m a white chick!

  • Pete S

    As a white male, I am disgusted. I would rather watch Rebecca Black’s “Friday” non-stop for 3 days than be subjected to their proposed version. Every time they contemplate doing this God will kill a kitten.

  • geust101

    NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO

  • http://twitter.com/loveless_09 beth

    This would be like having Mario Lopez playing Jackie Chan’s part in “Rush Hour”…EPIC FAIL! So many talented Asian actors out there, and they want to cast theses losers. Shame on you Hollywood!

  • Jake

    Hollywood is just running out of freaking ideas for movies, so they are just taking video games, cartoons, and tv shows from earlier generations and redoing them and doing a horsepocky job doing it.. I loved akira, and wouldnt mind seeing a live action version done… ONLY if it is done right.. adding white characters to an original asain cast pisses me off to no end…

  • http://billy.wenge-murphy.com/ Billy Wenge-Murphy

    I’ve got to wonder if these aren’t just baseless rumors blown out of proportion. Robert Pattinson said he hadn’t been approached for the role, for example.

    And transplanting a movie like this from the only country to be nuked to the country that dropped the bomb is just….too weird.

  • Shannon Potratz

    Has Hollywood learned nothing from the recent flops of The Last Airbender and Dragon Ball Z? What I don’t understand is that there are plenty of well-established Asian actors out there. Why aren’t they being considered?

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Timothy-Burns/554109347 Timothy Burns

    This is what i wanted to see happen, i hope i had something to do with this. I posted on every forum possible to help prevent the disaster that this movie will become! Does anyone have email contacts of the writers, producers and directors?! If so please post them so we all can send a mass email! If we all join together we can keep this epic classic safe. Hollywood destroyed Wolverine lets not let them destroy Akira !

    IMO the Japanese Director/Writer who did Casshern and Goemon should do Akira. Hus FX style is perfect for Akira!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Timothy-Burns/554109347 Timothy Burns

    I am caucasian BTW,,,, and i am offering full support. Whats next a remake of the “The Color Purple” starring Linsey Lohan.

    • Jeryl Cook

      ..or “Roots” starring Nicolas Cage.

  • Justin

    First Dragonball, then the Last Airbender, and now Akira? If that isn’t racism I don’t know what is.

  • Courtney Hoffman

    I’m a white person who is disgusted by the white-washing of Asian inspired American cinema. I don’t understand why you think having a white person as a lead actor will better a film that is obviously aimed at a crowd of Asians and Asian enthusiasts. It’s backwards logic. I think the only good film WB has done when putting a White man in a lead was with the Last Samurai; but I’m still even upset with that, because the movie stomped on the event on which it was based. That rebellion was an important part of Japanese history, and they just HAD to give it a White American spin. It’s a bunch of BS.

    I’ll boycott Akira, just as I boycotted Last Air Bender and Dragon Ball.

  • http://www.facebook.com/arty.valentine1 Arty Valentine

    DO NOT WANT.
    I will never watch it. The anime movie is a clasic and this will RUIN IT.

  • Guest1221

    As a white American, and an Akira fan, I am equally disgusted with this development. But I am thinking these posts should be on a more mainstream medium like the WB website, or Hollywood Reporter, or NBC…somewhere that the execs who’d make these lame decisions will see it, and maybe start to rethink their actions if they know it’s going to affect their profit margin, since that’s the ONLY thing that will make an impact on this situation.

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  • LuffyLightLelouch

    NOOOO WHY DEATH NOTE AS WELL JUST KILL ME NOW

  • http://itsumademo.livejournal.com Tri

    I really hope they adjust their casting choices.

  • Pinoy9

     Well, I just recently heard from http://www.angryasianman.com that Keanu Reeves just passed on Akira. Now what? 

  • Jab3030

    I think they should be able to whitewash the cast, but if they do just don’t call the movie akira. Call it Theodore or something….

  • Fro_art

    Honestly people, this is past ridiculous. What’s wrong with casting Asian actors?! I’m not Asian myself, but I must say that I’m truly disgusted with Warner Bros for even attempting to do something like this especially after the negative publicity surrounding Last Airbender. 

  • Fro_art

    Son…I just noticed Justin Timberlake in the line up. Are movie makers retarded or are they just trying to annoy people?

  • Anonymous

    They’re not going to do it. It was stupid for Prince of Persia but because it was about Persians (and it was a pretty entertaining movie) not much people noticed, but it was even more stupid for the Last Airbender, and we can see how it ruined Mr. Shyamalan carreer.

    But for Akira? They would be complete dumb fucks if they tried to white-washed the movie, even set it in Neo-Manhattan. This movie will get the interest of the way many more fans out therem who won’t let it happen or will ruin the ratings.

  • Jamesgilroy

    I think its a good decision to make the cast all -white. In fact, they should all just speak english – the queens english. a good idea would be to get the harry potter kids – because they are the right age. if anything they can be weeaboos – dressing up in anime costumes…that would be so awesome. i think they also should have a moments silence when its announced that japans been hit by a tsunami and lots of people are dying. immediately after the moments silence we should have paris hilton screaming ‘ lets party’ and it breaks out into an oscar fest of famous white people all who love themselves very much. so awesome.

  • MAD-EUROGIRL

    Man! And it’s not like there aren’t any really good looking asian american actors! FREAKIN WB!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Timothy-Burns/554109347 Timothy Burns

    Well at least the last few directors dropped, maybe our words are heard Jaume Collet-Serra is the new guy.  We need to keep the petition alive.  Make this movie right or we will make every effort to make sure no one sees it !!!

  • Mike Hardin Norcal

    STFU people. Get something better to fight about. The movie was bought by WB so they have a right to do whatever they want, including creating a new cast. Maybe there’s not enough talented Asian actors out there?? Or maybe they want a white cast to appeal to a bigger audience in the US. There is a good reason behind it I’m sure.

    • John

      You say “STFU people” on a site dedicated to the very action on which WB is doing? Are you that brain dead, ignorant or do you simply lack any insight at all? I think all three. Damn, people like you just piss me off. Are you even Asian? 

  • Gralphr

    I agree concerning Akira because the artis actually made them look asian unlike 99% of the other cartoons. Look at it this way, if you make a white looking character (blonde hair, blue eyes, etc.) you get a white person for the role but if they would show more ethnic pride and actually draw some asian looking characters like the ones in Akira then maybe there would be more of a  argument.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jeryl.cook Jeryl Cook

    You would think after the 
    Avatar: The Last Airbender. disaster  , Hollywood learn it’s lesson….I remember freshman year in college and I saw AKIRA for the first time..was blown away and didn’t care of the characters was Asian.   Boycott the the movie!

  • http://tcdh.wordpress.com/ Mel

    Casting white actors make little sense. Since the graphic novel was popular with the Asian cast, why change the source material? There’s nothing that will turn away a fan more than tampering with the original source material.

  • Sane person

    Its a movie, relax people

  • Reynaldo

    Whatever anyone of the people who don’t support this say, I’m sure they don’t experience people saying to you, “You don’t look American”  like I do all the time, here in Taiwan.    My background is Filipino, and Filipinos have been in America since 1750 (America wasn’t officially established till 1776).   Why are people still saying “You don’t look American” to me?  Simple: Hollywood.  Furthermore, ask how much discrimination Asian- American people get when trying to teach “English” in a foreign country.

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