Not for the first time, Hollywood is planning to whitewash a movie (or several movies). All You Need is Kill, a Japanese sci-fi novel by Hiroshi Sakurazaka, and Akira, a 1980s cyberpunk manga by Katsuhiro Otomo, have both been picked up by Hollywood for mass-American consumption.
All You Need is Kill will be directed by Doug Liman. In an interview with ComingSoon.net, Liman said that there will be no lead Japanese actors. Why? Because the movie is “totally American.” (Seriously, that is what he said. You can read the interview here. It’s mostly about Liman’s other movie, Fair Game, so the question about Akira is a little further down.) I understand that the movie will be transplanted to America–that is, it’s getting the same treatment as The Ring (the original Ring was set in Japan, but the Hollywood adaptation took place in America and starred Naomi Watts). The main character’s name, Keiji Kiriya, has been changed to Billy Cage, and there are rumors that the role has been offered to Ryan Gosling.
Here’s the thing: just because the movie has been transferred to America doesn’t mean that Japanese-American actors can’t be cast. Liman’s response is so offensive because the assumption is that “totally American” means “white American.” Because, you know, people who are Japanese and American don’t exist. There are enough problems with the idea that the movie has to be set in America because Japan is too “foreign” and “strange” for the American audience to grasp, but when a white American actor instead of an Asian-American one is cast, it says that the Asian one is not American enough. Or not American at all.
Akira’s cast has yet to be announced. There were rumors that Zac Efron was offered the lead role of Shotaro Kaneda, but a representative for the directors has said that no such offer was made. I don’t have much hope that an Asian-American actor will be cast, though. (Not that there aren’t plenty who are looking for a job but can only find ones as gangsters, nerds, and background person #679000. Check out this UCLA study that catalogs the percentage of actors hired according to race/ethnicity. Asians in lead roles only make up 1.8% in the industry.)
I hate the idea that “American” always means “white.” America is so diverse in population, but you wouldn’t know it from watching its movies and T.V. shows. I guess to Hollywood, my heritage and ethnicity means I will never be “totally” American.