Hollywood and the White Brush

Negotiations are on for the right to direct the live-action version of Akira… this can only mean one thing.

Hellooooo whitewashing.

I actually got irritated about this the other day when looking at the casting list for Avatar: The Last Airbender’s big-screen live-action adaptation. Obviously, Airbender isn’t anime, but the director’s approach with it is nevertheless in keeping with live-action versions of animated shows full of Asian characters – how white can we make this?

I have to admit – I don’t think I’ve ever really gotten as upset about this before as I did with Airbender. I think this is in part due to the fact that most anime characters look Western, so it doesn’t seem as jarring to notice a movie poster for, say, Speed Racer and see Caucasian actors occupying most (if not all) of the roles. On the other hand, comparing the Dragonball Evolution live-action film to the anime series itself, its easier to notice the discrepancy, as the main character himself does look… not exactly Asian, but the visual rendition of him doesn’t look Western, either. So then you look at the sop who played him in the Hollywood version and you end up scratching your head a bit.

I’ll also confess that I’m not sure I really took much notice of it prior to the cast lists of Airbender because I simply didn’t care about Dragonball Evolution, and the Speed Racer was such a mindfuck that it was hard to really stop your brain for a second to consider the fact that nearly the entire cast was Caucasian (mainly because my brain was just desperately trying to avoid a seizure). Airbender, on the other hand, is a show I did follow and really enjoyed; the characters also look more non-Western, so the difference really struck me… it’d be kind of like if they took the atrocious American Dragon: Jake Long and gave the lead role to… uhh… whoever the fuck that youngest Jonas brother kid is.

And then today I saw the news bit about Akira. $10 says three-quarters of the cast is Caucasian.

This really isn’t anything new, honestly, and certainly isn’t limited to Hollywood’s adaptations of anime. The Good Earth is an excellent example; interestingly enough in that case, the directors were originally going to use one Asian actress… but then backed the fuck off because it would’ve meant an inter-racial kiss! HOLY SHIT HIDE THE CHILDREN! Since, y’know, just casting all Asians would’ve been too hard… For an even more blatantly racist example, see Charlie Chan (obviously, Chinese = Swedish).

What is most disappointing about all of this is the fact that it isn’t a new thing to do this; this has been going on for decades. It’d be nice if Hollywood could get over this. I’m not really going to hold my breath about it, though, as very few people seem to be bothered by it or even noticing it. Post-racial society, my ass. And this isn’t even pointing out things like how in G.I. Joe: Rise of Cobra the bad ninja is Asian, but the good ninja is Caucasian (he’s the one who got all upset when the Asian ninja killed their master – you know those crazy slanty-eyed folk! always doing silly things like killing off their teachers!).

I was pretty excited when I first heard that they were making a live-action Airbender movie. I was even still excited when they said M. Night Shyalaman was directing (although my brain kept trying to insist it was 2004 and I had just whacked my boyfriend in the face for trying to make-out with me in the middle of  The Village) (seriously, dude, I did not just drop $10 to make-out with you; I can do that for free whenever the fuck I feel like it…). But this? Fuck it. I’m not even going to see it. I’m legitimately disgusted. In fact, I’ll go so far as to say you shouldn’t see it either. Who need this kind of crap?

And, before anyone says it, yes, I know – Japan’s not really known for being racially warm and fuzzy. That fact however has no bearing on our own racial behaviors and attitudes.  Two wrongs do not make a right. I also don’t think that Caucasians are the majority in America means that its cool to whitewash entire casts of characters; if we followed that logic, about 15% of characters in movies should be Latino/Hispanic, and 12% should be black, something you don’t really ever see on the screen. This also makes little sense if one is making a film set in a foreign country – the fact remains that America is the most racially diverse country in the world (you got that, bitches).

Ugh, whatever. I’m exhausted and pissed off. I’d construct a more coherent argument, but I’m too tired to, and I’m too irritated to wait until I am fully rested. I’ve been awake since 5 a.m. and my damn M-16 malfunctioned on the range and kicked me in the eye when it recoiled. Fucking annoying.


For the record, I myself am Caucasian. And I’m just gonna go watch Ninja Assassin [1] a few thousand more times, thanks – yeah, I know, Rain is Korean, not Japanese, but at least they got the Asian part right. [2] And there’s an Interpol agent who yells several times, “It’s the ninjas, I swear!”

*      *      *

[1] This movie is terrible. But its that kind of terrible that is pure, distilled awesomeness. Don’t complain if you can’t appreciate such a thing, though; not everyone is as fucking awesome as I am, after all.

[2] I know – I’m about to be brutally murdered by a few thousand Koreans and a few thousand Japanese for alleging that they are even somewhat interchangeable.  It’s ok, though – I’m an American, so obviously I’ll just pull out my gun, yell a few nonsensical obscenities, bounce my massive breasts for extra measure, and then shoot them all in the face. Haven’t you guys ever seen American girls in anime? Geez.

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21 Responses to Hollywood and the White Brush

  1. Shinmaru says:

    Asians have it pretty bad in Hollywood, to say the least. Even Hispanics — my brethren — have it WAY better. I can at least name a good number of Hispanic actors. Who could seriously name more than a few Asian actors off the top of their head?? It’s better for them in TV, but not by enough to make it not ridiculous still.

    I took a film class in college (does that make me sound 10 times douchier?), and I remember a movie made some time in the 1950s that actually dared to have a Japanese-American play the lead and have his character date a white woman, and the whole movie was about the social prejudice they faced in the aftermath of World War II. Can’t for the life of me remember what it was called (I’ll be able to look up the name when I get home from work), but the point is that if a movie from 50 freakin’ years ago (back when a good portion of American society still considered it OK to be openly and virulently racist) does a better job of depicting Asians than a movie made today, then that’s pretty fucking bad.

    Random note: This post allowed me to once again indulge one of my favorite past times — looking up the ancestry of random famous people. Apparently Teller, of Penn and Teller, is part-Cuban. Crazy.

  2. kluxorious says:

    there is a reason why there are such rage for the Avatar: the Airbender movie. As an Avatard/zukotard, I took offense at the choice of the casts. I mean, for fuck sake Zuko ain’t fucking brown! Katara and Sokka are! Instead they give the role of Sokka to a Caucasion. That’s fucked up.

  3. Baka-Raptor says:

    But if the characters aren’t white, it becomes exploitation.

  4. 2DT says:

    Asian-Americans got the first non-white heartthrob: Sessue Hayakawa, a Japanese immigrant who starred in silent films. But he quit out of frustration (always giving up the love interest to the proper white man), and now he’s virtually forgotten. It’s an interesting bit of history, though.

    Akira’s apparently going to be reset in Manhattan. Or Neo-Manhattan. Whatever.

    • adaywithoutme says:

      Can’t say I’m shocked about Akira getting a setting change. Bleargh.

      I’ll have to look up Hayakawa; the name sounds very vaguely familiar, but I can’t claim to have known those details about him.

  5. jpmeyer says:


    The whole thing with Avatar makes me groan because it doesn’t even follow the main reason for making a Hollywood remake: star power. They’re casting a bunch of child actors, not a bunch of A-listers that will sell tickets both in America and overseas.


    I groan over NO YOU HAVE TO HAVE JAPANESE NOT KOREAN OR CHINESE ACTORS PLAYING JAPANESE outcries because it generally seems like the people making those never seem to get all hot and bothered about casting white people like that.




    And that’s not even considering the times when the person has a incredibly awful accent.


    Wow, I can’t believe 2DT mentioned Sessue Hayakawa. He’s interesting because being a silent film star, that was back in the era when “Asian” meant “violent warrior race” rather than “tiny dicked worker bee”, with the fear of the yellow peril swarming over here and using his martial society to take away all our white wimminz. I mean, all of them have enormous harems because of how sexually insatiable they are, so obvs they are going after the most desirable women possible amirite?


    In conclusion,

    “I’ll just pull out my gun, yell a few nonsensical obscenities, bounce my massive breasts for extra measure, and then shoot them all in the face.”

    This is relevant to my interests.

    • adaywithoutme says:


      Interestingly enough, in Mad Max, one of drunkyface Gibson’s first movies, his voice was dubbed over by an American because Hollywood figured no one wanted to deal with the pesky Australian accent. Going back to watch it is extremely bizarre given how many films I’ve seen with him where he isn’t dubbed over.

      I think the reason you don’t see people fussing about Caucasians from one place playing Caucasians from another is that, at least in the American context, white = normal. So it doesn’t seem jarring to the average Caucasian American to see Mel Gibson portraying a Danish prince, for instance. At the same time, to most Caucasian American eyes, Asian = other, and they’re basically interchangeable. This itself of course means that Asians themselves are going to get irritated because they certainly don’t consider Vietnam and Korea to be the same thing and are upset when someone or something alleges that. Its all racial politics, American style – fun!

      From what I’ve been able to tell, the same frustrations don’t appear in Asia with Koreans playing Japanese and whatever, because Asians are the majority, so there’s no threat to identity involved there.

  6. glothelegend says:

    Hollywood has always sucked at adaptations, in my opinion. Not just for anime, but also for books. Also, I heard that Akira wasn’t going to happen anymore, but if talks are back on, I know that months prior, they were going to change the setting from Neo-Tokyo to Neo-New York, and just have Neo-New York (and all of America) be owned by Japan. Why they would do this in the first place is beyond me.

    I am upset. I hate how Hollywood does this, and it makes literally NO SENSE. I mean, not only does everyone on the planet hate when they cast white people in Asian roles, but…..well…….everyone hates it!

    I am UPSET.

    • adaywithoutme says:

      I’m pissed! But I think you could tell that from my post.

      Talks were back on as of… whenever I posted this post.

  7. DS says:

    The Good Earth and Charlie Chan come from earlier eras. Hollywood could not get away with that today. And the Chan movies did have Asian actors playing all the Asian roles except for Charlie Chan himself. With animation, I guess they feel they can get away with it somehow. But if Akira is still set in Japan and not relocated to LA or something, I don’t see how they could not have all Asian actors.

    • adaywithoutme says:

      Well then, duh, its not gonna be in Japan. the Dragonball movie sure as hell wasn’t, and neither was the Speed Racer movie.

      The problem is, essentially, that instead of the overt racism, we’re getting the more subtle variety now – instead of taking a Caucasian and having them pretend to be Asian they just nix the Asian altogether. Mariko Fujisaki becomes Mary Farnesworth.

  8. jpmeyer says:

    Uh, no. Everyone on the planet loves when they remake movies and cast white people in them. Who is more popular: John Cho or Tom Cruise? Masi Oka or Brad Pitt? Lucy Liu or Reese Witherspoon?

    Hollywood has cultivated a star system that is extremely lucrative worldwide.

    • glothelegend says:

      Lucy Liu and Reese Witherspoon are my two favorite actresses. I wish they both starred along side each other as two cops in the big city (because girls are never cast in that role). It could be a comedy.

  9. JELEINEN says:

    I was amused the other day to see someone complaining about the characters in Prince of Persia being white.

    • adaywithoutme says:


      Ugh, and in all the picture Bibles for children, Jesus is apparently Norwegian.

  10. Canne says:

    I think whitewashing tends to happen because most people behind the camera is still caucasian. I don’t think Hollywood should take Asian material to adapt into anything in the first place. (not to mention that a lot of things are made to be anime, not live action)

    • adaywithoutme says:

      However, in the case of Avatar: The Last Airbender, it isn’t Asian in origin. Yet much of the cast is itself Asian.

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