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Before It Happens: Seriously, Don’t Whitewash Akira

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Since Warner Bros. first acquired the rights to a live-action adaptation to Katsuhiro Otomo’s Akira, casting and directing rumors pop up a few times every few years. The project has gone through directors like George Miller, Christopher Nolan, and most recently, Jordan Peele, after the success of Get Out. Actors considered for the film have ranged from Justin Timberlake, Zac Efron, James McAvoy, Kristen Stewart, and Keira Knightley. It’s unclear whether or not this film will become a reality anytime soon, but from the reporting it’s undeniable there’s not only interest and investment in its production.

When these stories come up, dedicated fans typically meet the news with curiosity and a healthy dose of seriously-don’t-ruin-this-with-your-industry-whiteness. It’s a point that’s been repeated time and time again, from social media waves to Asian-American celebrities like George Takei. However, despite this being a point time and time again, it’s a possibility that fans are still extremely cautious about, especially in reactions to persistent incidents of whitewashing.

Recently, one rumored director I can get behind, Atlanta’s Hiro Murai, told Indiewire that whitewashing Akira wouldn’t only be a bad idea “just because of the backlash lately, but that story is so tied to post-war Japan and ideology.” Murai touches on one of the big problems of Hollywood adaptation, mainly that transporting stories so heavily tied into national identity often ends up translating poorly. It was a perspective also brought up during the Death Note controversy, where the producer was puzzled that reactions to re-tellings like The Departed and The Ring weren’t nearly the same.

Akira is a story born out of post-war Japan, that very directly deals with the atomic bombings and Japan’s unique relationship with technology (similar to Ghost in the Shell, which should be a cautionary tale here). The anime movie deals with this, but Otomo’s manga goes even deeper in its examination of contemporary Japanese society from themes of government corruption to the culture of the military. There’s something especially imperialistic and gross about whitewashing this story, whether they transplant the story outside of Neo-Tokyo or not. Otomo has said recently that he’s “generally ok with whatever they want to do with it,” only he “had to check and approve the scenario.”

So, here’s another reminder: don’t whitewash Akira. Just don’t do it.

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