movies, random thoughts

Just a Question

UPDATE 4/14/11 – For anyone interested, here’s an interview with Idris Elba, who, interestingly, was born in Norway.

UPDATE: 4/12/11 — My bad, Idris Elba is being cast as Heimdall, not Odin. Thanks to MaryJBlog for catching that.

And I mean this quite sincerely. I readily admit I don’t fully understand the issues (’cause quite frankly I’m not that bright), so I throw it out to you folks to help me comprehend.

When the movie Thor was being cast and word got out that a black actor was being cast as Odin, the interwebs went nuts defending this move. Now granted, this is one actor out of a cast of I-don’t-know how many. So maybe it’s apples to oranges, but…

The Twitterverse is now going nuts over the use of white actors in Akira. Is it because the cast is entirely Caucasian? Would one Caucasian actor have been acceptable if the rest had been Asian? Or should they all have been Asian since it is a Japanese story? And if so, why cast an African-American as a Norse god?


28 thoughts on “Just a Question”

  1. You’re bright! 🙂

    And if you ask me, they should have cast only Asian actors in Akira, since it’s a Japanese story set in Neo Tokyo. I doubt the future Neo Tokyo will have more white people than Tokyo today, especially if half the city is turned into a giant crater.

    And for Thor they should have used an old Caucasian dude as Odin, because that’s how he is portrayed in the old myths. Barring an old guy, at least use someone who looks Northern European.

    Barring that, they should just cast everyone without regards to race, but that should also extend to Superman and Batman and Wonder Woman.

    Sadly the current casting seems to be the studios’ perceived pressure from the market, that white actors will be better for the western market and that there needs to be a black guy in every movie. Or some such silliness like that.


  2. Thank you 🙂

    I don’t really understand the use of an all-white cast in Akira. If they wanted to have one or two whites in there, I could see that, but as the story characters seem to be well-established as Japanese this does seem like a weird thing to do. I really don’t think the fans would have been put off by an all-Asian cast.

    I’m with you, Odin should have been white. Casting an African-American just doesn’t feel right. I can only imagine the backlash if they’d cast a white guy to play an African god. There seems to be a bizarre double-standard at work. I can appreciate that blacks don’t get as many of the high profile films and roles, and are underrepresented in movies in general (ditto most other minorities) stories that are so rooted in the culture and mythos as these two are, let them be what they are.


  3. Hollywood has a bizarre relationship with race. They’ll sprinkle in a token black or Asian character and then smugly feel they don’t have a race issue to address.

    But if it’s a situation where the entire cast could be non-white, they won’t. I read an interview with Chris Rock where he talked about his Broadway show and how if it were made for Hollywood his character would be white. A studio exec actually said that white people won’t watch a movie without white people because they “can’t identify with the characters,” and I wondered, well then why am I addicted to Bollywood films?


  4. Honest to god, I don’t know where they get these ideas. Does someone actually do studies, polls, surveys on this kind of thing? Maybe some tiny enclave is Los Angeles was their test market.


    1. You’re so bright!

      I think 19 times out of 20, a good actor is a good actor and race shouldn’t matter, but occasionally the actor’s complexion will stick out like a sore thumb, and in all fairness, that sort of miscasting usually favors white/Europeans (the two worst examples I can think of EVER, were Mickey Rooney playing that awful Japanese clown character in the otherwise lovely Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and Anthony Hopkins, playing a Black guy who’d spent his life passing for white, in The Human Stain.) Although I’m not familiar w/the Akira story, I tend to agree with Berit – casting all Caucasians to play the Japanese of the future sorta calls to mind those old b/w movies in which every single foreigner, regardless of what country s/he was supposed to be from, spoke with sort of a snooty British accent. As for Thor – well, that raises the whole issue of men who create gods in their own image – what if all those Scandinavians made it to the other side, and found out Thor was a brother after all? If the guy is a really, really good actor I’ll give him a shot, in honor of all those films geeks who, for decades now, have not seemed to notice that it was Laurence Olivier playing Othello in the 1965 film version 😉


  5. My opinion is it doesn’t matter. Cast the best actor. It’s like Disney and their princesses: they’ve always been white so people want to keep them white. I personally don’t know of any black monarchies with the traditional crown-and-gown sort of thing, but Disney has to take that step for future generations. Now little black girls can see themselves as princesses. Little black boys can see themselves as a part of Norse mythos. And besides, I think it’s annoying that white is this better-than-others status. People who have white blood but LOOK black, are considered black, but they’re both, and same for asians, hispanics, etc. The definition of white has changed over the years, and I say we should just throw it out entirely and get over it.

    I have no idea about the Akira thing :p


  6. Off the top of my head, I’d say a Caucasian cast for Akira makes sense purely from the point of preserving the aesthetic integrity of the original: Manga and anime characters are traditionally very *non* Asian-looking. Other than that, i got nuthin’ 🙂

    And I won’t even start on the whole “Thor” thing… it makes me mental and then I start to froth at the mouth and then I fall down and it’s all twitching from there on.


  7. Thanks for all the input, folks. 🙂 It’s a confusing issue, to be sure.

    Submerina, you raise a good point about the Akira casting. Anime/manga DOES use very Caucasian-drawn characters, they seem to have a fascination with them (us?). That’s something else that’s always puzzled me, but whatever. I’ve never been into the anime/manga scene so I’d forgotten that that is how they tend to draw them.

    Michelle: Of course little girls of every race get sucked into the Disney princess marketing machine, but I don’t want to get off on a rant about Cinderella complexes how damaging the whole princess thing is 😉

    MaryJ: Oy, yes, and all those old Charlie Chan movies with Warner Oland (who was Swedish) as the Chinese-American Charlie Chan. Native Americans couldn’t even get parts as extras in westerns playing Indians, the parts went to whites (which, quite frankly, bugged me even as a child that they didn’t LOOK like Indians). Feh.

    Anyway, if they’re going to freak out over one, but not the other… I just don’t get it. As long as Akira isn’t filmed in Japanese and dubbed badly into English like the old Godzilla movies… 🙂


    1. “As long as Akira isn’t filmed in Japanese and dubbed badly into English like the old Godzilla movies… ”

      NOw THAT I might pay to see! Have you ever seen Kung Faux, that show where they take ancient crappy martial arts films, and re-dub them with Black actors doing cheezy hip-hop dialogue? It’s even funnier than MST


  8. p.s.

    I think maybe I was a feminist before I knew there was such a thing, b/c I always found the whole Disney princess thing to be vaguely embarrassing – even as a tiny child, I’d think to myself “Who LIVES like that, and if you did, why would you be waiting around for some prince to show up just so you could have fun?” True empowerment should come, not from having princesses of other races, but from teaching girls of all races that the princess thing is a suffocating scam. I loved Lilo and Stitch for many reasons, not the least of which was that Lilo’s sister caught the eye of that cute surfer boy, even though she had a really big butt & thigh area.


  9. It’s like that joke:

    “Once upon a time, a beautiful, intelligent, self-sufficient princess was walking in the woods, when she came upon a small green frog. The frog called to her as she passed by, and said ‘I’m really a handsome prince, and if you kiss me, I’ll turn back into a prince and we can be married, and move into my castle where you can bear my children, and keep my house, do my laundry and take care of my mother.’

    That night, while the princess dined on frogs legs, she said to herself, ‘I don’t f**king think so.'”


  10. I think the fact that Akira is a master piece everyone knows they are going to destroy it. I think the idea of Americanizing a story like Akira is the main problem


  11. Are they relocating it from Neo-Tokyo to the US? I’m not even a fan of the series and that would annoy me. It sounds like it’s going to end up more as a “suggested by” adaptation, kind of like what they did to “I, Robot.” It was so loosely based on the book they couldn’t even say “based on the novel”.


  12. “Hollywood has a bizarre relationship with race. They’ll sprinkle in a token black or Asian character and then smugly feel they don’t have a race issue to address.”

    This! Same thing goes with throwing in a token woman. Write better parts. Don’t give us crumbs and expect us to be all grateful.

    And yes, the Thor thing is ridiculous.

    I hope as more women, blacks, and other so-called minorities get involved in screenwriting and directing we will see more diversity on film. And gah! I hate when Hollywood says, “people won’t go and watch blah blah blah.” I’d really like to know who they polled to know that, because they sure as frell never asked me.


  13. I still have to wonder why there is so much squawking about white actors in Akira, if no one minds an African-American actor as Odin All-Father in Thor (although I realize there has been a lot of griping about both). I guess it matters to some, and not to others. I just wonder if it’s the same people defending the Thor casting who are trashing the Akira casting.


    1. I think the whole point of tokenism is significant – Thor is a big part, but it is just one part – that’s how Hollywood likes to throw minorities a bone. Casting all white people as the all the neo-Japanese, however, falls under the purview of that bogus “will Caucasians go see a film with an all-Asian cast?” question. I know I would (Slumdog Millionaire, anyone? Hellooo – it won an Oscar and made a buttload of $$$$$) but then again I’m one of those eccentrics who expects stuff like clever plotting, good dialogue, and strong acting.


    2. Ok, I can see your point. I’ve never actually seen Akira, so I don’t know if the characters are drawn as ’round eyes’ (Caucasian) or as Japanese. As Submerina mentioned, anime and manga do typically portray Caucasian characters, often blue-eyed blond heroines. I don’t know if this is the case with Akira or not. I guess it would depend how they are drawn as to whether or not casting Caucasians is simply following the established storyline, or is in fact a case of “whites won’t watch a movie with a non-white cast” thinking. Of course it’s silly, as Deana said many white Americans are enthralled by Bollywood, and other non-American cinema.


    1. Have you ever seen those tiny low-energy hotplates? Here in the U.S. they sell ’em in every craft & homegoods store. It is a little bitty thing, just big enough for a coffee cup or a single candle – scented candles last forever if you just heat ’em up instead of burning ’em, and the thing gets just hot enough to keep your coffee from getting GAH, without burning it.


  14. I just wanted to say DD thanks for introducing Thor to me. Funny my hubby knew Thor but he also knows Latin. So I shouldn’t be surprised, lol. We went to the movie and saw it yesterday night and in English. It was one of his gift to me. It was really good even though we was late and miss the first 20 minute. But saw when his father vanish him to earth and etc. Felt like I did not miss much. Once again thanks for introducing me to Thor. Great movie and eye candy, lol.


    1. Oh cool! Glad you had a chance to see it and enjoyed it! I’m not surprised at your hubby knowing who Thor is, if he’s German 😉 I haven’t had a chance to see it yet, it looks fun, though.


      1. You must see it soon DD before the month is over. Why before the month is over, I don’t know just pulling time periods from my head, lol. But you really should soon since you introduce it plus it is really good. A lot of good laugh and a bit of sadness.


    2. I probably should simply because it probably won’t be in theaters much longer than that. Is it just me, or do movies seem to be having much shorter runs in theaters these days before going to DVD?


      1. I honestly don’t know since I been here. I am happy whenever I get to see something at the same time as friends in the State. Normally movies over here comes out later than the State. At least some.


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