Racebending is a site that started a couple of years ago to complain about the racial make-up of the cast of M Night Shyamalan’s The Last Airbender. On a fundamental level I respect what this site is about - advocating for more diversity in Hollywood product, especially in adaptations of works that originally feature non-white characters - but on another level their message reads like a mixture of quota seeking and OCD complaints about changes from source material.
The latest thing to get their ire is the shortlist of actors sought for the live action Akira. We don’t usually cover bullshit like that at BAD, but basically the short list is made up of all the same young white actors who are shortlisted for just about every other role in town, from Chris Pine to Garrett Hedlund and everyone in between.
It’s important to note that the live action Akira will not be Japanese. The film is being set not in Neo-Tokyo but in Neo-Manhattan (which doesn’t have the same ring, but whatever). Still, Racebending says that with characters named Tetsuo and Kaneda, surely Asian American actors should be cast.
First, I think this is a kiss of death for Akira. It was already looking terrible, but once Racebending goes after you it probably means your film will suck. Their campaign against The Last Airbender felt pointless, since the movie was soooo bad and nobody went to see it.
Second, I’m not sure that the race of the leads is that important. My good friend Drew McWeeny has a son named Toshiro, and there’s no Japanese blood that I know of in that family. I’m not entirely convinced that an Asian sounding name means an Asian actor should be cast. Conversely, should Asians only be cast in roles with Asian sounding names, leaving them out of the running for Billys, Joes, Walters, etc?
Now, like I said, I completely understand and even support where Racebending is coming from. But looking at their site I can’t support their cause because all I see them doing is complaining about changes being made to existing properties that they like, and not actually advocating for the talented actors of color out there (and that’s not to mention that they seem to care only about the representation of Asians in media, with a small detour being made to bitch about Hunger Games).
More and more I think the solution to Hollywood’s lack of diversity isn’t to complain but to support. Where’s the Racebending page celebrating Idris Elba being cast in Thor? I couldn’t find any coverage of Anthony Mackie’s provocative and truthful statements about being a black actor that came from the Adjustment Bureau junket. There’s a positive article about diversity in the casting for ABC Family’s Pretty Little Liars, which cast a Filipina in a role that was white in the original novel. But the article goes on to complain that the show ‘marginalizes’ her racial background by not talking about it - which seems to be against the very concept of colorblind casting that the site otherwise espouses.
If Racebending wants to be taken seriously it should spend more time being proactive, standing behind filmmakers and actors of ALL colors, not just focusing on a handful of nerdy manga and anime adaptations.