Many times and I mean many-has Hollywood got the idea to recreate an anime, one of the most popular forms of entertainment not only in Japan (where it originates) but around the world. They have this preconceived notion that they can simply take episodes upon episodes of plot, character development, and world building, stick it into a 2-hour time slot, and it will turn out beautifully.
And often, it could. There is potential in everything, remakes not excluded. Take Charlie and the Chocolate Factory as an example; while the original will always be the best to the majority, the recreation is just as entertaining and includes practically the same elements as the first. The main idea has gotten across, at the very least. It’s as similar as it gets, just… newer.
Adapting anime to live action is another story.
One of the first glimpses at “how will Hollywood handle this?” was given to us in Dragonball: Evolution. The Dragonball series is known across the globe; many of us grew up watching it, and children today do as well. It’s high up on the list for most popular anime, so the fact that Hollywood butchered it is still relevant.
The main characters are white, most memorably being Goku, Bulma, and even the literal whitewashed villain, Piccolo. Asian people play a few characters, however, they are not Japanese. This warped representation is noticeable right when it begins; this is a story of collecting artifacts inspired by East Asian culture, martial arts included.
Unlike that of Speed Racer, another film which came under fire for whitewashing, this anime harbors fans younger and larger in number. As iconic as it is, it maintains a great fan base and presence throughout media today.
Needless to say, the film crashed and burned.
Avatar: The Last Airbender can or cannot be considered an anime based on how you view it, but nonetheless, it deserves an honorable mention for only casting Asian people as villains, save for actors of Indian origin to play those in the Fire Nation. While the creators are American, this franchise borrowed from East Asian culture heavily, and the character design was based off of traditional Japanese animation.
This film also rightfully bombed.
Up next in our list of horrendous Hollywood horrors, Ghost in the Shell. Its first weekend at the box office proved that people are becoming more aware of the issue of whitewashing, failing hard with all kinds of audiences. Scarlett Johansson played the amazing Motoko Kusanagi, taking the role to a whole new level (not in a good way) and ruining the image we perceived it to represent.
Now, the most recent in Hollywood’s long streak, more specifically Netflix, Death Note. The manga has so much meaning set to it, revealing that it is a lesson of morality, power, and what happens when strict systems are taken to the extreme.
This role of Light Yagami is played by Nat Wolff- however, his name is not Light Yagami. It is now Light Turner. A whitewashed name to fit a whitewashed face.
When a study came out showing that less than half of Asian-Americans have speaking roles or appear at all in U.S films, TV, and streaming services, you’d think this would be the perfect opportunity for some real representation. That was not the case.
Hollywood also took the meaning of what it means to have too much power and instead fetishized drama and violence. This was meant to add appeal to a wider American audience, but it comes across as… lazy, and the antithesis of the original Death Note.
And another reason why an Asian-American Light would have been better?
A white teenager with a murder weapon isn’t new, original, or interesting.
The good thing to come out of all of this is the backlash Hollywood has received due to their whitewashing. People are speaking out and becoming socially aware to the world around them; they are no longer sitting idly by and taking this misrepresentation. These are valuable opportunities for Asian people to gain the representation they deserve, and we are not on that track.
Now, it is not only about adapting anime into live actions; it is about taking entertaining stories with meaning, depth, and character development, and toying with it to not even get the characters races right, primarily white people to fit the roles.
Our problems lie deeper than just whitewashing; we have to attack this form of racism at the roots and ensure that Hollywood hears our words, otherwise, they will continue to butcher our favorite stories, like the upcoming Akira, Naruto, and Bleach live actions.
Educate those around you; tell them why this is a problem, and how to solve it. Something like a simple movie review can go a long way.
And take my word for it: just watch the anime.