George Takei is seriously cool. In fact, he’s nearly too cool for words. But why is he especially cool right now?
Last week, George Takei spoke loudly against the whitewashing in Hollywood, warning Warner Brothers, that it doesn’t work and you lose money and you piss off a lot of people in the meantime.
Why hasn’t anyone said this before?
Alright, I know people have said this before. But I feel like he’s making a point that many haven’t and why? My guess comes with two words: Star Trek.
In addition to his political work, Takei is loyal to a fanbase that is loyal to him. He respects fans and, my guess is, he’s probably a geeky fan of a few things himself.
I mean, he even sounds cool when he calls people a douchebag:
Star Trek is known beyond it’s geeky fanbase though, it’s known as a show that promotes equality and understanding. Whether or not they knew it, the cast signed on to be part of those movements and Takei seems to have gladly accepted that role as ambassador for his fans.
Of course, as a gay Asian man, who grew up in Japanese internment camps in the U.S., he’s pretty invested in these issues as well.
Mostly, I just appreciate how quickly he cuts through the BS when he says in this snippet from the Advocate interview:
The Advocate: Were you surprised to find out Warner Bros. is courting white leading men for roles in the adaptation of Akira?
George Takei: It’s not a surprise because that’s been a Hollywood tradition. For example, when I was very young, I read Pearl Buck’s epic novel of China, The Good Earth. And that film, all of the principal major roles were cast with Caucasians. As a matter of fact, Luise Rainer, who played the wife, won an Oscar for that. Paul Muni was her husband. It’s an old Hollywood tradition that we’ve always been battling, not just Hollywood but Broadway too, if you remember Miss Saigon and the furor over that. So, no, I really wasn’t surprised, but the audience has changed now, and I’m surprised Warner Bros. is not keeping up with the audience. The manga and anime phenomenon is mostly white in this country. It originated in Japan, and, of course, it has a huge Asian fan following. But it’s the multi-ethnic Americans who are fans of Akira and manga. The idea of buying the rights to do that and in fact change it seems rather pointless. If they’re going to do that, why don’t they do something original, because what they do is offend Asians, number 1; number 2, they offend the fans. The same thing happened with M. Night Shyamalan. He cast his project [The Last Airbender] with non-Asians and it’s an Asian story, and the film flopped. I should think that they would learn from that, but I guess big studios go by rote, and the tradition in Hollywood has always been to buy a project, change it completely and flop with it. I think it’s pointless, so I thought I would save Warner Bros. a bit of failure by warning them of what will most likely happen if they continue in that vein.
It seems this is particularly still a problem for Asian and Asian-American actors. Do you see something like this happening with a role written for a black actor?
Oh, absolutely not. African-Americans have made enormous advances. There are a whole host of bankable stars who are African-American. Can you name one bankable Asian-American star? No. There isn’t. You have Denzel Washington, Samuel Jackson. A whole host of them. One can’t name a single Asian-American whose name you can take to the bank and get a project financed. We are making headways. I’m not a pessimist. We have made tremendous headways from the time I started in this business in 1957. Asian faces are part of the ensemble in many TV shows playing not roles that are specifically Asian, but playing doctors and detectives. Advances have been made, but we have still not caught up with the African-American achievements.
Why do you think there seems to be a reluctance to cast Asian-American actors in leading roles?
I don’t think it’s a reluctance, they just don’t know better. They have the experience of Shyamalan’s project, and I would think any savvy production company would learn from that. So I’m really baffled by the lack of learning from experience. Hollywood doesn’t like failures, and there’s a string of failures in the past. With this effort, I’m trying to warn them of what is likely to happen with this Akira project.
Let’s hope people listen to what he has to say.