EXCLUSIVE: No doubt about it, representation is a very important thing. The ability to have someone who looks like you actually show up on the big screen has the potential to bring out a lot of positivity in young audiences. This is something that’s been celebrated with films like Black Panther in recent years, but Hollywood is still far from perfect.
While African Americans are making great strides, other minorities aren’t faring as well. Last year alone saw two instances where a role originally intended for a Japanese actor was replaced with white actors. This was seen with the Major in Ghost in the Shell and, to a lesser extent, in Death Note with Light.
With another manga adaptation, Alita: Battle Angel, set to hit theaters this December, there is a noticeable lack of Japanese characters. But is this an instance like with Ghost in the Shell, where the setting is largely Japanese, but for some reason the leads are white? Not at all.
LRM had a chance to speak with Alita producer Jon Landau, and in the process of discussing the big eyes on the lead character, he brought up this interesting tidbit.
“[Alita manga author Yukito Kishiro] wrote a world not set in Asia, but set actually in North America, and he gave us the liberty to cast the best actress we possibly could.”
The result? Cuban American actress is now taking on the role of Alita, with the supporting cast consisting of Christoph Waltz, Jennifer Connelly, Mahershala Ali, Ed Skrein, Michelle Rodriguez, and Eiza González. While the cast is relatively diverse — with a few Latinas, a couple Caucasians, and an African-American (and that’s just with some of the main cast) — it is a bit disappointing that there are virtually no Japanese (or even Asian) actors present in the film, given its source material.
That being said, this seems to be an instance that more closely resembles Death Note, where it can still make sense for a film to have certain races in them based on the setting. Ghost in the Shell was an outlier where its Japanese setting was retained, but its cast was whitewashed. Another mark in Rodriguez’s defense, the director has also consistently made a lot of efforts to cast Latinos in his films and TV shows — another group that is sorely underrepresented on the big screen. As such, it seems less of a case where he reverts to white actors as a status quo.
How do you feel about this particular instance? Let us know your thoughts down below! And keep an eye out for all full interview with Alita: Battle Angel producer Jon Landau, director Robert Rodriguez, and stars Rosa Salazar and Keean Johnson.
Alita: Battle Angel hits theaters on December 21, 2018.