White Washing

Eija Niskanen eija.niskanen at gmail.com
Wed Aug 26 21:42:13 EDT 2009

I am waiting for the release of the U.S.-made 3D Astro Boy. They have
had a lot f negotiating with the tetsuwan Atomu Japanese rights
holders over the character(s) and how to make them appealing to
Americans whle still remaining faithful to the original.


On Thu, Aug 27, 2009 at 8:42 AM, Tim Iles<timiles2003 at yahoo.com> wrote:
> I completely agree that Hollywood in general should realise that Asians can
> actually act, and stop limiting roles for Asians to "inscrutable bad guys"
> or "mysterious, sexy women"--which still happens, 60 years after Charlie
> Chan and Mr Moto for goodness sake! And Mark's phrasing of the
> authenticity/inauthenticity question is quite on-target--the show itself
> never seems to have aimed for "authenticity" (again, I haven't seen it), so
> what do the fans really expect?
> The issue of anime, on the other hand, is perhaps a different one. While I'm
> not especially arguing the 'internationalisation' of anime characters in
> every instance, I do suggest that the presentation of _many_ of the
> characters is "non-ethnic," or indeed "pan-ethnic." What functions as
> regionalisation in anime is not the appearance of the characters but more
> explicit factors such as specific locales or overt references to culture,
> tradition, history, or--most persuasively--language. Some anime could be
> (indeed, are) set outside of Japan/Asia with only little change or effect to
> their narratives. Others, such as _Mononoke hime_ or even _Naruto_, require
> Japan as their diegetic space. But that requirement, I really think, comes
> from other factors of the work than the "look" of the characters--and let's
> face it, anime characters don't even really look human let alone Japanese.
> As far as the business of Hollywood is concerned, though, I'm not especially
> optimistic of Japanese films or Asian actors starting to gain visibility any
> time soon. Not much we can do about that beyond continuing our work
> academically or otherwise to popularise Asian film.
> Best,
> Tim
> --- On Wed, 8/26/09, Mark%20Mays <tetsuwan at comcast.net> wrote:
> From: Mark%20Mays <tetsuwan at comcast.net>
> Subject: Re: White Washing
> To: KineJapan at lists.acs.ohio-state.edu
> Received: Wednesday, August 26, 2009, 4:57 PM
> Nah. If the producers want to play by the rules they established in the
> series milieu (which is really the "authenticity" the fans are arguing for)
> then it'd be nice, at least, for the characters to be portrayed by Asian
> actors. So  I don't buy the argument that in general "anime" characters are
> intended to look international, so then it's okay to cast non-Asian actors
> in the film (I don't even buy that premise).
> I think the fans of the show are unwittingly arguing for fair play for Asian
> actors in Hollywood more than fighting against any notions of cultural
> appropriation (the post Aaron linked to accused the show's fans of cultural
> voyeurism). For me, this is what the argument is about - the business of
> Hollywood.
> The show itself is a funny mishmash of myths and icons curiously passed off
> as both authentically "Asian" and created out of whole cloth, which begs a
> question (and perhaps is what Tim is getting at?); if something is initially
> inauthentic can one expect authenticity derived from it?
> ----- Original Message -----
> From: "Tim Iles" <timiles2003 at yahoo.com>
> To: KineJapan at lists.acs.ohio-state.edu
> Sent: Wednesday, August 26, 2009 3:43:14 PM GMT -06:00 US/Canada Central
> Subject: Re: White Washing
> This is an interesting issue and thread, but I have to ask whether this is
> really a "problem" as such (I'm hoping to sidestep the invisibility of
> Asians in non-Asian popular media in general, something which does frustrate
> me)--in some ways it is a different issue from casting Zhang Ziyi and Li
> Gong in _Memoirs of a Geisha_.
> One can argue that the _faces_ of Japanese anime characters are themselves
> intended to be 'international' rather than particularly Japanese, or even
> Asian for that matter. If that's so, then there's almost a tacit license for
> using non-Asian actors in a live-action adaptation.
> Given that the creators of the animated series are not Japanese and the
> program uses a "mish-mash" of Asian references and influences (I haven't
> seen it so I can't comment on whether it all works), perhaps it's forgivable
> for the live-action film to make use of non-Asian characters.
> I have much greater trepidation at the thought of another Hollywood remake
> of a Japanese film, such as _Ringu_ or _Kairio_, neatly excising all traces
> of Asia... That to me is a much less forgivable issue, especially
> considering how poor the remakes are. Greater distribution of Japanese films
> just doesn't seem likely when Hollywood is content to plunder Japanese
> sources for remakes, reaping the benefits of direct profits etc.
> Best,
> Tim Iles
> University of Victoria
> --- On Tue, 8/25/09, Roger Macy <macyroger at yahoo.co.uk> wrote:
> From: Roger Macy <macyroger at yahoo.co.uk>
> Subject: Re: White Washing
> To: KineJapan at lists.acs.ohio-state.edu
> Received: Tuesday, August 25, 2009, 5:26 AM
> Interesting, Jun-Dai,
> Your mention of Miyazaki and your suspicion that the promoters are going for
> two hits for the price of one by provoking controversy, chimes with a piece
> in London's Guardian newspaper last week, 'Ponyo: can a Japanese fantasy
> finally animate US audiences ? Miyazaki's latest animé release follows
> string of acclaimed cartoons that had muted success in America.'
> http://www.guardian.co.uk/film/2009/aug/14/ponyo-miyazaki-anime-us-release?commentpage=1
> I originally picked this up in a badly-mangled print piece the next day (in
> 'International'[news])  that looked like nothing more than a studio
> puff-piece but, even so, the story presumably originated from the studio *,
> and the use of 'original' to describe a US version with Hollywood star
> high-recognition looks like an attempt to lengthen the news cycle by
> courting 'controversy'.
> But the connection to this thread is that, whilst dubbing may often have
> some comparison to white-washing, when the publicity is all about
> identifying home-market stars to the roles, then it has become, I contend,
> a process wholly comparable to white-washing.
> * - for a comparable, non-Japanese case of a studio concocting a
> 'controversy' about subtitles last week, there was -
> http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/tv/news/used-subtitles-to-watch-the-wire-the-writer-says-thats-just-criminal-1773087.html
> Roger
> ---- Original Message -----
> From: Jun-Dai Bates-Kobashigawa
> To: KineJapan at lists.acs.ohio-state.edu
> Sent: Monday, August 24, 2009 11:25 PM
> Subject: Re: White Washing
> This reminds me a lot of the controversy around casting a white actor to
> play Ged in the TV Earthsea adaptation (Goro Miyazaki's Ged is also very
> caucasion-looking), though in that case Ged's dark skin was a matter of
> great importance to LeGuin, whereas I'm not sure how much of a similar
> 'point' is being made by DiMartin and Konietzko.
> Given that Hollywood's idea of the widest possible audience and the lowest
> common denominator is a white male hero, the move makes sense.  TV can be
> niche-targeted, but big-budget films can't be, and unless your hero is
> Jackie Chan, Jet Li, or one of a handful of established-in-the-US martial
> arts actors, then casting an Asian or Asian American as your hero qualifies
> as niche targeting, since white people will have a bit of a barrier
> identifying with the character (a barrier that Asian Americans, African
> Americans, women, etc., are less likely to have regarding white
> protagonists).  I am kind of surprised that they chose to make all three
> heroes white.  That and choosing an Indian for the bad guy makes it seem
> like they *want* protest websites and letter-writing campaigns.
> It's unfortunate, but the trend seems to be getting worse rather than
> better, despite the slightly increased awareness of Asian films in the
> mainstream (Miyazaki, anime in general, Crouching Tiger, etc., and, if it
> counts, Slumdog).
> How many Japanese American movie actors can you name?  (that's probably why
> John Cho gets to be Sulu)
> Yours,
>   Jun-Dai
> On Mon, Aug 24, 2009 at 12:35 PM, Nornes, Mark <amnornes at umich.edu> wrote:
>> There has been some discussion over the years of Asian characters being
>> played by Caucasians in American remakes. Here’s another one for the mill,
>> from an article in the new Flow:
>> "Fan Protests, Cultural Authenticity, and the Adaptation of Avatar: The
>> Last Airbender" by Patricia Nelson (http://flowtv.org/?p=4215) A
>> consideration of the fan backlash surrounding Paramount?s choice to cast
>> white actors as Asian characters.
>> Markus
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Eija Niskanen
c/o Hirasawa
Koenji-kita 4-2-10
Tokyo 166-0002

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