Editor’s Note: Ranier Maningding is a copywriter and mastermind behind the social justice page “The Love Life of an Asian Guy“. The opinions expressed in this piece are solely his own.
After years of unapologetic whitewashing from Hollywood, I was beginning to think that the Asian-American community would never see a faithful adaptation of a Japanese anime. But then, like Black Jesus descending from the heavens in a gold stitched robe, Jordan Peele curled his lips towards the universe and said, “bring me Akira.”
It has yet to be confirmed, but Warner Bros has begun intense negotiations to sign Jordan Peele as the director of Akira after his critically acclaimed social thriller, Get Out, performed well at the box office. Known for his racial sketch comedy routines on Key and Peele, Jordan would be the perfect candidate to bring Kaneda and Tetsuo to the big screen without sacrificing the importance of their Japanese identities.
Here’s why Lord Peele would be the perfect director for a live-action Akira movie.
Jordan Peele Understands The Nuance and Importance of Race/Culture
Revered for its 120,000 animation cells, Akira is a fluid explosion of neon lights and pulsating human organs splattered onto a Neo-Tokyo landscape, dipped in grit with a side of more grit. This dark atmosphere may resemble scenes from Blade Runner or The Matrix, but the themes of Japanese identity and post WW2 Japan cannot be replaced, making Akira a distinctly Japanese experience.
A treasure trove of cultural and historical Japanese references, an adaptation of Akira that wasn’t Japanese-as-fuck would be a disservice to Akira fans and newbies alike. Whitewashing the smaller aspects of Akira’s Japanese identity including names and settings would make for an awkward presentation (could you seriously imagine Justin Bieber screaming out “WILLIAM” instead of “KANEDA”?) while whitewashing the larger themes (including the haunting reference to the WW2 atom bomb in the opening and closing scenes) of Japan’s relationship with technology would strip the movie entirely of its essence.
This is where Jordan shines.
In his directorial debut, Get Out, Jordan Peele displayed a masterful talent for bringing both the larger realities of both systemic racism and racial microaggressions to life. He understands how culture and race can be used as a foundation for a film, not a gimmick. In Get Out, instead of characterizing the Armitage family as blatantly racist conservatives, Peele wrote them as a socially and politically liberal family with a secret lust for bodily experimentation on Black bodies.
This deliberate use of liberal whites was an impressive decision that reinforced the idea that white liberals, like white conservatives, all have the same capacity to engage in white supremacy. But Jordan didn’t have to show you an image of white people in white hoods to convince you that they were racist — his flawless storytelling made you tell yourself.
Even though Akira has minimal commentary on race, its deeply embedded social themes on nuclear war, terrorism, and social uprisings would be interesting and universal enough for Jordan Peele to tackle without swerving out of his lane. Jordan is smart and artistic enough to pull this off without making it reek of Orientalism like another movie I know of *cough*Ghost in the Shell*cough*.
Comedians Like Jordan Peele Excel at Dark Dramas and Psychological Thrillers
Some of the greatest comedians of our generation have received their highest honors while executing more serious, dramatic roles. The always gleeful Robin Williams was a shadow of his happy self in the chilling thriller, One Hour Photo, Jim Carrey played a convincing depressed romantic in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and Louis CK’s show Louie is overflowing with moments of quiet, somber introspection drizzled with a bit of mid-life crisis.
I sense the same level of untapped potential in Jordan Peele. One of the biggest surprises with Get Out was the fact that, after a notable career in comedy, Peele turned to the thriller and horror genre. No one knew he had it in him, but he dazzled the box office to the tune of $145 million. If he can exert that same level of introspection into Akira’s dark, post-apocalyptic setting, this could be a huge success and quite possibly, the first live-adaptation of an anime worth watching.
Jordan Peele Won’t Whitewash Akira
My first thought when I found out that Jordan Peele was slated to direct Akira was, “Holy crap. He’s gonna direct this shit, and it’s not going to be whitewashed!” Whitewashing, as its name implies, is the practice of taking originally ethnic stories, settings, and characters, and replacing them with white ones. Historically speaking, Blackwashing has never been an issue. Even in the era of Black Kung Fu cinema, Black actors never replaced Asian ones and in most cases, Black Kung Fu stars like Jim Kelly went out of their way to cast and pay respect to Asians.
If Jordan Peele can properly dissect the source material of Akira and see the unflinchingly Japanese themes of the film, there’s no reason to expect that he’d cast anyone but Asian actors. His resume on race and his attention to detail with casting would/should ensure that Warner Bros’ live-adaptation of Akira will be a faithful recreation of the 1988 original.