Racebending And Actors’ Responsibilities

There’s been much controversy about the decision to remake the manga and animated movie Akira with a white cast for American audiences. And the latest is that Kristen Stewart has been offered the role of Ky (Kei in the original). Now, as amused as I am by the prospect of America’s Vampire Sweetheart playing an anti-government terrorist (though what do you bet her stance is watered down?), the offer raises an issue for me. Do actors have any sort of responsibility when they’re offered work that furthers bad trends in the industry?

Now, correct me if I’m wrong in any of what follows. But Kristen Stewart has plenty of work right now. She could probably politely turn this down, saying she needs to, I don’t know, do a lot of publicity for Breaking Dawn, or Snow White and the Huntsman. She could probably even turn the role down less politely and suggest that they hire an Asian actress for the role. Is she absolutely obligated to do that? Probably not. If you’re the lynchpin of a massively profitable franchise, there are a lot of people who are going to want in on your bankability, irrespective of the artistic considerations. But that doesn’t mean that you’re required to take all the offers that you get. And if you want to be considered just on the merits of your performances, you’re not required to use your influence for anything. But if you want to be acclaimed as a person, or as a force for good within the industry, I don’t know if it’s enough to wait until you have your own production company, or until you direct your own movie in your thirties or whenever. At the end of the day, this is is capitalism. You’ve got the right to take those parts and make that money. But if actors, etc. would like to be considered ethical, to be role models, to be using their powers for good, I think it matters as much what they do on the job as what they do with the money they make from it.