Battle Angel Alita Lead Role Once Again Devoid of Asian American Prospects

In 2015, Nerdist announced that the live-action adaptation of the famed Japanese anime had been revived by directors James Cameron and Robert Rodriguez. Battle Angel Alita, a post-apocalyptic sci-fi action manga/anime written by Yukito Kishiro, is set in the 26th century and follows the female cyborg Alita, as she trains to become the world’s most deadly assassin. The latest report from the Robert Rodriquez/Jame Cameron production reveals that the filmmakers have their top three actresses for the lead role: Maika Monroe, Zendaya (who is the front runner), and Rosa Salazar. In other words: more bad news for Asian American actresses.

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There has been a wave of whitewashed casting — and invalid excuses from studios. No explanation or reason makes sense as to why Asians aren’t being cast in roles where they could benefit from the exposure. Don’t get me wrong, I am happy bi-racial pop star Zendaya is the front-runner here, but she is still a safe choice. Battle Angel Alita would have been another perfect opportunity to cast a young, unknown Asian American actress for this role. The excuse “We need someone with star power to make money,” is complete nonsense and here is why:

Aside from Zendaya, none of the actresses in the running are overly famous. They have done no more than three films each, so the “star-power” excuse doesn’t apply. Secondly, with Robert Rodriguez and James Cameron attached to the project, anyone could have been cast. Cameron has made stars out of complete unknowns. NO! We shouldn’t be satisfied that someone of color is in the running. This is more than that

This isn’t about double standards. People of color rejoice when cast. The same doesn’t happen for white actors because white is the standard, the safe bet, the status quo. White people are represented across 85%-90% of the business.

Yes! This is about gaining 100% visibility and representation for all PoC across the board.

If you’re are pissed off, you’ve got to continue to hit them where it hurts, in their pockets. Don’t continue to support these productions if Hollywood cannot deliver the basic level of representation in film.

17 thoughts on “Battle Angel Alita Lead Role Once Again Devoid of Asian American Prospects

  1. I feel so sorry for the actress who plays Jubilee in X-Men Apocalypse (Lana Condor).

  2. And see this is where I’m torn. As a woc, I do not support whitewashing or Asian erasure in movies but I want so desperately to see a woc, of any race, headlining a major scifi film, that I really would have a dilemma about giving these filmmakers my money, especially if they cast an hispanic, or mixed race woman. I like that they’re considering these women, but why does it have to come at the expense of an Asian woman?

  3. Why should the role go to an Asian-American actress just because the source material is Japanese?

    I’m all in favor of more diversity in casting, but this doesn’t give Asian-Americans the prerogative to lay exclusive claim to all anime adaptations.

    It’s based on a questionable identification of Asian-Americans with Asians in Asia, and only strengthens the perception of Asian-Americans as foreigners in their own country.

    Moreover, the argument that you have to cast an Asian[-American] actress to do justice to the source material is based on an exoticized view of Japan, the idea that the Japanese are all so foreign and different that no non-Japanese actress can embody a character in a story written by a Japanese person. In many cases, the stories in question really aren’t that Japan-specific, they’re human stories that work in any setting.

    The likely outcome of these campaigns is that you’re going to make Hollywood studios reluctant to license Japanese properties for adaptation, because casting choices get criticized and scrutinized in a way that those in projects based on European and US source material don’t.

    1. The issue is not that the source material is Japanese, but that Alita is Japanese American. They should have cast an Asian American in her role, because is of Japanese descent and culturally American.

      Don’t agree at all with the point that it would have been exoticizing to cast an Asian American in her role. Hollywood exoticizes Asian Americans by casting them in stereotypical roles, like Katana in Suicide Squad, the Interview, and 47 Ronin. Then they give away major nonstereotypical roles like Alita and Motoko Kusanagi to non-Asians, which only makes things worse.

      I think, if anything, it would have improved American audiences perceptions of Asian Americans if an Asian American had been cast as Alita. She is a badass and aggressive character, with much more depth than the roles normally given to Asian American women in Hollywood. The only thing that’s maybe stereotypical about her is that she’s a martial artist.

    2. I tried to reply to this earlier, but I guess it didn’t work.

      The issue is not that the source material is Japanese, but that the character /is/ Japanese American. An Asian American woman should have been cast in the role, because Alita is of Japanese descent but “grew up” in America.

      I also completely disagree that it would have been exoticizing to cast an Asian American actress in the role. Similar to Motoko Kusanagi, Alita is a badass and aggressive character who has much more depth than most of the roles given to Asian American women. The only thing that’s maybe stereotypical about her is that she is martial artist.

      Hollywood exoticizes Asian Americans by casting them in stereotypical and fetishized roles, such as Katana in Suicide Squad, the Interview, and 47 Ronin. Then they give away leading and nonstereotypical roles Asian Americans should receive by casting white actors and actresses as Asian characters.

      So I don’t see how it would have been exoticizing to cast an Asian American woman in this nonstereotypical, leading role. That just seems so backwards to me. If anything, casting an Asian American in her role would have improved people’s perceptions of Asians. It would have shown that Asian women can play leading action roles, and don’t have to be typecast into “dragon lady” / “china doll” / “ninja” / “sidekick” types of roles.

    3. The reason why an Asian American actress should be cast isn’t because the source material is Japanese, it’s because the character herself is AND Asian American actresses get so few opportunites to play main roles on the big-screen. Directors hesitate to cast Asian American actresses for characters who are not originally Asian, and as we can see here they hesitate for characters who are asian as well. So AsAm actresses can’t win either way.

  4. FWIW, here’s an interview with the Dr. Strange writer which touches on the Ancient One casting:

  5. I am longing to see Doona Bae and Rinko Kikuchi in more roles, even if they did not want to go with someone “unknown,” these two actresses would make the role theirs.

    1. The thing about this is that Doona Bae and Rinko Kikuchi are not Asian American, thry are Asian, born and raised in their respective countries. They were both fairly popular actresses in their home country before coming into hollywood. Even if they don’t go into any more hollywood movies, they will still get roles in their home industries. Their situation is not the same as those of most Asian American actresses.

  6. not speaking for all asian women here, but i’m happy to see a woman of color in this role. i’m glad people are speaking out against whitewashing asians in hollywood but i don’t think the issue is that these roles belong to us. definitely not. when we can’t even get cast in roles that are canonically asian, it’s just explicit proof of the racism against asians in hollywood, but it would still be a huge problem if asians were only ever considered for “asian” roles. i think the goal is to get characters and actors who are asian in leading roles that are not stereotyped. it would’ve been great to see an asian american woman in a lead role but personally, i already see enough people associating us with anime, sometimes in a racist/sexist way. with this whitewashing issue, we’re often arguing between being stereotyped or erased and i’m tired of people using that or americanization as an excuse to cast all white leads. so this potential casting decision looks great to me.

    1. > when we can’t even get cast in roles that are canonically asian, it’s just explicit proof of the racism against asians in hollywood

      The characters in House of Cards are “canonically British”, but Netflix made them American in their version. Would you consider this “explicit proof” of discrimination against British people in Hollywood?

    2. I totally agree with what you’re saying about Asian American representation being the choice between “stereotyped or erased”, sigh. But I totally disagree that it would have been a bad thing to cast an Asian American as Alita? Just because she’s a manga character doesn’t mean she’s a stereotype.

      It would be a problem if Asians were only ever considered for “Asian” roles, but in reality Asians aren’t even considered for “Asian” roles! So at the very least, they should cast Asian Americans in the roles of characters who are canonically Asian, yea?

      Anyways, I do think that Rosa Salazar as Alita will be a bit better than ScarJo as Motoko Kusanagi. It’s nice that a Latina woman got a leading role, but not nice that it came at the expense of an Asian woman.

  7. If these are the picks I hope they pick Salazar. At least she looks like she could hold her own on a Motorball circuit. I don’t know anything about these three actresses but boy, Zendaya’s Hannah Montana hair has got to go.
    I want to support this project but I just feel so leery of it. I don’t want to see the arrogant, gutsy ex-space terrorist who symbolizes human potentiality get boiled down into some ballbuster stereotype. And ugh, I get that the Motorball arc is visually distinct and exciting, but it’s also Alita at her lowest and most lost. Taken out of context of what she went through and where she’s headed, it is a story of her aimlessly surviving in a soulless landscape until she receives benediction from some guy who knows better. This is the exact opposite of how she behaves and functions in literally every other part of the series. I really, really hope they don’t go this way but it’s Hollywood so I wouldn’t be surprised if they did.
    Lastly, for heaven’s sake her name was YOKO. But, if they must pick someone not-Asian, then I hope they at least pick a POC actress. I believe there are hints the story takes pace in North America (Bar Kansas, Salem, the canteen Figure drops in the desert), so at least Zendaya or Salazar wouldn’t be glaringly out of place in the landscape, not like Tilda Swinton as The Ancient One.
    Is everyone ready for Round 3410168 of ‘but she doesn’t even look Asian!’? SIGH.

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