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What Could Jordan Peele Mean for the Long-Awaited Akira Movie?

Nothing piques the interest of big studios like the prospect of making big money. So when Jordan Peele took four million dollars and turned it into over $150 million with his deft debut, Get Out, heads started turning so fast you could almost hear necks breaking. What would be Peele’s next project?

According to the Tracking Board, Jordan Peele is being eyed for the long-languishing live action adaptation of the legendary Akira. Katsuhiro Otomo’s immeasurably influential manga series was already made into one of the most iconic anime films of all time in 1988.

The Akira adaptation at Warner Bros. has been in development hell for years, ever since the studio bought the rights to the property in 2002. It nearly went into production a few years back in an incarnation that would have starred Garrett Hedlund and Kristen Stewart and been directed by Jaume Collet-Serra.

The new involvement of Jordan Peele could not have come at a more interesting time, either, as concerns about western live action adaptations of originally Japanese stories have been at the forefront thanks to this weekend’s Ghost in the Shell movie.

Scarlett Johansson stars in Ghost in the Shell, which is adapted from a Japanese manga and anime series. Her character, originally named Motoko Kusanagi, is referred to only as “The Major” in the new adaptation, which Paramount seems to think gives them a pass on accusations of whitewashing the character so the film could star a white actor.

The outcry from fans, writers, and audiences about the casting has been loud and sustained, and even included many people using the film’s own marketing techniques against it.

Along with Ghost in the Shell, and the Matt Damon-starring The Great Wall (which struggled against accusations of “white savior” tropes), the trailer recently dropped for Netflix’s Death Note adaptation, and a familiar narrative emerged: main character Light Yagami has been renamed Light Turner and will be played by Nat Wolff.

Whitewashing has been a problem in Hollywood since its very beginnings, but a recent wave of interest in Asian-originated stories has caused the issue to be examined in more detail. So how could Akira, arguably the most famous and influential anime film/manga series of all time, play into this?

For starters, the very public backlash against Ghost in the Shell would be hard for Warner Bros. to ignore when it comes time to cast their new Kaneda and Tetsuo. In this case, the characters’ names are much more iconic (thanks to the original film’s constant, repeated use of them), which ought to make it harder for the studio to rename the characters Kyle and Tyler. Casting Garrett Hedlund as a character named Kaneda won’t look too good in today’s movie-going culture.

But more importantly, the potential hiring of Jordan Peele is even better news for the movie’s relevance and sensitivity. Get Out was a huge success, both critically and box office-wise, thanks to its sharp commentary on modern racism. Peele reportedly has several other “social thrillers” already written, which makes it hard for me to believe he’d sign on to a project that would blatantly whitewash its main roles.

Peele also seems like a pretty natural fit for Akira, which is a story laced with gruesome dread and horrific nightmares. He’ll be the next in an ongoing line of young indie (male only, I might add) directors given huge projects after small-scale successes: Colin Trevorrow made Safety Not Guaranteed and was then hired for Jurassic World, Gareth Evans directed Monster before being hired for Godzilla and Rogue One, Jordan Vogt-RobertsThe Kings of Summer got him the Kong: Skull Island job, and the list goes on.

If there’s no avoiding it, and Hollywood is going to subject us to an English-language live-action Akira, then short of actually hiring an Asian director/writer, the potential of Jordan Peele is an interesting and promising development. He’s undoubtedly one of Hollywood’s hottest new talents, and I just hope he’s very careful about how he chooses his next few projects.

In any case, though, the news is still preliminary, and negotiations could sour. So stay tuned here for further information as it becomes available. In the meantime, here’s the truly iconic bike chase sequence from the original 1988 anime adaptation. Oh, to see justice done on the big screen for this scene:


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