Fullmetal Alchemist Movie: Whitewashing Works Both Ways

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Whitewashing has been a contentious issue in film making for a while, especially recently. Adaptations of popular anime franchises like Ghost in the Shell have drawn heat for casting white actors for rolls that are set in Japan and who’s stories are specifically influenced by Japanese culture. It is true that it doesn’t make much sense for white actors to play what should be Japanese rolls, but that standard applies when you reverse the situation as well.


It was announced last year that a live action Fullmetal Alchemist Movie was being made, and we now have multiple trailers and a full cast list. Here’s the problem: the whole cast is Japanese. All of the actors, both main and supporting cast, do not match the race of their original characters.

Just as Ghost in the Shell took a uniquely Japanese story and replaced any cultural influence with white actors, The live action Fullmetal Alchemist looks as though it is going to take the unique commentary of the original series and replace it with Japanese actors. 

The reasons that this such a problem in the first place is because much of Fullmetal Alchemist’s story revolves around the conflict of the Amestrian government and the Ishvallan people. Amestris is a country that draws large parallels with Western Europe in the 1940’s, but more specifically it is meant to represent Germany, with Fuhrer Bradley being a direct reference to Adolf Hitler. Of course, the Ishvallans are a reference to the Jewish people in Germany and the Ishvallan War of Extermination is a reference to World War 2 and Concentration Camps.

Race, in this case, plays a large part of the show. Most of the characters being white represents the predominantly white Western Europe, and the ethnic discrimination of Ishvallan people from both the Amestrian government and the people of Amestris serves as huge arc in Scar’s character. 

Having both Edward and Scar be Japanese eliminates any theme of ethnic resentment from the original. It would be taking away heavily from the character of the story.

Even the director of the original show thought the all Japanese cast was a bad call. It’s not wrong for their to want to proper representation for different races in different stories. In Fact, I agree completely, but let’s make sure that standard is applied across the board.

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6 comments

  1. This was an interesting read. I personally believe that the term “whitewashing” is thrown around entirely too much. It should not apply to everything that has been reimagined. Take Death Note on Netflix (though I didn’t like the movie). It was a reimagining, not a beat-for-beat remake of the show. Like you said, Ghost in a Shell was whitewashing. But I believe what they are doing with Fullmetal Alchemist is a result of the overuse of the term “whitewashing”.

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    1. Yeah, I agree on that. I think people try to use it in situations where it doesn’t apply. And your right Death Note was a reimagining. Although, someone pointed out to me that Asians are the second largest race in Seattle, so I could definitely hear an argument from that perspective.

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  2. Honestly the casting makes since the same way the ones in the west did. Since the movie is being made in Japan and really is being marketed to them it makes sense for there to be a mostly Japanese to all Japanese cast. In the same way that a live action movie adaptation on the us is going to have mostly white actors as it reflects the population with them being an overwhelming majority. You change characters races based on the markets demographic especially if being made in a place that’s mostly one race.

    I agree that it doesn’t make sense story wise but majority of the englush dubs don’t make any real sense either, the same with the Japanese dub of Black Lagoon.

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    1. With most Japanese movies I would probably agree, but it seems like this is one they are really trying to push worldwide, It’s going to be debuting in 190 countries, plus Fullmetal is already one of the most well-recognized anime even by non-anime fans. Also, I get what you’re saying, but dubs and live action adaptations are not the same thing.

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