Why don’t we have stuff like this anymore? Now it’s like “don’t do drugs, or you’ll burn in hell” or “OMG pizza will make you fat”. Like seriously the teenage mutant ninja turtles knew what was up.

Watch on

I am pleased with the aesthetic that Michael Bay has generated for his adaptation of the Turtles, especially the subtly more monstrous depiction of the Turtles themselves which, to me, calls forth images of the Kappa and some of the darker covers to the TMNT trade paperbacks.

However, I am completely displeased with Bay’s casting of William Fitchner as Oroku Saki (the Shredder). There are several Asian and Asian-American actors who could have portrayed Oroku Saki, preserving his East-Asian heritage and remaining faithful to the original material.

If I’m going to be super-critical of this, casting Fitchner as Oroku Saki is all but popularizing cultural appropriation. It does not matter how Fitchner’s Shredder acquires the skills and knowledge to become Shredder and put together the Foot Clan; so long as he is actively co-opting the cultural traditions that surround the Ninja and excising them from their cultural context for his own benefit, Fitchner’s character is cultural appropriation writ large.

Against Fitchner, my first choice would be Brian Tee, given the ways in which he has channeled some serious malevolence in Ninja Assassin and other films where he is cast as an antagonist. To me, he seems to “fit” the way that Shredder has been portrayed and the new vibe that Bay is setting up. Other choices that I would approve of would be Hiroyuki Sanada (who has the martial arts chops to carry the role), Tadanobu Asano, and Ken Watanabe.

It should be noted that all of my choices for the role are men who have some Japanese ancestry (or are Japanese themselves) and understand the cultural implications of Oroku Saki, the Foot, and the possible motivations of the character as rooted in a cultural context beyond the film. As members of Japanese culture, these actors could call upon their cultural resources, to understand the feeling that the character should have, as opposed to merely cloaking themselves in the trappings of the culture. There would be a greater depth to Tee, or Watanabe, or Sanada’s Oroku Saki that Fitchner would be unable to capture.

Unfortunately, as it seems, whitewashing seems to prevail over authenticity, even when it is something as beloved as TMNT. Then again, given what happened with The Hunger Games and Star Trek: Into Darkness, I should not have expected Hollywood to remain faithful to the material in casting an Asian or Asian-American actor for the role.