Asian Americans are speaking out about the news that actress Evan Rachel Wood has been tapped to star in “One Thousand Paper Cranes,” a movie about the aftereffects of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima.
Variety reported late last week that Wood will play author Eleanor Coerr in the film, which is based on the true story of Hiroshima survivor Sadako Sasaki. Wood will appear alongside another white actor, Jim Sturgess, and Japanese actress Shinobu Terajima.
And people aren’t too happy, pointing out that white stars are not necessary to validate the stories of people of color.
The film is slated to follow the story of Sadako, a young girl who was diagnosed with leukemia after being exposed to radiation from the atomic bomb that the U.S. dropped on Hiroshima during World War II. In accordance with an old legend she was told, Sadako folded 1,000 paper cranes in hopes that she’d be granted one wish. Coerr, then an aspiring Canadian-born writer and young mother, heard of the girl’s story and wrote a children’s book entitled “Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes.” It was published in 1977, more than two decades after Sadako’s death.
The movie’s director, Richard Raymond, responded to the current criticisms in a statement provided to HuffPost. He wrote that they have “seen all the feedback and recognize everyone’s concerns. We would love to use this moment as an opportunity to clarify a couple aspects of our film.”
Raymond said that the film is based on Takayuki Ishii’s book “One Thousand Paper Cranes: The Story of Sadako and the Children’s Peace Statue.” The director said he contacted Ishii five years ago “in the spirit of a close collaboration to ensure Sadako’s story, and that of all Hibakusha, was honored with the utmost cultural respect.” (Hibakusha is a term for the survivors of the atomic bombs the U.S. dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.) Raymond added that the film will be told from Sadako’s “point of view, filmed in Japanese with a Japanese cast.”
“The film separately tells the story of Eleanor Coerr, who wrote the fictional children’s book ‘Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes’ (which this film is not based on) and brought the story to international fame, further cementing Sadako’s legacy of peace and hope through the powerful symbol she created,” he said.
The movie has received support from Sadako’s family, the Hiroshima Peace Museum and the Hiroshima Film Commission, according to Raymond. He said that the “entire creative team has gone to great lengths to protect the authenticity of Sadako’s story and everything she represents.”
Prior to Raymond’s statement, sociologist Nancy Wang Yuen told HuffPost that what had been reported about the film exemplified how “Hollywood cannot deal with U.S./Asia wars without co-opting Asian voices.”
“I wondered whether a story about the devastation of Hiroshima told through a white author’s lens would ever address the fact that the United States committed an act of war that killed a total of 192,020 people (including those killed instantly and those killed by the radiation in the aftermath),” she said.
There are many stories about Hiroshima that deserve to be told, Yuen said, particularly from the perspective of the victims and their families.
“This type of story typically does not honor the victims because, like ‘The Help,’ the white female author’s voice becomes privileged over those of the women of color she tried to capture,” the sociologist explained, referring to the 2011 movie about a white writer’s relationship with two black women who work as maids.
Instead, Yuen said she’d like to see the victims of the bomb at the center of the story. She added that is one tale that Hollywood has yet to tackle.
Yuen cited “American Girl,” which was shown at the Tribeca Film Festival in April, as an example of centering the experience of a woman of color. The movie fictionalizes the Patty Hearst story through the lens of Japanese American antiwar activist Wendy Yoshimura, played by Hong Chau.
This post has been updated with a statement from the film’s director.