The Live-Action Remake Of ‘Cowboy Bebop’ Needs To Break The Whitewashing Cycle

Hollywood has been trying to make a live-action version of Cowboy Bebop for years. For a long time, Keanu Reeves was attached to a film version. But that eventually fell under the pressure of production limbo. But the desire to see Spike Spiegel, Faye Valentine, and the rest of the gang in live-action makes sense. The anime is both a pop culture phenomena and tailor-made to the resurgence of audience interest in the sci-fi genre.

Now Deadline has announced Tomorrow Studios, who are also adapting Snowpiercer and Let The Right One In as television series, will take on the challenge of reinvigorating Cowboy Bebop for a new generation.

From the announcement:

Tomorrow Studios has teamed on the project with Midnight Radio (Josh Appelbaum, Andre Nemec, Jeff Pinkner & Scott Rosenberg), who will executive produce alongside Sunrise, the studio behind the original series; Tomorrow Studios’ Adelstein (Good Behavior, Prison Break) and Becky Clements (Good Behavior, Aquarius); as well as Matthew Weinberg. Chris Yost (Thor: The Dark World, Thor: Ragnarok), who started his career writing for comic book-based animated series before segueing to features, will pen the adaptation.

As a fan of the source material, my initial reaction to this new is mild panic. After all, Hollywood doesn’t have a great track record when it comes to adapting anime without stripping every Japanese cultural marker from “our” version. The recent Scarlett Johansson film Ghost in the Shell comes to mind. The backlash to whitewashing the character of the Major was fierce and widespread. Then there’s the recent kerfuffle with Tilda Swinton cast as a white Ancient One in Doctor Strange (which director Scott Derrickson has admitted was a poor choice), the stereotypical way Marvel’s Netflix shows treat Asian characters as villains or nameless minions to be defeated, and the erasure of the only Asian character on The Walking Dead, and Tomorrow Studios is walking straight into a raging inferno.

But these discussions around the lack of representation for Asian actors could work in Cowboy Bebop’s favor, if the studio is willing. Tomorrow Studios can learn from the whitewashing blunders of the past and skip merrily around them, casting Asian actors in every major role. Show American audiences a space Western they’ve never seen before (not even on beloved cult classic Firefly): one not centered on white people. Cowboy Bebop could easily build off the foundations laid by AMC’s Into the Badlands, creating a universe as diverse as it would be in the year 2071. The creators of the anime have stated in the past that Spike is based on the late actor Yusaku Matsuda, so there’s literally no reason to cast the bounty hunter as anything other than of Asian descent (by way of Mars).

And, I mean, Lewis Tan is right there.