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Netflix's Death Note the Next Target of Whitewashing Claims

posted on by Lynzee Loveridge

Whitewashing is not a new media criticism. The subject of racial representation has come up in Hollywood with instances like Ben Affleck playing CIA technical operations officer Tony Mendez in Argo, Emma Stone playing Allison Ng, a half-Native Hawaiian, half-Chinese character in Aloha or Mickey Rooney's infamous portrayal of a Japanese landlord in Breakfast at Tiffany's. The list goes on even in fandom-centered works: Tilda Swinton plays The Ancient One in Doctor Strange, Liam Neeson plays Ra's al Ghul in Batman Begins, and the cast of The Last Airbender is predominately White.

This trend of replacing non-White characters with White actors has continued to stir up detractors, notably with Scarlett Johansson's casting as The Major in The Ghost in the Shell. Fans petitioned Dreamworks as early as 2015 to replace Johansson and garnered over 28,000 signatures. Cast members and staff responded to the controversy, with producer Steven Paul denying that Ghost in the Shell is just a "Japanese story" and that original manga creator Masamune Shirow and Kodansha have been very supportive of the film. Johansson defended her choice to accept the role and original film director Mamoru Oshii backed her up.

“I believe having Scarlett play Motoko was the best possible casting for this movie," Oshii said. "I can only sense a political motive from the people opposing it, and I believe artistic expression must be free from politics."

Claims, including an article by ScreenCrush citing anonymous sources that CGI was commissioned that would have altered Johansson in post-production to “shift her ethnicity” also ignited further controversy.

This stage then, was already set for the debut of Netflix's Death Note live-action film trailer. Light Yagami, now Light Turner and played by White actor Nat Wolff is stirring up more negative sentiment. An online petition by Sarah Rose has received over 13,000 signatures promising to boycott the film for its "all white" cast. The petition also states that Asian-American actor Edward Zo was denied a role after auditioning for the film.

While the petition claims the film's cast is all White, Black actor Keith Stanfield stars as L in the film and Paul Nakauchi stars as Watari. Stanfield's casting has drawn, albeit a different kind, of criticism. The film relocates the original manga's story from Japan to Seattle, Washington.

Source: Zack Sharf at IndieWire


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