Live-Action Death Note Film's Producer Responds to Whitewashing Controversy

posted on by Karen Ressler
Netflix's adaptation slated for August 25

Vertigo Entertainment's Roy Lee, one of the producers of Netflix's upcoming live-action Death Note film, responded to criticisms the film has received for whitewashing – casting White actors to play roles written for other races – in an interview with BuzzFeed on Wednesday.

Lee does not believe the film is a case of whitewashing. "I can understand the criticism ... if our version of Death Note was set in Japan and [featured] characters that were Japanese-named or of Japanese ancestry," he said. The film's story takes place in Seattle instead of Tokyo and the protagonist, played by White actor Nat Wolff, is named Light Turner instead of Light Yagami. According to Lee, story changes such as these were necessary to "make it more appealing to the US or to the English-language market."

"Saying 'whitewashing' is also somewhat offensive... one of our three leads is African-American," Lee added, referencing Keith Stanfield's role as L. The film also stars Margaret Qualley as Mia Sutton, Paul Nakauchi as Watari, Shea Whigham as James Turner, and Willem Dafoe as the voice of Ryuk.

In general, Lee said he was surprised by the reaction, as he has worked on many adaptations in the past but has never seen negative press. In particular, Lee cited his work on the 2002 horror film The Ring, which was an adaptation of the Japanese film Ring. Lee commented, "No one criticized it then. Maybe they should've or maybe they could've, [and] I just didn't know about it."

Masi Oka, another of the film's producers, previously defended the casting in an interview with Entertainment Weekly in November, though he said the staff was conscious of the issue. "Our casting directors did an extensive search to get Asian actors," he said, "But we couldn't find the right person, the actors we did go to didn't speak the perfect English… and the characters had been rewritten."

The film adapting Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata's supernatural suspense manga will premiere via streaming on Netflix on August 25. Adam Wingard (The Guest, You're Next) is the director, and Jeremy Slater (Fantastic Four) penned a recent draft of the script.

Sources: BuzzFeed News (Susan Cheng, Eimi Yamamitsu), Entertainment Weekly (Nick Romano, Shirley Li)

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