Hollywood is a strange place. For all the talk that it’s a progressive haven that ostracizes conservatives, we are still badgering the industry to get its shit together when it comes to diversity. Liberal-leaning Hollywood is obviously trapped in a cloud of whiteness so thick that it can’t spot its own hypocrisies. Netflix just released the trailer for its upcoming original film Death Note — a live-action adaptation of the Japanese manga franchise of the same name — and it’s an unfortunate reminder of the work that still needs to be done.
Producers of the film have cast a very white Nat Wolff to play the protagonist Light Turner, and an equally white Margaret Qualley to play opposite him as the female lead. Death Note, like A Ghost in the Shell, has definitely been whitewashed. And it wasn’t necessary to do so.
As a manga franchise, Death Note experienced international success that includes a huge fan base in the United States. The story, about a teenager who finds a notebook that he can use to kill people whose name he writes in it, is fascinating. That it originated in another country doesn’t take away from that. In other words, Americans are completely capable of investing in characters of color.
But by casting white leads for the upcoming Netflix version, Hollywood is sending a message that an American version of anything must be white. We do not live in an exclusively white country. We can make something “our own” and still honor the cultural contributions of non-white folks because we are a nation of diverse cultures. Despite its problems, Hollywood isn’t exclusively white, either. There are plenty of capable Asian actors who could use a role like this one.
Diversity in Hollywood is about more than bringing people of color into the fray. It’s about de-centering whiteness as the baseline of humanity and relation. Check out the trailer for Death Note, below.