It's no secret that whitewashing is a huge problem in both television and film. Whitewashing is a term to describe casting white actors in roles that were originally written to be characters of color. While this can occur with characters of any ethnic nationality, Hollywood seems to be especially guilty of this when it comes to characters of Asian origins.
Now, a new Netflix original movie is being criticized for whitewashing. Death Note is the live-action film adaptation of the Japanese manga of the same name. It will follow the same basic premise as the manga: a man comes into possesion of a notebook that allows him to kill whoever he wants simply by writing their name on the pages. The movie stars Willem Dafoe, Margaret Qualley, Shea Whigham, Paul Nakauchi, Nat Wolff, and Lakeith Stanfield. All of these actors, with the exception of Stanfield and Nakauchi, are white.
Stanfield, who played Snoop Dogg in Straight Outta Compton and Logan King in Jordan Peele's Get Out, defends the film against allegations of whitewashing. In an interview with the Verge, he says that it's a "fundamental misunderstanding...This film takes place in Seattle, in America. So it would make sense that the cast reflects American demographics."
He explains that that film is an adaptation of the manga, and that while it's the source material, "we are... creating a new story with that as a spine. We give it the blood and the guts and the skin. And that's what the movie became."
This is may be a bit of a stretch, given that there are still so few roles for Asian-American actors in Hollywood. And whitewashing of Asian characters in film is being discussed because it is happening so frequently: Ghost in the Shell was one of most egregious examples, but the new Hellboy film just cast a white actor to play a Japanese character. There are numerous more examples of these pernicious casting decisions, and they reduce the visibility of Asian-Americans in our media. Hollywood can start to truly represent America when it fully honors the original source material by respecting the origins of its characters.
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