Netflix has just released a new teaser for a live-action version of Death Note, which will be hitting the streaming service later this year.
Death Note is directed by Blair Witch reboot director Adam Wingard and is based on the highly acclaimed 2003 manga series of the same name.
The story follows young genius, Light, who discovers a notebook belonging to a Shinigami (Japanese death spirit) named Ryuk. Light realizes that the notebook grants him the power to kill anyone and he begins to use it to cleanse the world of evil while a brilliant detective “L” tries to stop him.
However, some people aren’t too happy about the casting choices because three of the four main characters (Light, Misa Amane and Ryuk) are being played by white actors (Nat Wolff, Margaret Qualley and Willem Dafoe).
In recent years, movie and television studios have come under increasing scrutiny for the practice of “whitewashing”, the casting of white actors in traditionally non-white roles.
*watching that Death Note trailer* pic.twitter.com/CGsp6rWl27
— e. (@Pringoools) March 22, 2017
So basically Netflix wrote Death Note's name in a death note and put the cause of death as "white washing".
— NUFF ? (@nuffsaidNY) March 22, 2017
— Ⓥ (@angeIchild) March 22, 2017
Last week, the upcoming movie adaptation of Ghost in the Shell, also based on a manga, faced backlash on Twitter when a viral marketing stunt went wrong.
Netflix has already been heavily criticised this year for Marvel show Iron Fist, in which Danny Rand is played by white actor Finn Jones. Although Danny Rand is actually white in the comics, many had hoped that an Asian American would be cast in the main role.
Earlier this month, Inverse interviewed Roy Thomas, the creator of the original comic, and he didn’t exactly do himself (or the show) any favours. When asked about the whitewashing controversy, he responded:
Yeah, someone made me vaguely aware of that. I try not to think about it too much. I have so little patience for some of the feelings that some people have. I mean, I understand where it’s coming from. You know, cultural appropriation, my god. It’s just an adventure story. Don’t these people have something better to do than to worry about the fact that Iron Fist isn’t Oriental, or whatever word? I know Oriental isn’t the right word now, either.
Hey Roy, the 1940s is calling and it wants its racist epithet back.
Unsurprisingly, Thomas’ comment didn’t go down well. Jessica Henwick, who is of Asian descent, and plays Colleen Wing in the show, tweeted:
Oriental is a term used to describe rugs, not people.
— Jessica Henwick ? (@JHenwick) March 21, 2017
The Death Note movie claims to be an adaptation set in Seattle, which is meant to explain the presence of all these white people. However, many feel that this is already straying too far from the source material, which was set in Japan.
In addition, Ryuk is a Shinigami, a Japanese “god of death” and last time I checked, Western culture doesn’t have those. The closest thing would be the Grim Reaper perhaps, but shinigami are quite distinct from the Reaper, and are deeply connected with aspects of Japanese religion and culture.
So why is a Japanese death god visiting Seattle? Vacation? Hmmmm.
What filmmakers need to realise is that location is a character and that by crudely grafting stories into different places much of the original flavor or intended social commentary is lost.
Death Note may work in America, because themes of good and evil are universal and apply to people everywhere.
But that doesn’t make it right.