Yep, we’re talking whitewashing in Hollywood again. Grab a chair and have a seat, because the comments are flowing like spice.
Yesterday, Buzzfeed published a new interview with Vertigo Entertainment’s Roy Lee about Netflix’s live-action Death Note film. Lee, a producer on the feature, tackled the recent concerns that the film is engaging in “whitewashing.”
Whitewashing, for the uninitiated, is the practice of casting white actors to play roles created for other ethnicities. For example, critics cited Scarlett Johansson’s casting as The Major in Ghost in the Shell as an example of the practice.
Lee noted that he doesn’t believe that Death Note is engaged in whitewashing. He stated that “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.” Lee defended the feature’s change of scenery, from Tokyo to Seattle, and the casting of Nat Wolff as “Light Turner” rather than “Light Yagami.” in particular, Lee felt that the changes were a necessity, in order to “make [the movie] more appealing to the US or to the English-language market.”
He took some offense to the accusations, adding that “Saying ‘whitewashing’ is also somewhat offensive… one of our three leads is African-American.” Overall, though, Lee was surprised by the reaction, as numerous adaptations that he worked on previously weren’t met with anywhere close to the volume of negative press. He cited his work on 2002’s The Ring, noting that “No one criticized it then. Maybe they should’ve or maybe they could’ve, [and] I just didn’t know about it.”
Death Note hits Netflix on August 25.
The project is being helmed by Adam Wingard (The Guest), with Jeremy Slater (Fantastic Four) penning the script. Roy Lee (Vertigo Entertainment), Dan Lin (Lin Pictures), Jason Hoffs (Viz Productions), and Masi Oka (Heroes, Hawaii Five-0) are attached to the project as producers. Doug Davidson (The Grudge) and Brian Witten (Final Destination) will serve as executive producers.
The confirmed cast includes:
- Light Turner: Nat Wolff (Paper Towns, The Fault in Our Stars)
- L: Keith Stanfield (Straight Outta Compton, The Purge: Anarchy)
- Mia Sutton: Margaret Qualley (Palo Alto, The Leftovers)
- Watari: Paul Nakauchi (Batman: The Brave and the Bold, Star Wars: The Clone Wars)
- James Turner: Shea Whigham (The Wolf of Wall Street, Boardwalk Empire)
- Ryuk the Shinigami: Willem Dafoe (American Psycho, Platoon, The English Patient)
Netflix describes the film as:
What if you had the power to decide who lives and who dies?
We suggest you obey the rules. Based on the famous Japanese manga written by Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata, Death Note follows a high school student who comes across a supernatural notebook, realizing it holds within it a great power; if the owner inscribes someone’s name into it while picturing their face, he or she will die. Intoxicated with his new godlike abilities, the young man begins to kill those he deems unworthy of life.
Viz Media currently holds the domestic rights to the Death Note anime, as well as Takeshi Obata’s original manga series. The company released the anime series on Blu-Ray in March 2016. The title is available for streaming on Netflix and Hulu.
Netflix released a trailer for Death Note last month. You can check it out below: