On March 22, Netflix released a teaser trailer of its upcoming film "Death Note," an adaptation based on the popular manga by Tsugumi Oba and Takeshi Obata.
Fans were quick to reignite the outrage regarding the whitewashing of the main character Light that arose when the casting was first announced. In the entire cast, only a few non-white actors have significant roles, with Masi Oka being the only Japanese-born cast member announced so far.
A petition on Care2 Petition urging people to boycott Netflix’s "Death Note" has almost reached its 15,000-signature goal, citing the lack of Asian-American actors in a story that is “full of Japanese culture, history, and identity” as another example of whitewashing by the entertainment industry.
The petition has garnered enough attention in the West that Japanese netizens have made note of the story and are offering their comments. Perhaps unsurprisingly though, similar to the "Ghost in the Shell" casting controversy, some of them have posted that the casting of a Hollywood adaptation featuring a predominantly white cast isn’t a problem.
“If this takes place at an American high school, then having white actors isn’t an issue.” “It’s a Hollywood version, so it’s okay to have white people.” “It’s like the Hollywood Godzilla. It’s the Hollywood version so having foreigners isn’t a problem.”
However, despite the mostly laissez-faire attitude on that issue, there were comments by some questioning the casting of Keith Stanfield, a black actor, as L. While the character of Light is likely fully Japanese, it’s rumored that L is only a quarter Japanese at most meaning the character could be played by basically anyone. However, that’s not how some netizens saw it with comments like:
“The thing that’s out of place is L being black.” “Going by the original manga, L being black is by far stranger.” “It just doesn’t feel like it fits his character.”
Also, while the online petition asks that Asian-Americans be given their place in main character roles, Japanese people felt different. One point that was repeated over and over is that if producers were going to hire Asian actors for the roles, they should be Japanese actors:
“I think all of this is way less of a problem than when the actor for the main character in Speed Racer was switched from Japanese to Korean.” “As a Japanese person, I’d be much more offended if a non-Japanese Asian person were playing a Japanese role.” “Honestly I’d much rather have a white or black actor in an American setting than a Korean or Chinese actor pretending to be Japanese.”
Oddly enough, it seems that the two sides differ on this point. While those behind the petition are calling for a boycott because of Netflix not hiring Asian-American actors such as Edward Zo, it seems that many Japanese netizens would be more upset if if they had hired Asian actors who weren’t Japanese.
In the end though, arguably the most important part of "Death Note" is the story, and with only a teaser trailer, we haven’t seen enough to judge this version yet. The main thrust behind "Death Note’s" compelling story is how it strives to answer the question, “is it ever okay to kill people?” It’s a psychological thriller at its core, and whether this version will live up to the source material will largely depend on the script and the acting chops of the cast.
Source: Care2 Petitions via Yurukuyaru
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