Netflix’s Death Note is getting a lot of flak for choosing Natt Wolff, a white actor, as the protagonist. However, there is a reason why the live-action adaptation of the popular anime and manga does not have an all-Asian cast. Months before the movie’s release, producer Roy Lee hits back against the criticisms and explains why it had to be the way it is.
After the social media backlash and the eventual failure of Ghost in the Shell, one would think that filmmakers will finally understand what the audience really wants: more diversity on the silver screen. Despite Sony’s efforts to promote the live-action adaptation of the popular anime and manga of the same title, the movie that stars Scarlett Johansson as a crime-fighting android bombed at the box office.
Soon, Death Note is going to take center stage and it is in danger of suffering the same fate. In March, Netflix released the first trailer which saw Wolff (Paper Towns, The Fault In Our Stars) as Light Turner, the man who finds the supernatural notebook and therefore holds the fate of the people around him. Twitter erupted with criticism against Netflix and director Adam Wingard for whitewashing the Japanese story.
The backlash is something that Lee has anticipated. “I’ve been involved in many adaptations of content from all over the world, and this is the first time that I’ve been seeing negative press,” he told Buzzfeed. “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.”
However, Netflix’s adaptation is different from the original manga written by Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata because the former is set in Seattle, not Tokyo. The protagonist Light Yagami is now Light Turner, a bullied young man who is lovestruck with Mia Sutton (originally Misa Amane) played by Margaret Qualley. The famous Ryuk will be played by Willem Dafoe.
A Diverse Cast
Roy added that they have interpreted the story “in a different culture,” something that he has done in the past. Lee was also involved in adapting movies such as The Ring and The Departed for the modern audience.
He pointed out that The Ring which starred Naomi Watts, there was no outcry to cast a Japanese-American for the lead character.
However, he did assure fans that the movie will feature a diverse cast. Netflix’s Death Note also star Lakeith Stanfield, Paul Nakauchi and others. “Saying ‘whitewashing’ is also somewhat offensive,” he added, since “one of our three leads is African-American.”
He also urged critics to watch the movie first before they make accusations.
Finding The Right Lead
Producer Masi Oka also pointed out that the studio was keen on hiring an Asian to lead Netflix’s adaptation of Death Note. However, finding the right actor was easier said than done.
He explained that the director made an effort to search for the actor right for the role. Unfortunately, they did not speak the perfect English. The characters were also rewritten so it was a creative decision to go with Wolff.
“It’s not, ‘Oh, we’re definitely not going to hire Asians,'” he stated in an interview with EW. At the end of the day, their job is to find someone who can embody the character well, regardless of race. He does, however, recognizes that filmmakers have to make an effort to search for an Asian-American actor, not just throw the towel and make the decision to cast a popular white actor, for a role. He advised that filmmakers can network with other Asian-American filmmakers or film festival organization to scour through the pool of talent.
Death Note will be released on Aug. 25 on Netflix.
Photo Source: YouTube/Netflix US & Canada