Netflix should have seen this coming. Already in the middle of a whitewashing controversy over their latest Marvel television series “Iron Fist,” the streaming giant is under fire again for the same issue because of their upcoming film adaptation of the manga series “Death Note.” The teaser trailer premiered last week, featuring “The Fault in Our Stars” and “Palo Alto” actor Nat Wolff in the lead role, and backlash quickly erupted over the whitewashed casting, which extends to nearly every role in the film.
Sarah Rose started an online petition against the movie in the wake of the trailer’s release, claiming it “shouldn’t be cast with all white actors, as it goes against the very soul of the story.” The petition has a goal of 12,000 signatures and has already eclipsed the 11,000 mark as of this writing.
“Death Note,” directed by Adam Wingard (“Blair Witch,” “The Guest”), is based on the manga series written by Tsugumi Ohba. The story centers around a high school student who finds a mysterious notebook that kills people when their name is written in it. Wingard’s film transplants the entire story from its original Japanese setting and places it in Seattle, Washington, which is why Wolf and Marget Qualley have been cast in the lead roles. Their characters have also been given American names (Misa Amane and Light Yagami are now Light Turner and Mia Sutton).
Because the story has been fully reinterpreted to be set in America, “Death Note’s” whitewashing may appear to be less egregious than that of “Ghost in the Shell,” which casts Scarlett Johansson opposite Japanese actors in a story set in Japan, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less troubling. It’s clear that Netflix would’ve rather “Americanized” the story than making an adaptation that stuck by its Japanese roots, and that decision isn’t sitting right with thousands of fans, nor should it.
“Death Note” debuts on Netflix August 25. Keith Stanfield, Paul Nakauchi, Shea Whigham and Willem Dafoe co-star.