With the Netflix release not so far away, the director of the new Death Note adaptation blames the recent live-action Ghost in the Shell film for bringing the whitewashing controversy to the forefront of the media's attention and fan discussion. Death Note was originally a Japanese Manga that was adapted into anime and a series of live-action films produced by Warner Bros. Pictures Japan. But the new Netflix adaptation sees the story of Light, a student who finds a supernatural notebook, take place in America.
When Ghost in the Shell announced that Scarlett Johansson would star in the film as the Major, many criticized the casting of a white star in the lead role of a big production over an an Asian actress. While the actress has shown on multiple occasions that she's more than capable of leading her own film (we're still waiting for a Black Widow movie), it was an excellent - and missed - opportunity to expand representation in Hollywood.
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Death Note director Adam Wingard spoke to Vulture about the film being drawn into the discussion of whitewashing, and how Ghost in the Shell opened the floodgates for the topic to be discussed in the mainstream media. He also mentioned that it wasn't something they were expecting:
"It’s one of those things where it’s a good conversation to be having, and it wasn’t one we were really expecting. It wasn’t until the Ghost in the Shell cracked it open [that] it became a conversation. But by then, we had already cast all of that stuff… It’s not just taking a character and trying to say a white kid is a Japanese kid. It is a whole new thing. The characters are all very different and it is a different kind of experience all together.
[It was] about creating a new experience out of it. This stuff has already been made into movies in Japan. The anime itself is an adaptation, and a lot of those things are on the nose, so this was a chance to reexplore the material in a new light."
Ghost in the Shell has been an excellent example of what Hollywood can do in the future to avoid such controversy, and it's something that Death Note could've taken on board. The director does say they were already in production by the time the discussion had reached mainstream media, so recasting may have been difficult. Death Note seems to be set in America for a reason, and hopefully that reason is fully explored throughout the film. Unlike the reason given in Ghost in the Shell, which brought the whitewashing of the Johansson casting into the plot.
While Wingard maintains that his version of Death Note isn't part of the whitewashing problem in Hollywood, he does acknowledge that the conversation needs to be had. Plus, it is worth noting that the original creators of the series, Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata, said they loved the film. We'll just have to wait until the release of Wingard's adaptation to see whether his explanation holds up.
- Death Note (2017) release date: Aug 25, 2017