#WhiteWashedOUT: Death Note (2017)

Image courtesy of The Geekiary
Pictured Above: Actor Nat Wolff (right) will be playing Japanese high school student Light Yagami in the upcoming film version of the anime Death Note.

Death Note, both a popular anime and manga series, has had its fair share of film and television adaptations. And, this coming year, Netflix will be producing the first American film version. The story of Death Note revolves around a Japanese high school student, Light Yagami, who gains possession of a notebook that allows him to kill others by writing their names in it.

The actor cast to play Light, however, is Nat Wolff – a white, American actor. And, rather than risking yellow face by having Wolff play a character named Light Yagami, the film has changed the character’s name to Light Turner. Yagami’s Japanese girlfriend, Misa Amane, will also be played by white actress Margaret Qualley, with the character’s name changed to Mia Sutton.

Similarly to films such as Ghost in the Shell, this adaptation has generated outrage from fans before even being released, with one question present at the forefront of this backlash:

Why not cast Japanese actors to play Japanese characters?

“Great, another Hollywood feature film casting all white leads for a famous JAPANESE manga. I’m sure the fans are gonna love that. ” –Arden Cho

The director, Adam Wingard, has stated that his interpretation of Death Note will be gory, sexy, and more “crazy” than any other version of the story has been. Unlike its Japanese predecessors, this film seems to be overly Americanized, forgoing plot and character in favor of a more “adult oriented” look and feel. Following the formula of the distinctly American blockbuster film, the impact aesthetic (King 2005) takes priority over the narrative, with directors caring more about shocking the audience with sex and violence than paying attention to the plot.

Unfortunately, the only America that is often shown in Western media is white America – despite the number of Asian-American actors and actresses who could play Light Yagami and Misa Amane, this adaptation relocates the story of Death Note to white America.

Despite that Death Note is originally a Japanese story (which is heavily influenced by Japanese mythology), set in Japan, and follows the story of Japanese characters, the American film adaptation whitewashes every aspect of its source material.

Releasing a video on YouTube, Asian-American actor Edward Zo – who was excited about the prospect of an American Death Note film – discusses how he was told that he could not audition to play Light because the studio was exclusively looking for white actors to fill the role.

The whitewashing in this film is undeniable, and not accidental. Despite that the leading roles were written to be portrayed by Asian-American actors, this adaptation very purposely chose to cast white actors. Wingard has not yet responded to the whitewashing in his film.

Death Note is set to premier on Netflix some time this year.

Printed Works Referenced:
King, G. (2005). Spectacle and Narrative in the Contemporary Blockbuster. In L. Williams & M. Hammond (Eds.), Contemporary American Cinema (pp. 334-355). New York: McGraw-Hill Education.

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