Netflix adaptation whitewashes popular Japanese manga series

Netflix recently dropped a huge announcement on the anime-loving world: a new adaptation of the beloved psychological thriller, Death Note, is coming this summer to the streaming site. This has since caused a huge backlash from fans for a variety of reasons, but none so poignant as the whitewashing claims splashed across every form of news and social media on the subject. 

Whitewashing in American film is nothing new and sparks of change are creating waves in the acting world. Whitewashing is the act of taking another culture’s story and filling the cast with white characters. ABC’s new show, “Fresh Off the Boat,” is the first time in 20 years that a TV show featured a predominantly Asian cast, according to The New York Times.

Netflix’s new adaptation of Death Note is merely another movie in the long list of films taking jobs away from people of color, particularly Asian actors. The last couple of years have highlighted whitewashing in other major Hollywood films, particularly in the case of the live-action remake of Mulan

Leaked information claimed that Mulan would have a white love interest. Since then, Disney has stated that Mulan and characters will be Chinese, putting the whitewashing claims to rest for now. 

Additionally, blockbusters such as The Great Wall—a fantasy film about the Great Wall of China starring Matt Damon—begs the question: why do we need Matt Damon in a film about the Great Wall? The popular Japanese anime Ghost in the Shell is getting a live-action remake starring white actress, Scarlett Johansson. The list goes on.

In the case of Death Note, the Japanese manga series has a huge fan following. Since its release in Shonen Jump back in 2003, there have been several different adaptations, including an anime, three Japanese live-action remakes, a TV series, spin-offs and even video games marveling the manga’s cleverness. Netflix’s new trailer, released March 22, claims that it’s based on the book.

There is a very apparent lack of Asian characters in the cast based on the newest trailer. The anti-hero Light is played by Nat Wolff—a white American—and upon viewing the trailer, consists of a mostly-white cast as the main characters of the film.

Due to the cultural themes that play into Death Note’s story, it makes little sense to have white people interact with Japanese death gods, especially since these Shinigami are the catalyst by which the whole story takes place. 

We’ll have to wait and see how Japanese culture has been woven into a white retelling of the tale, but in the meantime, both fans of Death Note and advocates for social justice have a right to be angry about its perceived adaption. 

Though Netflix has seemingly covered its whitewashing issues with the claim that the new film is merely based on the original story, this action has deterred many fans. Why does the film industry feel the need to Americanize so many foreign entities they come across? 

Assuming that we need to watch white actors doing the same thing that Asian actors do only promotes the idea that Americans are superior to another culture, or that a movie or TV show wouldn’t be marketable without white characters. 

It’s time we stop whitewashing media and start recognizing that other cultures aren’t a threat to mainstream entertainment.