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Director Adam Wingard Opens Up About the ‘Death Note’ Whitewashing Controversy

Netflix
Netflix

For years now, Death Note has been one of the more popular franchises in Japanese popular culture. Originally a manga series, Death Note has since spun out into multiple television shows and four live-action feature films, making it all-but-inevitable that the franchise would eventually find its way into the hands of a Hollywood studio. Thus, when Netflix announced that it would be releasing a Death Note movie by director Adam Wingard (You’re Next, The Guest), people were curious to see what kind of cultural accommodations Netflix would make for its Japanese adaptation. The answer? Not many.

Since it was announced, Death Note has been dogged by accusations of whitewashing and a broader conversation about the nature of adaptation. And while Wingard has been resistant to claims of cultural insensitivity in the past, on Friday evening, the director opened up with Vulture to discuss the controversy surrounding the film:

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.

So, a couple of thoughts. First, while I generally enjoy Wingard as a director, positioning yourself as broadsided by conversations about whitewashing post-Ghost in the Shell isn’t a great look. This isn’t a controversy that popped up overnight; plenty of people have pointed out the Hollywood double-standard of adaptations in years past, even if it didn’t exactly blow up with general audiences until Ghost in the Shell hit theaters. Also, the frustration isn’t just about a main character being white instead of Japanese, it’s about an entire system  —  producers, screenwriters, casting directors  —  who, through intent or ignorance, never thought twice about equating an American adaptation with a white adaptation. It’s a bigger conversation than just a single film, and at the absolute least, filmmakers like Wingard need to do a better job about talking about these issues going forward.

Death Note will be released on Netflix on August 25.

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