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Netflix’s Death Note adaptation draws backlash for whitewashing Japanese manga adaptation

The action is relocated to Seattle, with a white lead named Light Turner instead of Light Yagami in the original

PUBLISHED : Friday, 24 March, 2017, 5:18pm
UPDATED : Friday, 24 March, 2017, 5:18pm

Netflix is at the centre of another controversy surrounding the depiction of Asians in its productions.

The streaming giant released the trailer for Death Note on Wednesday, and the English-language adaptation of the popular Japanese manga of the same name has since drawn backlash online for what some are calling another example of Hollywood whitewashing an Asian story.

The film, directed by Blair Witch ’s Adam Wingard, stars Nat Wolff, Margaret Qualley, Lakeith Stanfield, Paul Nakauchi, Shea Whigham and Willem Dafoe. It follows a high school student who finds a notebook that has the power to kill anyone whose name is written in it. The student, whose name in the original source material is Light Yagami, uses it to wield his own brand of vigilante justice, killing off criminals.

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Death Note originated in a Japanese manga, but the Netflix movie is not the first time it has been adapted to another medium: It has been remade into an anime TV series, video games, several live-action Japanese films and even a musical. The Netflix adaptation relocates the action to Seattle, and the main character has been renamed “Light Turner”.

Response from fans and others online has been mixed. Some are comparing it to recent examples of whitewashing in films such as Ghost in the Shell, which stars Scarlett Johansson in a part written as Asian in the source material.

Watch: Scarlett Johansson makes entrance in Ghost in the Shell five-minute opening clip

Some people argue that, because the Netflix version relocated the story, the casting choices are OK. Others, however, argue that populating an American adaptation of the series with white actors ignores the fact that there are Asian American actors who could have been cast.

The Death Note trailer arrives at a time when Netflix has already been in hot water with some fans over its representation of Asian characters and stories. The run-up and release of Marvel’s Iron Fist was especially fraught.

The show, the fourth in Netflix and Marvel’s deal that also includes Daredevil, Jessica Jones and Luke Cage, has been criticised for its cultural appropriation and called a white-saviour story – claims that have been dismissed by many long-time fans of Iron Fist, including its co-creator and long-time Marvel Comics writer Roy Thomas, noting that the Iron Fist character, like other comic heroes such as Green Lantern, has been portrayed as male and female, and isn’t defined by ethnicity.

Netflix did not have further comment on the Death Note backlash when USA TODAY reached out Thursday.