Netflix Has Been Accused Of Whitewashing – And It’s Not The First Time

These three Netflix productions reveal how the streaming giant contributes to whitewashing...

Netflix Whitewashing

by Pierangelly Del Rio |
Published on

Whitewashing in popular culture is nothing new, and recently Hollywood productions including Ghost In The Shell, The Great Wall and* Doctor Strange* were caught in the middle of controversy for casting white westerners as characters that are originally Asian, which saw angry viewers and Asian American actors take to the internet to condemn the lack of characterisation on the big screen.

And now Netflix has proven whitewashing is not just a big-screen issue. The streaming giant’s is set to remake The Legend Of The Monkey, a Japanese series based on the Chinese novel Journey To The West which follows the adventures of a teenage girl who embarks in a journey along three fallen deities to 'bring an end to a demonic reign of chaos and restore balance to their world.' Although the premise sounds pretty amazing (and exactly what we need right now tbh), The Legend Of The Monkey caused an online stir as the cast was revealed. Luciana Buchanan, Chai Hanse, Josh Thomson and Emilie Cocquerel were the ones selected to represent the heroes, and people were quick to notice that none of the actors were Chinese in origin (although Chai Hansen is half Thai and two other actors are of Maori descent - although this wasn't necesarily the kind of representation people were hoping for).

Nor is this the first time Netflix has been accused of whitewashing. Take for example,* Iron Fist*, the latest Marvel superhero. So far, the show hasn’t been very successful; it was labelled as rotten in Rotten Tomatoes and slammed for its poor acting and mediocre fighting sequences. It was also called out by casting a white Briton, Finn Jones, as its protagonist Danny Rand. Although Danny is white in the comics, it was pointed out that these comics were produced back in the eighties and were full of Asian stereotypes. Now, in 2017, people are getting tired of the 'white saviour' narrative. Whether that's Tom Cruise becoming the last samurai and avenging the Japanese people and now Danny Rand, an American guy learning martial arts and becoming a superior fighter to the all-Asian enemy he faces.


Then there's Death Note. Netflix’s take on one of the most successful animes of all times will take the story from Japan to America. Light Yagami, a high school student, finds the death note, a notebook that kills anyone as 40 seconds after you write their name on it. In the Netflix’s 2017 adaptation, Light Yagami is Light Turner, portrayed by Natt Wolf, and his partner in crime, Misa Amane now Misa Sutton. Overall, this remake is the very Americanised version of a very Japanese story, including those elements that Hollywood worships: cheerleaders, angsty teenagers, sex and nudity.

And of course, fans reacted:

Not all the cast is white. Lakeith Stanfield who portray’s Light’s nemesis, the English detective L is African American, something he describe as “Blackwashing.”

Probably none of these three productions meant to do harm, but rather to rent tribute and adapt the original material using the technologies available nowadays. Sadly, the decisions of casting white actors and Americanising the source material sells the idea that Asian narratives have no place in western society and that one culture is above than the other, it also, as noted by some actors, makes harder for Asian actors to get roles.

To be fair, Netflix is also known for producing original shows with a very diverse cast, Orange Is The New Black, Sense8 and The Get Down to name a few. Hopefully the feedback by those disappointed by their recent whitewashing will prevent them from doing something similar in the future.

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This article originally appeared on The Debrief.

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