Last night I was browsing Facebook, and I saw that one of the main trending topics was Nat Wolf’s (Paper Towns, The Fault in Our Stars) supposed casting as Light Yagami for an American adaptation of the insanely popular anime, Death Note. Since Death Note is set in JAPAN with JAPANESE characters and centers around JAPANESE culture, how will this work? It’s still early in the process to know for sure, but I know that this adaptation will be set to target a mass audience, not the original fans of the anime. My bet is that Hollywood will use the premise of Death Note and turn it into an Americanized and whitewashed product. It could succeed- as far as box office receipts go or it could be a fail of epic proportions (See Dragonball Evolution).
There has been almost an overwhelmingly negative response to this announcement. Did the people in charge of this movie really think about the repercussions of the casting? I know that as a business, Hollywood often seeks to cast actors for major films due to their marketability. They want a star that can fill the seats and generate buzz, but filmmakers do not realize that constantly whitewashing roles will alienate a huge portion of their audience. In financial terms, that’s less money they’re going to earn back on their investments.
Excuses for whitewashing usually fall along the lines of:
The actor was the best person for the role.
We need someone who is marketable and or can relate to the audience.
This is an adaptation of a fantasy world, so we can take creative liberties.
We couldn’t find anyone suitable to fit the role.
For POC actors, obtaining roles has become a huge catch 22. Major studio films want big names, but the problem is that most of today’s box office superstars are white. As of October 2015, there are less than 10 actors of color in the top 100 of the IMDB STARmeter. How do you become a box office superstar? How does your STARmeter ranking rise? You get roles! You can’t become an A-list actor if there are little to no roles for you in the first place. To quote the fabulous Viola Davis, “You cannot win an Emmy for roles that are simply not there.” And you can’t win an Oscar, Tony, SAG, or even a golden popcorn statue. Hollywood’s executive and “creative” minds often fail to get out of the way of their own privilege to see what it is audiences are really craving. In today’s economy, audiences are more intelligent, therefore less willing to fork over their hard earned money to projects that do not take their wants and lives into consideration. Film and television is often a form of escapism, but today’s viewers want to see more people like themselves represented on screen. With the entertainment industry’s incredibly high barriers to entry (No/low pay, high cost of living, job uncertainty), diversity of not only race, but social class, religion, and sexual orientation is scarce in the entertainment industry. Nowadays, it is hard to find a new “rising star” who isn’t the next in line in Hollywood royalty to “try” their hand at acting, or a spawn of a gazillionare tycoon. As I mentioned in a prior post, if Hollywood keeps breeding privilege- that’s what we will continually see. People of privilege tend to think to the same, so the state of the industry will change at a snail-like pace. These people are not thinking of diversity. Most times they do, it’s for their own personal benefit- not the betterment of the industry. So you would be more willing to help out someone who is like you and understands you, right? The same standards occur here. A director would rather have someone from their own circle cast in movie as opposed to someone they’ve never met. So here goes that annoying saying, “It’s not what you know, it’s WHO you know.”
It is almost the end of 2015, and Hollywood still has a hard time diversifying the screen. This is not the pre-civil rights era, so there is really no excuse. Hollywood- located in the Los Angeles area, is one of the most diverse and culturally rich areas in the United States. Opportunities for POCs have arisen, but many opportunities are insignificant, offensive, or given away to white actors in favor of preserving the “white savior” complex. Audiences have voiced their frustrations for years, but the complaints fall on deaf ears. Most Hollywood big wigs STILL don’t get it. Didn’t they see the backlash with Dragonball Evolution, Exodus: Gods and Kings, and Avatar: The Last Airbender, and The Lone Ranger? The most recent disaster has been Stonewall, which only made $112,834 in it’s opening weekend. Stonewall has been actively boycotted by the LGBT community and its supporters for its erasure of the trans people of color, drag queens, and other key figures that spearheaded the movement. Director Roland Emmerich (Independence Day, The Day After Tomorrow, Stargate) stated that “It’s about these crazy kids in New York, and a country bumpkin who gets into their gang, and at the end they start this riot and change the world.” Emmerich wanted to create his own romanticized, rose-tinted view of a significant moment in LGBT history. He may have had good intentions but he completely sidestepped the event’s true history and those it mattered to the most.
Next week, the latest (and unnecessary) adaptation of Peter Pan- Pan will be released in theaters. I am looking forward to seeing the box office returns for this one. This film has been met with a slew of controversy for its casting of Rooney Mara (The Girl in the Dragon Tattoo, Her, The Social Network) as Tiger Lily. For fictional adaptations, directors try shamelessly to defend the casting choices. In the case of Pan, the creators of the film wanted to focus on Tiger Lily’s “abilities rather than her race.” Ignoring race is a big problem. It doesn’t solve anything. It just adds fuel to the fire. And it’s mainly people in the majority that say these kind of statements to avoid controversy. The creators also liked Mara because she is a strong female role-model. So you’re telling me, of all the actresses out there, there were no women of color, let alone Native American women who could portray Tiger Lily? You’re telling me that there are no other strong female role-models?
In my opinion, I think this movie could have been adapted a lot better. There are very few opportunities for Native American actresses to shine. And I’m sure there is another actress that could have been portrayed as a strong, fierce leader just as well as Mara. This would counteract the harsh Native American stereotypes of the Disney Peter Pan, and provide some well needed representation. As of now, I have mixed feelings as to how the movie will do. I do not think it will tank at the box office, but I do not believe it will be an explosive hit either. But with today’s audiences, you never can tell. When the results come in, Pan‘s creators will know if their decisions were in error.