Back in March, an online petition popped up over on Care2, calling for a boycott of Netflix’s newest feature film, the Adam Wingard-helmed “Death Note.” The petition was seemingly sparked by the release of the film’s first trailer, which showed off actor Nat Wolff as the film’s lead, a role that is Japanese in the original source material. As of this writing, the petition has nearly 16,500 signatures (close to its goal of 17,000).
Over at BuzzFeed, “Death Note” producer Roy Lee has a few words for the sudden and swift backlash to his latest property, most of them just kind of baffled (and more than a little ill-informed). The producer is no stranger to adapting remakes of popular Asian properties for Hollywood consumption, including “The Ring,” “The Grudge” and “The Departed,” but he says that the ire he’s experiencing with “Death Note” is totally new to him.
“I’ve been involved in many adaptations of content from all over the world, and this is the first time that I’ve been seeing negative press,” Lee told BuzzFeed, adding, “I can understand the criticism…if our version of ‘Death Note’ was set in Japan and [featured] characters that were Japanese-named or of Japanese ancestry.”
In Wingard’s new take on “Death Note,” the action has been moved to Seattle from Tokyo, and main characters Light Yagami and Misa Amane have been renamed Light Turner and Mia Sutton, respectively. Wolff plays Light, while Margaret Qualley is on board as Mia. Other cast members include Lakeith Stanfield, Paul Nakauchi, Shea Whigham, Willem Dafoe and Masi Oka.
One reason why those changes were made? According to Lee, all the better to make the story tantalize American audiences. He told the outlet that such changes were made “make it more appealing to the U.S. or to the English-language market.” A similar treatment was given to the early-aughts version of “The Ring,” which took place in Washington state and featured Naomi Watts in its starring role.
Lee also seems to believe that “Death Note” should get some respect for its diverse cast, noting “one of them is Asian, one’s African-American, and three are Caucasian.” He added, “Saying ‘whitewashing’ is also somewhat offensive… [since] one of our three leads is African-American.” But the issue at hand is not diversity, it’s the specifics of whitewashing certain characters. Lee doesn’t quite seem to get that.
The producer offered up his own advice, which conveniently included watching his latest production. “People can criticize it, but I’d say that they should see the movie first,” Lee said. “Then they could accuse us of not having a diverse enough cast…just judge the movie after it comes out.”
You can read the full interview at over at BuzzFeed.
“Death Note” debuts on Netflix on August 25.