Back to IndieWire

‘Annihilation’ Whitewashing Controversy: Alex Garland Criticized For Casting Natalie Portman in Mixed Race Role

The book series "Annihilation" is based on describes its main character, played by Portman in the film, as having Asian heritage.



Annihilation” is facing backlash over the casting of Natalie Portman in the lead role. Advocacy group Media Action Network for Asian Americans (MANAA) is criticizing director Alex Garland for whitewashing the role. In the book series written by Jeff VanderMeer (“Annihilation” is based on the first novel in a trilogy), the lead character is described as having “high cheekbones that speak to the strong Asian heritage on one side of her family.” Portman, whose mother is American and father Israeli, was cast in the role.

MANAA has spoken out against “Annihilation” over the casting decision, saying the film “fails to take advantage of the true identities of each character.” The group explains that “Hollywood rarely writes prominent parts for Asian American and American Indian characters,” and the lead role in “Annihilation” could’ve “bolstered the careers of women from those communities.”

“Annihilation” stars Portman as a biologist who joins a task force of scientists and enters an environmental disaster zone known as Area X. One of the group’s members is a psychologist played by Jennifer Jason Leigh, whose role is similarly being criticized as an example of whitewashing since VanderMeer’s novel describes her character as half white, half American Indian. Supporting roles in “Annihilation” are played by minority actors, including Tessa Thompson, Gina Rodriguez, and Benedict Wong.

Garland addressed the whitewashing concerns in an interview with Nerdist. The writer-director denied intentionally whitewashing the film, saying he was not aware of his characters’ heritages. As Vulture points out, the main character’s “strong Asian heritage” isn’t discussed until the trilogy’s second novel, “Authority.” Garland says he wrote his “Annihilation” script based only on VanderMeer’s first book.

“It would not be in my nature to whitewash anything,” Garland told Nerdist. “That just wouldn’t be like me. I read a book and I adapted it because I thought the book was amazing.”

“Annihilation,” which is earning strong buzz from critics, opens in theaters nationwide February 23 via Paramount Pictures.

Sign Up: Stay on top of the latest breaking film and TV news! Sign up for our Email Newsletters here.

This Article is related to: Film and tagged , , ,

Get The Latest IndieWire Alerts And Newsletters Delivered Directly To Your Inbox