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Natalie Portman Wasn’t Aware Her ‘Annihilation’ Casting Was Whitewashing and Knows It ‘Sounds Problematic’

"Annihilation" is based on the first book in a trilogy, where the lead characters heritage isn't discussed until the second novel.

Natalie Portman'Annihilation' film premiere, Arrivals, Los Angeles, USA - 13 Feb 2018

Natalie Portman

Jim Smeal/REX/Shutterstock

Natalie Portman has responded to backlash criticizing her film, “Annihilation,” of whitewashing the lead character. Yahoo Entertainment asked the Oscar winner to address the controversy during a video interview, and Portman revealed that she wasn’t even aware the film had whitewashed her role. The interview was the first time she was hearing about the issue.

“I actually didn’t know that,” Portman said. “I’m hearing that for the first time. That does sound problematic, but I’m hearing it here first.”

As director Alex Garland has explained, “Annihilation” is based on the first of three novels by Jeff VanderMeer. The author writes in the second novel that the lead character, which Portman plays in the movie, has “high cheekbones that speak to the strong Asian heritage on one side of her family.” Garland, however, only adapted the first novel. The sequels had not been published yet when Garland was writing the script, and he didn’t even want to talk to VanderMeer about them because he was only concerned with the first story.

“I knew at that time there were supposed to be three books planned,” Garland told Yahoo! last year, “but I didn’t know [anything] about the other two.”

Garland went on to tell Nerdist that he would never intentionally whitewash the film. When he was writing and casting “Annihilation,” Garland was not aware the character would be revealed as mixed race in the sequel. The whitewashing in “Annihilation” may not be deliberate, but Portman still told Yahoo! it was problematic and called for greater representation on the big screen for minority actors.

“We need more representation of Asians on film, of Hispanics on film, of blacks on film, women and particularly women of color, Native Americans — I mean, we just don’t have enough representation,” Portman said. “And also these categories like ‘white’ and ‘nonwhite’ — they’re imagined classifications but have real-life consequences…And I hope that begins to change, because I think everyone is becoming more conscious of it, which hopefully will make change.”

“Annihilation” opens in theaters nationwide February 23.

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