Roy Lee has been working in the movie industry for 15 years and is known for remaking Asian movies for American audiences. Some of his remakes he produced include The Ring, The Grudge, The Departed, and OldBoy. When he decided to help bring Death Note over to America, he never expected to receive accusations of whitewashing.
The first trailer debuted in March, and social media was aflame with accusations that Death Note was another whitewashed adaptation of a Japanese property. Ghost in the Shell faced similar backlash, and such rumblings can be traced back to 2009’s Dragonball Evolution.
However, Lee told Buzzfeed in an interview, “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.”
He elaborated that Death Note is not an example of whitewashing, but is instead an adaptation. “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.”
Instead, this version of Death Note changes various cultural elements without changing the core story. Instead of Tokyo, the movie is set in Seattle. The main character is named Light Turner, and the lovestruck female is now Mia Sutton. These are adaptational changes so the work can be more relatable to a general American audience and not as a way to erase the Japanese heritage of the story.
These are the same type of changes that Lee used in his previous remakes and he noted, “No one criticized it then. Maybe they should’ve or maybe they could’ve, and I just didn’t know about it.”
Lee finished his interview by talking about the cast and how the whitewashing claims were off-base, “One of them is Asian, one’s African-American, and three are Caucasian. Saying ‘whitewashing’ is also somewhat offensive, one of our three leads is African-American. People can criticize it, but I’d say that they should see the movie first, then accuse us of not having a diverse enough cast. Just judge the movie after it comes out.”
Netflix’s Death Note will premiere on August 25, 2017.