The Problem With Netflix’s New Movie, ‘Death Note’

By Megan Kramer 

I am 100% what present-day society would refer to as a “binge watcher.” I have been known to watch full seasons of TV shows in one day, or one weekend if the season is particularly long. And while my binge watching isn’t limited to Netflix, most of it occurs there. The streaming service not only has some of my favorite older TV shows to binge, but also new, original programs that have been wonderful: Marvel’s Jessica Jones, A Series of Unfortunate Events, Stranger Things and Master of None, to name a few (because trust that I could go on).

But I kind of feel like Netflix is totally killing me.

You may be thinking, “Well, binge watching definitely contributes to a sedentary lifestyle, but it’s probably illegal to say Netflix itself is killing you.” And you’d be right. But that’s not where I’m going with this.

I was recently woken out of my zombie-like binging daze by a preview for the new Netflix original movie Death Note, a supernatural thriller to be released this August. Thrillers are my jam, and I thought Death Note looked pretty cool. But to my surprise, as I was scrolling through Netflix’s recommendations for me, I stumbled across an anime also named Death Note. Upon further research and discussions with my anime-watching friends, I learned that the movie was indeed inspired by the anime/manga series.

The problem? If you look through the immediate movie cast listing, you won’t see a single Japanese actor — or almost anyone of Asian ethnicity. The main character, Light Yagami, is now named Light Turner, played by Nat Wolff, a white actor from those John Green adaptations. Light’s main antagonist, L, is played a black actor, and then the rest of the cast is white, up until the actor Masi Oka (but there doesn’t seem to be any information on who he will be playing).

I’ve spoken to several friends who are outraged or just plain disheartened by Netflix’s casting decisions. My heart was cleaved in two when one of them messaged me on Instagram wondering if Asian representation was really too much to ask for. It baffles me how a streaming service that runs progressive programs like Dear White People which sent tons of privilege people into account-cancelling rage — could whitewash an entire anime.

Even worse, this is following on the heels of the flop known as Iron Fist. I’m especially salty about this one, because Netflix’s shows based on Marvel characters have been some of my favorites. Very defensive people will argue that Iron Fist wasn’t whitewashed, because the main character canonically was a white man who learned martial arts and became the Iron Fist. But isn’t it justifiable to ask why Netflix didn’t take advantage of this chance to cast more Asian actors? To star an Iron Fist who wasn’t some arrogant white guy mansplaining martial arts to everyone, including a woman who owns a dojo?

With Hollywood’s track record of whitewashing and significant lack of inclusion, it’s disappointing that Netflix isn’t responding with more representative original programs. They have a chance to show viewers that they’re listening and that they care about inclusive casting. But Netflix is just becoming part of the problem, and it kills me.

Megan is part of the Contributing Writer Network at Thirty On Tap. To apply to become a Contributing Writer, please click HERE.

One thought on “The Problem With Netflix’s New Movie, ‘Death Note’

  1. E.W. Neilan says:

    I’m personally up in the air about it. Not to say that whitewashing in Hollywood isn’t a problem, because it certainly is, but in this case it doesn’t actually bother me as much.

    1) Death Note already has both an anime and live action adaptation played straight with the original Japanese setting, so experimenting with changing the setting and characters a bit isn’t such a bad thing in my opinion, and goes back to trying to convey the universal themes that made Death Note popular to begin with. Light’s an obviously privileged kid with brains who is entirely full of himself. Is it really such a stretch, given the tendencies in American society, for him to be an upper middle class white boy? They even made him look a little like Ethan Couch, the ‘affluenza’ kid. That said, if they try to make him sympathetic, I will throw a fit because it would completely ruin the message.

    2) As they have not yet announced what part (besides producer) Masi Oka will be playing in the show, it’s a little too soon to call a complete washout. Yes, if they give him a tiny role, that’s a problem, but there are several chunky medium roles he could easily fit into. I personally think that Lt. Matsuda looks right up his alley.

    So, overall, I would kind of prefer to see the thing before passing judgment on it.


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