Death Note: Whitewashing and Blackwashing Double Standard

Netflix’s Death Note is scheduled for a August 25th release, and online discussion of the film has increased with the release date drawing closer. When I voiced my thoughts on the casting of Nat Wolff as Light Turner (Yagami in the anime) on YouTube, one user asked for my thoughts on the casting of Keith Stanfield as L. At the time I did not realize L was being played by a black actor, and assumed L was another case of more whitewashing.

I have previously discussed the double standard in people’s reactions to whitewashing vs “blackwashing”. When a character of colour is played by a white person people are quick to argue that we shouldn’t focus on race etc. “Best actor for the part, it’s more marketable, it’s just a movie etc.” This is regardless of whether the film is based on a true story, like 21 or is simply a work of 100% fiction. Now, if a white character is changed to a person of colour people suddenly aren’t colour-blind. “Why does Hollywood keep changing the race of characters we love? Why are they pandering to minorities? This is so politically correct?”

I have previously discussed this double standard by using examples of whitewashing and blackwashing in different movies. Death Note offers the perfect case study of the double standard since we have a case of whitewashing and blackwashing in the same film.

1) Whitewashing is being defended for the most part, while the blackwashing is being criticized.

2) Race wasn’t a key part of either character’s identity in the story (e.g. not as important as Chiron’s race is in Moonlight)

3) Both characters are main characters

Firstly, Hollywood “panders” to white people when they whitewash. One of the most common defences of whitewashing by film executives and audiences is that white people are generally more marketable than people of colour. By using this excuse, audiences and film executives admit that they are guilty of their own “pandering”, yet no one has a problem with pandering as long as it benefits white people. This is despite the fact that white people are disproportionately represented in mainstream Hollywood films. Although minorities make up nearly 40% of America’s population, they only account for 1 in 10 lead roles according to a 2015 Hollywood Diversity Report.

The underrepresentation isn’t simply due to a lack of minorities who want to get into acting, or some sort of talent deficiency among minorities. Productions like The Get Down and Straight Outta Compton demonstrate that there is plenty of minority talent that can shine if it is given the opportunity. This is what makes it even more frustrating when a role is given to a white person only because their skin is viewed as more desirable. Now I imagine that whitewashing defenders are quick to jump back to the marketability argument, which offers the perfect segway to discussing Death Note.

Anyone who has seen Keith Stanfield in anything will know that he is undeniably talented. Stanfield is also arguably more marketable than Nat Wolff. Nat Wolff’s fanbase is limited to YA content such as Paper Towns, while Stanfield has already amassed a diverse repertoire ranging from Straight Outta Compton, Get Out and his role as fan favourite Darius of Atlanta. The success of these aforementioned projects also shows that the presence of blackness is not guaranteed to lead to box office damnation. In 2015, people of colour purchased 45% of all movie tickets. Diversity won’t scare this segment of the population away. There are those who think Stanfield’s casting is indicative of a cashgrab for minority money, or political correctness. Let’s analyze the double standard though. If changing the race of L, like changing the race of Light, is just good business, why do people have a problem with it? Don’t people always defend whitewashing as a perfectly ethical business move?

The Departed is often used as an example of another American adaptation, that changed the race of characters from Asian to white (adapted from Hong Kong’s Internal Affairs). Like The Departed, people argue that Death Note has no obligation to keep the characters Asian since it is an Americanized story. Of course, I don’t mind the American location. American does not have to equal white though. People use the American argument to defend the whitewashing of Light, but for some reason that argument doesn’t apply for Stanfield as L. Maybe people want to know where Stanfield is really from? Light and L are both meant to be Asian, so if one race change bothers you, another should as well. Maybe you’ll argue Light and L don’t look Asian.

If you draw a stick person in a country such as America or England, people will generally assume the stick person represents a white person unless you add racial markers e.g. brown skin. When you read a book where the character’s race is not implied or stated, what race do you assume? White is often the default for people in many countries. In Asia, they would assume the stick person represents an Asian person if you draw one and if they are reading a locally produced book they would assume the character is Asian. When they create their animation, they don’t feel the need to indicate a character is Asian by adding stereotypical markers like slanted eyes and yellow skin.  The confusion arises when anime gets exported to countries that are not used to seeing Asians drawn a certain way. Despite the country of origin and names in some cases e.g Light Yagami, people still assume the characters must be white due to their skin tone and the lack of slanted eyes. Point being, those people are wrong. There were people who also assumed that Rue of The Hunger Games was meant to be white, even though she was described as having dark brown skin in the books. Assumptions do not always equal reality. Light is meant to be Asian, so Wolff is not the intended race, the same way Stanfield isn’t the intended race. If people can accept this fact, support Wolff and criticize Stanfield, then it is clear they just have an issue with Stanfield’s skin tone.

One particular argument used for Stanfield is that L is meant to be pale, since he doesn’t go out much. Basically, people are arguing that Stanfield won’t look like the character in the source material. What about the fact that Light is white and not Asian (or Asian-American)? Aren’t double standards fun?

13 Reasons Why (Spoiler Free) Review

As I’ve said on my Instagram, I normally avoid high school shows like the plague.

  1. The acting is normally terrible
  2. The plots are normally very formulaic and focus far too much on love stories.

For those reasons I was hesitant to watch 13 Reasons Why. Aside from its constant promotion on Netflix I was actually most motivated to watch it due to Dylan Minnette, who was one of the highlights of Don’t Breathe. I figured that if he was in it, there would at least be one good actor in the film. Additionally, the subject matter is of personal interest to me.

I have not read the book that the series is based on so I can’t compare it to the source material, although the show follows the book pretty closely from what I understand. The story revolves around Hannah Baker (Katherine Langford), a high school sophomore who commits suicide. After her death, a friend begins distributing 13 tapes (recorded on 7 cassettes) Each tape contains Hannah’s perception of one high school colleague, who each serve as one of her reasons for committing suicide. The story is told from the point of view of Hannah’s  friend, Clay Jensen (Minnette).

Firstly, the acting was a pleasant surprise from all parties. I expected Minnette to be great, but every major cast member delivers. Some are stronger than others, but none of the actors came across as weak in my opinion, which was a pleasant surprise. Perhaps my standards were set too low since I didn’t expect much from the show, only rewatching will tell.

Another thing I loved about the show is that it does not shy away from all the rationalizations that are normally used to defend or downplay bullying and the suicide that sometimes results from it. Throughout the series different characters say that Hannah was far too emotional, too dramatic, or that the bullying she faced was no different than what other high school kids go through. Even Clay, who is portrayed as Hannah’s best friend at the time of her death, calls her out on her dramatic tendencies at one point.

The act of suicide and the tapes are clear signs that Hannah had some mental issues, but we also see Hannah’s behaviour through flashbacks. Some of her classmates deserve to be on the tapes far more than others. There are cases where she takes things too personally, where she lashes out. While some of the acts committed against Hannah are unquestionably cruel, some people may still argue that someone mentally stronger wouldn’t have committed suicide. Hannah isn’t portrayed as perfect or right in what she did, and I think that makes her character better. We see a conflicted person whose high school experience was tainted with numerous bad experiences, and let those experiences get the best of them.

The show has received some criticism for its portrayal of mental illness, specifically targeting the idea that more kindness can help someone who may have serious mental issues. To be fair, some of the acts Hannah experienced could not have been counteracted by a little more kindness. However, it is also true that many people who seemingly have numerous reasons to be happy still commit suicide. With that said, this criticism isn’t enough to ruin or diminish the show.

The show has also led to controversy over its graphic depiction of sexual assault and Hannah’s suicide.People who have contemplated suicide have been advised to avoid the show since it may encourage them to pursue suicide. It is true that Hannah does get more attention and sympathy after her death, but 13 Reasons Why isn’t afraid to call out the disingenuous attention someone’s suicide bestows on them. Clay Jensen does that masterfully below.

Additionally, Hannah’s death is not portrayed as a glamorous exit from her troubles. As someone who watches and writes violent material, I still found the suicide scene very hard to watch. A big part of my discomfort is that Hannah’s actions represent the actions of numerous other people. She hesitates before she does it. She is scared to press the needle to her skin and cries in pain when she finally does. There is no music, no ambient sound to distract from her pained cries. Things only get worse when her parents find her. Selena Gomez, who serves as an executive producer, was apparently in consideration for Hannah. I am very grateful that didn’t happen. Hannah is the central focus of the show and a weak actor in this role would have brought everything else to ruin.

There are two other scenes that are also hard to watch but I am glad that the show gave us an unflinching view of the horrors that can afflict teenaged girls, and the effect it can have on one who is already coping.

Throughout the series, Hannah’s flashbacks continue to fill in temporal gaps and ultimately complete a puzzle that connects all of the main characters. Characters we hate become characters we like, and vice versa. Just like real life, people’s true colours can contrast with the image the image they present publicly, creating figures whose two-faced nature makes it easy for them to say that Hannah’s tapes are full of lies.

From what I have looked up, the show has received some criticism for its pace. Clay doesn’t listen to the tapes in one sitting, generally going piecemeal throughout the series. However, I believe that this makes sense given his character. Clay is initially reluctant to listen to the tapes at all, not wishing to relive the pain of his friend’s death. He only becomes more invested in the tapes once they reveal truths that everyone else wishes to suppress. The other people on the tapes all take an active role in ensuring that the tapes stay buried, hoping Clay doesn’t go public with them. Although the tapes have questionable legal power all of the accused realize life will be easier if they remain buried.

13 Reasons Why is one of my favourite shows of the year and I am eager to see where season 2 leads.

The OA Ending Thoughts

Note: Obviously there will be spoilers for the entire series below. 
Between catching up on Suits, and following several ongoing series I was reluctant to add another show to my list. However, a friend recommended The OA numerous times since they knew that I write science-fiction (The OA straddles sci-fi and fantasy).

I didn’t look up any reviews before I eventually decided to start watching. I was relieved to see the show only had one season, meaning the time investment wouldn’t be as detrimental as some other series that I’ve been recommended (I’m looking at you Community).

The OA did have some moments of relatively slow pacing but I didn’t notice the slower pace since the show began on an interesting note. Knowing that the main protagonist came back from a seven year disappearance with the ability to see drew me in, and made me patient for the buildup. This is in contrast to shows like True Detective (season one) where the actors and rave reviews made me willing to wait for the payoff.

Since The OA had a relatively slow build, and left a lot of questions unanswered going into the finale I hoped that the ending would give us a strong sendoff. I don’t mind ambiguous endings, with Inception being one of my favourites, but this is one ending that definitely leaves some questions. A second season is confirmed so I am sure more answers will be forthcoming, but I still wanted to share my thoughts on the ending of season 1.

Throughout the season, there is no real proof that the story Prairie is sharing is entirely true. Of course, we see the events, but we could only be seeing Khatun, the captives and the NDE’s through Prairie’s own warped perspective. Similar to how we see most of Fight Club through on character’s warped perspective. The audience and the five are likely to believe Prairie due to the miraculous nature of Prairie’s reappearance and the restoration of her eyesight. One miracle makes us willing to accept others.

Leading up the final scene, it appears Prairie fabricated most of the events she shared about her disappearance. The movements, the other captives, all appear to be figments of her imagination. Her greatest companion, Homer, appears to have been dreamed up from a copy of Homer’s Iliad. Prairie also has books on angels and near death experiences, forming the backbone of the story.

The last scene involving the school shooting was all foreshadowed with one line from the Sheriff’s wife, which Prairie and Homer helped to heal of her ALS. After giving them the fifth movement, the wife remarks it “will save their lives”. Prairie then passes this onto the five, and they all understand what must be done when the shooter traps them in the cafeteria.

Up until this point, the movements were somewhat odd to say the least. The movements themselves reminded me of a haka but the added vocalizations, such as the hissing and spitting, added an extra air of “What am I watching”? However, all of that vanishes in this scene. The tension built up to that point, and the music all make the final performance of the movements an epic moment.

Of course, the movements themselves don’t do anything. They provide a distraction and still fulfill the promise indirectly. This moment made me wonder if there was some truth to Prairie’s story, specifically her kidnapping by Hap and the existence of Homer and the other captives. This appears to be the reason why the five, Steve especially, gain new belief in The OA when she is being carted off on the ambulance. It looks like Prairie’s life may not be saved, but the lives of her new friends, the other angels were saved. Additionally, Prairie’s collision with the one stray bullet strikes me as exceptionally bad luck, or a fortuitous NDE that will allow her to leave Earth and be reunited with Homer and the others in another dimension. Hence Steve’s plea of “Take me with you”.

Prairie addresses Homer in the very last scene of the season, but yet again if her mind is warped then she will see whatever she wants to see.

The books may have been ones she collected after her incident as a means of gathering information on her new reality and a sense of kinship with her missing friends. However, given what happened before, it looks like season 2 will shed more light on the fact that Prairie is not insane and that her story truly did happen, either in part or in whole.

The ending left me staring at the screen hoping another episode would begin soon, but I don’t think that has to be a bad thing. It can be a sign of something rushed or sloppy, but in this case I think it is a sign of something intriguing that is yet to be finished.

Iron Fist Thoughts

Hello everyone,

I know I haven’t been too active on the blog over this past week but I’m back to it now, and plan to keep uploading new content at least three times a week.

Warning: Spoilers Ahead.

I finished watching Iron Fist earlier in the week and while it isn’t as bad as some of the critics make out, it is definitely one of the weaker Marvel Netflix shows. Overall, the acting is some of the weakest we’ve seen. Luke Cage was also hampered by Mike Colter’s abilities, but fortunately he was the only real weak link in terms of the acting. Shades was a cheesy character but I believe Theo Rossi did the best he could with the role. With Iron Fist, we get some weak or inconsistent performances from the main character, and supporting cast such as David Wenham and Sacha Dhawan.

There is one issue that is the elephant in the room, so I guess I’ll get into that issue too. When the first promotional material aired many people complained about Danny Rand being white, even though he is also white in the comics. Rand was seen as another example of cultural appropriation or the white savour dynamic that we see in The Great Wall and earlier works like The Forbidden Kingdom (2008). I was quick to defend Rand’s race since the show was being true to the comics but I’ve also tried to be open-minded and see where detractors are coming from.

Some may view it as a stereotype if we get another martial artist who is Asian or Asian-American, but some people have pointed out that Rand could be different. He could have been a three-dimensional, wealthy, main character with martial art prowess. Instead we get another story where the white lead takes on scores of foreign Asian enemies. Of course we have Colleen as well, but she can basically be the one “Asian friend” that detracts from all the other problematic issues in the show. I am not saying you all have to buy this narrative, but it is something to think about. Of course, you can also feel free to just throw out right-wing buzzwords like “social justice warrior’ instead, talking about how you’re colour-blind and then support the whitewashing of movies like Ghost in the Shell.

Speaking of martial arts, the fight scenes in this show were underwhelming to say the least. I started watching Into The Badlands and I immediately saw what Iron Fist should have given us.

After Daredevil I was hoping to see amazing choreography and fluid action. Especially since Iron Fist, like Daredevil, is supposed to be one of the best fighters in the Marvel universe. Instead we get actors awkwardly working their way through their choreographed steps, giving no impression of real experience and training (for the most part). The Into The Badlands stars underwent three months of training prior to filming. In comparison, Finn Jones underwent three weeks. Then he only got to practice the choreography for specific fight scenes 15 minutes before they were filmed. Since the show’s writing is weaker, I was at least hoping to see some of the best action to date.

The “White Saviour” argument did pop back in my head after seeing Zhou Cheng (Lewis Tan) fight Danny. Tan, a martial artist in his own right, is also able to give us an interesting character with his few minutes of screen time. I can’t fault people for saying he should have received the role of Iron Fist instead.

Another issue with the show is that the most interesting parts of Danny’s backstory are only shown in very brief flashbacks, or are recited to us. I suspect that the show’s budget is the main culprit for this. Instead of a few more minutes of Danny’s training in K’un-Lun, we get more corporate espionage.

I thought the show was strongest mid-season, building up the mystique of the Hand and Madame Goa, demonstrating their hold over Harold Meachum. Speaking of Harold Meachum, Wenham’s performance went from great to hammy scene by scene. Don’t even get me started on his return from the dead (after Ward murders him), where he’s apparently brain-damaged and stumbles around New York like a crackhead. I blame that one on the writers though.

There is another issue I blame on the writers as well. It seems like a small one but almost ends up causing a plot hole. We see Gao use some sort of power on Danny when he confronts her after completing his challenges in the warehouse. Then she never uses this power again. It is never explained why she can’t use it again either. 

I love Claire Temple but I felt like this show could have used less of her. Obviously she is the bridge between all four Defenders characters, but did she really have to go to China with Danny and Colleen? Actually, I can understand her going to China. Did she have to specifically go to Gao’s hideout? She is the weakest fighter and if the writing was consistent, probably would have been killed. Finn Jones filmed Iron Fist back to back with The Defenders so that answers the question of why Jones got less time to prepare for his fights and why Claire was in most of the episodes. 

Aside from Claire, references to other characters were handled more smoothly. Claire is still reading Luke Cage’s letters from prison. Hogarth’s involvement makes more sense and her introduction into the show doesn’t rely on coincidence (like Claire training at Colleen’s dojo). Joy Meachum references hiring Jessica Jones as a private investigator; at least that is who I assume she referred to when talking about PI who’s good “when they’re sober”. As always, there are also references to “the incident”, which is the name used to refer to Loki’s attack on Manhattan and the Avengers subsequent defence of the city.

Jones and Colter are definitely the weaker actors from the Defenders troupe, with Charlie Cox and Krysten Ritter providing strong performances as Daredevil and Jessica Jones. I am excited to see the characters together and am hoping that their collective strength can make up for the deficiencies that each actor and show had.

Netflix’s Punisher

With Iron Fist and The Defenders coming out later this year it can be easy to forget about the Netflix series that follows.

After seeing him in The Walking Dead and Fury (2014) I thought Bernthal’s casting as Frank Castle a.k.a. The Punisher was perfect. He went on to become the best thing about Daredevil’s second season, providing a deadly foil to Matt Murdock. After watching the season and reading The Punisher Max and War Journal, the Punisher quickly became one of my favourite comic book characters.

While the Marvel Cinematic Universe is (MCU) is sometimes hampered by the desire to remain family-friendly, the Netflix shows capture a more adult world that is also not afraid to embrace the more fantastical elements of the comics. Many people didn’t like the mystical aspects of Daredevil’s second season, probably due to the contrast with the gritty first season. However, I didn’t mind these additions. My biggest gripe was the love story between Matt and Karen, which wasn’t foreshadowed at all with the previous season. This season began and they were suddenly in love.

With that said, The Punisher is a series that might work better (at least for the first season) with more grounded villains. Most of the villains in the aforementioned comics were figures involved in crime syndicates such as the mafia or IRA. While The Punisher obviously lives in the same universe as Thor and The Hulk, and has fought some of these figures in the comics, I hope the solo series starts with his work on the streets. Daredevil ended with Castle donning his costume as he continued his personal war on crime. I want to see that story expanded, as Castle continues to target criminal enterprises.

While Daredevil emphasized Castle’s pursuit by law enforcement, the Max comics frequently imply that the police tolerate his presence. There is a story arc where corrupt policemen frame him for the murder of one of their own, but for the most part the police realize he makes their jobs easier and scares some people off the streets. It would be interesting to see this dynamic in the series as well. I have heard the series will be inspired by the Max run, and I am especially hoping that the “Slavers” arc is adapted.

Set pictures have revealed that Karen Page will appear in the series. She tried to act as Castle’s voice of reason in Daredevil, creating a character dynamic that had far more chemistry than her and Murdock’s. It is likely she will be trying to steer him away from vigilantism, or a less violent alternative. If the character’s written properly he won’t be changing his mind, but their conversations could lead to more interesting insights about how Castle views the world e.g. the rooftop conversation in Daredevil.

One of my main worries is the length of the seasons. Every Marvel Netflix show is thirteen episodes, which feels like too much at times. Luke Cage was a good show, but I feel like it was hampered by the length. Shortening the series by an episode or two could have led to some more concise storytelling. Since the series needed to be padded to 13 episodes I feel like all of the legal wrangling in the last few episodes was added to get the series to the necessary length. Since The Punisher kills his enemies there will be definitely be less police and courtroom proceedings to worry about. However, some other plot twists could be utilized to pad the series unnecessarily. Until the thirteen episode rule changes we’ll have to hope the writers adapt to give us 13 episodes that don’t feel bloated or stretched out.

Besides that concern, this series has a lot to offer. The few comics I’ve read present a swath of interesting supporting characters and villains that will help to support one of my favourite anti-heroes as he makes his solo tv debut. What is your most anticipated Marvel Netflix show of 2017?

 

Green Room Review

Entertainment Value: 9/10  Critical Value: 7.5/10

It’s been a while since I have done a film review, but I recently watched Green Room and decided I should do another. I’ll likely be doing one for Rogue One as well, which I should be seeing today. Green Room came up on my Netflix recommendations and I remembered hearing about it through Patrick Stewart’s social media. As I checked the cast list I also realized Anton Yelchin was one of the leads. His death earlier this year was an unfortunate and early end to a great career. He was one of the only good things in Terminator: Salvation and I also enjoyed him as Chekov in the new Star Trek films. Green Room is actually his last feature film to be released while he was still alive. In a way, watching it was my own tribute to him.

The film follows a punk band who perform at a remote skinhead bar. After witnessing a murder, they end up trapped, surrounded by skinheads who want to eliminate the witnesses. The film has received rave reviews and although I didn’t like it as much as many people did, I definitely enjoyed it. The plot isn’t anything special, the quality of the movie lies in its cast and the execution of the thrills. Yelchin and his band members, The Ain’t Rights, aren’t introduced as sympathetic characters. We see them siphoning gas from cars within the first ten minutes but the movie quickly manages to make you root for them. Another one of the main characters is a Neo-Nazi and I was actually rooting for her as well.

The other actors all blend into their roles as well, especially Alia Shawkat and Joe Cole. We don’t get much character development for any of the characters but I was still attached to them, hoping that they all made it out alive.

Patrick Stewart, plays Darcy, the owner of the skinhead bar and the leader of their organization. This film marks the first time that I have heard Patrick Stewart do an american accent. I have to say that it was dodgy at times. Perhaps I am just used to his english accent and that leads me to pick his performance apart more. I just felt his native accent struggling to break through with just about every sentence. His performance was’t bad but a poor accent can often hamper an otherwise great performance.

Yelchin, playing Pat, outshines Patrick Stewart here. He is the heart of the film and one scene in particular would have been weaker if it wasn’t for his performance.

Minor spoiler: At one point, Pat is injured. We hear him scream in pain but we don’t see what his injury is right away. The way the scene was shot, along with Yelchin’s performance. I have seen gorier films, but the visceral violence of this one and its masterful execution made it stand out as one my favourites in recent memory. As I look back on the film, I realize that its true strength and memorability lies in these moments of brutality. I have returned to the film again and again simply to watch these scenes. In some ways, Green Room almost reminded me of a Tarantino film, slow build up that leads to moments of great violence. The script and the direction does a great job continuously building tension, until the film’s end, which I felt was slightly too abrupt.

The film has very strong moments, but I felt like these moments weren’t consistent enough to make it a great film. With that said, Yelchin is a stand out and I believe that the film is worth watching so that you can see the talent the world was robbed of too early.