On March 22, Netflix released a trailer for their newest original film, “Death Note.” Reception of the show has been met with a fair amount of complaints, mostly in regards to the race of the two main characters, Light Yagami and L.
For those unfamiliar with the “Death Note” series, it began with a manga (or Japanese graphic novel) written by Tsugami Ohba and illustrated by Takeshi Obata that started print in 2003 and finished in 2006. The story follows a Japanese high school student, Light Yagami, as he comes across a magical notebook that has the power to kill anyone. He then decides to use the notebook to enforce his ideals of justice as “God of the new world.” As the killings begin, the police ask for the assistance of the mysterious Detective L. The series then becomes a long game of cat and mouse between the two as L tries to find Kira — the name given to Light — while Light tries to find and kill L.
On Oct. 3, 2006, an anime adaptation of the manga was created by Madhouse Studio, which aired until June 2007. Both the anime and comic, which has sold over 30 million copies, received local and international praise including best manga at the 2006 American Anime Awards.
Since the conclusion of the anime in 2007, there have been countless rumors of an American adaptation for the series. At one point, even actor Zac Efron displayed interest in the role of Light Yagami. In January 2011, Warner Bros. begun production for a possible film, only to give production rights over to Netflix on April 6, 2016.
The movie is scheduled for a summer release on August 25, 2017 on Netflix. However, instead of feeling delighted that a long awaited American adaptation for the series has been announced, parts of the internet have been in an uproar due to Netflix seemingly messing up the race and ethnicity of Light and L.
In Netflix’s version of “Death Note,” Light Yagami is played by Nat Wolff and Lakeith Stanfield plays Detective L. A significant complaint directed towards the new film is that it fails as an adaptation since Light is now a white high school student instead of a Japanese high school student, and L is now black, instead of white as originally depicted.
Because of the changed races, some are labeling the movie as an instant failure. A petition from Care2Petition emerged urging people to boycott the movie over continued whitewashing and trampling on Japanese culture. The petition has already accumulated 15,000 signatures online.
This is an unfair conclusion stapled onto a film that hasn’t even released. Yes, it is important to get certain details correct in an adaptation. One of those details is the race of certain characters. However, this is an American adaptation. This means the film, instead of taking place in Japan, is taking place in America. As such, the film shouldn’t be penalized over having a white actor play a high school student in this American setting. The same goes for the negativity over a black actor playing a white detective.
In an adaptation, the most important detail that needs to be considered is whether it stays faithful. Not faithful to every specific physical detail of the original characters, but faithful as in staying true to the themes of the source material. “Death Note” as a series has incredibly dark subject matter and it constantly puts the morality of justice into question as well as the corruption power can bring. As long as the film captures these elements from the original story, even with different races, it succeeds as an adaptation.