Falling into controversy just weeks ahead of its opening, the forthcoming film ‘Annihilation’ is being accused of white-washing its cast by two different advocacy groups.
The two organizations – the Media Action Network for Asian Americans (MANAA) and the American Indians in Film and Television – have both released individual statements surrounding the casting of two roles. It’s important to note, however, that the ‘Annihilation’ novel does not specify anything about any of the character’s ethnicities; these details are only created and addressed in subsequent books in the series.
The Biologist, portrayed by Natalie Portman in the film, was described in the ‘Annihilation’ sequel novel ‘Authority’ as being of Asian descent; the Psychologist, portrayed by Jennifer Jason Leigh in the film, was also described in ‘Authority’ as being half-American Indian/half-Caucasian. (The characters in the original novel were also not given names, only ever addressed by their job titles.)
MANAA board member Alieesa Badreshia said in a statement:
“Writer/director Alex Garland is not being true and honest to the characters in the book. He exploits the story but fails to take advantage of the true identities of each character. Hollywood rarely writes prominent parts for Asian American and American Indian characters, and those roles could’ve bolstered the careers of women from those communities.”
Sonny Skyhawk, founder of American Indians in Film and Television, said in his statement:
“We are not surprised by the Whack-a-Mole diversity replacement that goes on; just when you finish objecting to one white-washed casting, another one pops up.”
Garland, for his part, responded to the criticisms in an interview given after the accusations came to light:
“This is an awkward problem for me, because I think whitewashing is a serious and real issue, and I fully support the groups drawing attention to it. But the characters in the novel I read and adapted were not given names or ethnicities. I cast the film reacting only to the actors I met in the casting process, or actors I had worked with before. There was no studio pressure to cast white. The casting choices were entirely mine.
“As a middle-aged white man, I can believe I might at times be guilty of unconscious racism, in the way that potentially we all are. But there was nothing cynical or conspiratorial about the way I cast this movie.”
‘Annihilation’ opens in US theaters on February 23, 2018.