If you are bothered by the whitewashing job Netflix did on its interpretation of Death Note, you are not alone. The manga, which features Light, a Japanese teen with a supernatural notebook that kills anyone whose name he writes in it, has a large fan base that was handed a shell of the story they love. Light Yagami was reimagined as Light Turner, a white kid, and Japan was traded in for Seattle (where Asians are the second largest demographic, by the way). Death Note's heritage was completely swept under the rug in exchange for white faces.
What if instead of killing people, Light's supernatural notebook transformed whitewashed movies, making them racially appropriate? This is what happens in Atsuko Okatsuka's Death Note Parody Trailer: "What If We Could Undo Whitewashing?" This time around, when Light (Jake Choi, Front Cover) discovers the mystical notebook and puts pen to paper, Hollywood's race crimes are rectified with each film title he writes. Okatsuka recently spoke with me about her inspiration for the trailer, along with her views on the importance of appropriate representation:
"By the time news came out that Nat Wolff was playing the role of Light Yagami in 'Death Note', I was tired. This was after 'Ghost in the Shell', after 'Doctor Strange', after 'Iron Fist' –– after decades of being in the dark, without [Asians] being represented on the screen for a mass audience. As a comedian, I lean on humor when commenting on issues that matter to me, so I immediately wanted to make a parody."
The #DeathNote trailer is not Okatsuka's first offering of cultural commentary through comedy. In response to Ghost in the Shell, she created Ghost in a Nutshell where, in a reversed Hollywood, Asians get all the big roles because of their ethnicity. As her newest video illustrates, Okatsuka's dedication to combating whitewashing is only growing stronger:
"The issue is important to me, particularly in a time where the KKK is empowered to march publicly in mass numbers again; in a time where our president passively condones and feeds racist ideas and actions. Accurate portrayals and representation of the queer community, people of color, and marginalized communities are important not only so that they aren't ignored, but to exposes others to communities and cultures they otherwise might not be aware of."
It comes as little surprise that actor and activist Jake Choi is the hand that literally combats whitewashing in Okatsuka's video. Anyone who follows Choi on social media has witnessed his unapologetic passion for addressing the inequalities faced by minority groups in Hollywood and beyond. Jake shared with me why he got involved in the project and his feelings on the damage you might not even realize whitewashing causes:
"I just think that there's this harmful pattern from studios and producers where they remake films taken from original Asian films, manga, and anime, and whitewash the lead roles because it's assumed that white is the default to American but Asian isn't. The undertone is that an Asian American is still viewed as a perpetual foreigner or outsider. TV and film are powerful mediums –– if not the most powerful –– and this does so much damage to Asians and our self-perception. So, Atsuko and the team just set out to turn this particular remake on its head; make a remake out of a remake sort of, and show everyone what we don't see so often: us."
As the fight against whitewashing continues, Okatsuka and Choi will be on the front lines, promoting change with their talent and creativity. See them in action and get a good laugh by watching the Death Note parody trailer here: