white washing

Annihilation Director Alex Garland Called Out by Asian-American Group for Reported Whitewashing

Annihilation. Photo: Paramount Pictures

As the trailer for the upcoming movie Annihilation suggests, Area X seems to be fundamentally altering the nature of anything, or anyone, who ventures inside its borders. But unless Area X is switching around everybody’s race all willy-nilly, advocacy group Media Action Network for Asian Americans says the film’s director has some explaining to do. “Writer/director Alex Garland is not being true and honest to the characters in the book,” MANAA board member Alieesa Badreshia told The Hollywood Reporter in a statement, referencing the source material of the same name written by Jeff VanderMeer. “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.” American Indians in Film and Television founder Sonny Skyhawk echoed the sentiment, telling THR, “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.”

While the Annihilation cast might feature several performers of color, including Gina Rodriguez, Tessa Thompson, Benedict Wong, and Sonoya Mizuno (who moviegoers might remember as Kyoko in Garland’s 2014 film Ex Machina), the group points to the characters played by Natalie Portman and Jennifer Jason Leigh as evidence of whitewashing. In the sequel to Annihilation, author VanderMeer describes the trilogy’s protagonist, portrayed by Portman in the film, as having physical characteristics including “high cheekbones that spoke to the strong Asian heritage on one side of her family.” Meanwhile, Leigh’s character is characterized as being half white, half American Indian. In an interview with Nerdist in December, Garland denied claims that he had whitewashed the film’s main character. “I did not know that stuff,” he said, intimating that he had drawn his script only from the information provided in the trilogy’s first book. “It would not be in my nature to whitewash anything. That just wouldn’t be like me. I read a book and I adapted it because I thought the book was amazing.”

Annihilation Director Called Out for Reported Whitewashing