‘The Martian’ Faces Accusations of ‘Whitewashing’

Monica Luhar for NBC News Asian America – October 12, 2015

http://www.nbcnews.com/news/asian-america/martian-faces-accusations-whitewashing-lead-characters-n442941

Despite a strong opening earlier this month at the box office, not everyone is on board with “The Martian.”

The Media Action Network for Asian Americans on Thursday criticized director Ridley Scott for casting non-Asian actors in the role of two characters who, in Andy Weir’s novel, are Asian American.

“This is a feel-good movie. It would have been great to see Asian Americans being part of the solution. It would have been great for actors to get a career boost,” MANAA founding president Guy Aoki told NBC News. “It’s really a lost opportunity.”

“The Martian,” based on Weir’s 2014 best-selling book, follows the story of astronaut Mark Watney (played by Matt Damon) who gets left behind while on a mission to Mars.

The characters in Weir’s novel includes Dr. Venkat Kapoor, NASA’s director of Mars Operations. His name was changed in the film version to Vincent Kapoor, played by actor Chiwetel Ejiofor. The character Mindy Park, who is of Korean lineage, is played by white actress Mackenzie Davis.

“The Martian” does include Asian actors and actresses, listed on IMDb in smaller roles such as “Chinese Flight Director” or “Chinese Translator,” as well as British-born actor Benedict Wong, who plays Jet Propulsion Laboratory director Bruce Ng.

In its Facebook post on “The Martian,” MANAA explained that Scott’s film adaptation follows a history of other films based on source material that “included Asian characters but who were white-washed by being played by white actors in their movie version.”

Aoki cites films that leave Asian Americans out of crucial leading roles, like the upcoming film “Doctor Strange,” where actress Tilda Swinton is slated to play the role of an old Tibetan sorcerer, and “Ghost in the Shell,” which is rumored to star Scarlett Johansson as Motoko Kusanagi, a Japanese character based on an anime classic. In response to Johansson’s casting, more than 60,000 backerssigned a petition urging Dreamworks to consider casting another actor in the role.

Earlier this year, director Cameron Crowe came under fire for casting Emma Stone as Allison Ng, a multi-racial character, in the film “Aloha.” Crowe laterapologized “to all who felt this was an odd or misguided casting choice.”

In an interview on Friday with MTV News, Weir said he wrote his characters without physical descriptions on purpose. “It’s weird, when I write, I just see a sort of blob of protagonist,” Weir said. “At the end of the book, when I finish[ed] the book, I wouldn’t even be able to tell you [main character] Mark’s hair color. I also I know a lot of people, including myself sometimes, when reading a book you get a mental image for yourself of what you think the character looks like and it’s like, OK, this is how I envision the character.”

He added, “You can imagine them however you like. Like, for instance, the ethnicity of Mark, I never told you.”

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