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Natalie Portman Responds To 'Annihilation' Whitewashing Controversy

By Kristy Puchko | Film | February 15, 2018 |

By Kristy Puchko | Film | February 15, 2018 |


Later this month, Ex Machina writer-director Alex Garland is dropping his much-anticipated follow-up Annihilation. Based on Jeff VanderMeer’s Southern Reach Trilogy, the sci-fi film stars Tessa Thompson, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Natalie Portman, and Gina Rodriguez as a band of scientists on a secret expedition. So, lots to be pumped about. But ahead of release, fans of the books have raised concerns over whitewashing.

In the second book, Authority, Portman’s character is described as having “Asian heritage,” and Leigh’s is half-Native American. So yes, this seems a clear example of whitewashing, effectively excluding women of color from an adaptation where they were intended by the source material. However, it’s less clear-cut when you realize that no physical description or mention of heritage appears in Southern Reach Trilogy’s first book, from which Annihilation was adapted.

So what do Portman and Leigh have to say? Yahoo found out.

Neither woman had read the second book, so neither knew that their casting could be viewed as whitewashing. But props to both for not belittling the matter. Portman said, “We need more representation of Asians on film, of Hispanics on film, of blacks on film, women and particularly women of color, Native Americans — I mean, we just don’t have enough representation.”

The video above also notes that Garland’s film is a loose adaptation of the novel and that the filmmaker only read the first book of the trilogy so as not to influence his vision. “I knew at that time there were supposed to be three books planned, but I didn’t know [anything] about the other two,” he’d said, adding that his intention for Annihilation was “I’m going to adapt it like a dream of the book.”

While this is problematic, it’s not as blatant as Ghost In the Shell, Pan or even Kings of Egypt. So, progress? Still, does this taint your anticipation of Annihilation? Sound off in comments.

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Kristy Puchko is the managing editor of Pajiba. You can follow her on Twitter.