Natalie Portman’s ‘Annihilation’ character was supposed to be mixed-race Asian

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle visit Edinburgh Castle

Annihilation comes out on February 23rd. The trailers have been out there and widely discussed for months now, and basically the film looks like a really terrible acid trip. The cast seems interesting: Natalie Portman plays the lead, and the ensemble includes Oscar Isaac, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tessa Thompson and Gina Rodriguez. But there’s a problem, apparently. An Asian-American advocacy group says that Portman’s lead character should have been played by an Asian-American actress, and Jennifer Jason Leigh’s character should have been played by a Native American actress.

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 movie-goers 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.”

[From Vulture]

Since I haven’t read these books, I’ll ask book readers: was Portman’s character really never described physically in the first book? Was JJL’s character never described physically in the first book? That seems odd that it would take the second book for a character to be revealed as Asian-American or someone mixed-Asian. But the whole “I never even heard about that” is a weird excuse from the guy who was tasked with adapting the work of fiction, you know? It’s not like this is some historical film – this is 100% science fiction and they could have done whatever they wanted and cast the film however they wanted, and they could have chosen to adhere to the original author’s racial descriptors. We’re past the moment where the default lead of every film has to be a white person. For Jennifer Jason Leigh’s role, they really missed their chance to cast noted Cherokee actress Blake Lively though.

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle visit Edinburgh Castle

Photos courtesy of ‘Annihilation’.

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125 Responses to “Natalie Portman’s ‘Annihilation’ character was supposed to be mixed-race Asian”

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  1. Alissa says:

    honestly, I’m half white and half Cherokee, as is a lot of my family… Jennifer Jason Leigh could be as well, based on how we look. what do we think is the way someone who is half white, half native American looks? there’s still a lot of POC being represented in this movie. relax, people.

    • DiligentDiva says:

      That’s not the issue, the issue is Hollywood repeatedly whitewashes Asian characters, especially leads, and especially women. Asian women are constantly told to make themselves appear more white in order to be beautiful, just look at Korean plastic sugery rates. Also, it doesn’t matter if they “could be” the fact is she isn’t. The only people who should be playing POC are POC.

      • Alissa says:

        this is ridiculous. were the characters played by the POC in this film described as black, Asian, etc? or did they go with the best actors for each role? it doesn’t sound like there’s much mention of their races in the book.

        and honestly, it DOES matter that she looks like she could be half white half Cherokee. and I am telling you this as someone who is. you ignored the question that I asked.

      • V4Real says:

        Yes Allissa they went with the best actress, a,White one. All Hollywood do is cast White actors for the main character and think they are doing us a favor by putting POC as supporting cast to say see we have POC in the film. It doesn’t matter that JJL can possibly be part native when we know she’s not.

      • Missy says:

        I agree that POC should play POC characters only.

      • Miri says:

        Korean sugery rates don’t have anything with want to be white. They have they own beauty problems-

    • Tanesha86 says:

      That’s a lot of speculation and mental gymnastics to try to justify a questionable casting decision Alissa lol. I’m so tired of that argument that they should choose the best actor for the role when they so clearly whitewash so many films. Hollywood needs to move past this gross misconception that PoC can’t successfully lead major films.

    • Tania says:

      @Alissa, being Indigenous myself to counter your version of white washing. It is not okay to substitute an actor with another just because they look like a certain way or might pass as being a certain way. That’s a slippery slope to go down, and, as an Indigenous person, you should know that there are a lot of Indigenous actors that actually look and have lived the experience of the character’s history that can bring an element of authenticity to the role.

      Further, roles and jobs never go to the “best” person. If it did would Cherokee Blake have been cast in half the movies she was cast? So, please, just stop.

      • Tanesha86 says:

        @Alissa I’m a little disappointed that as a person of color you would be so dismissive. You’re doing a lot of speculating and mental gymnastics to justify a questionable casting decision.

      • Alissa says:

        there’s no mention of this character’s race in the book that they are adapting. So no, an indigenous person would not be able to bring anything specific to this character for this movie that a non-indigenous person wouldn’t be able to bring. your sense of outrage is a little outsized for what’s happening here.

      • Tania says:

        @Alissa, once again, you’re incorrect. There was mention of them in the second book and as I mentioned as well below thread, when other show runners are adapting screenplays from books not yet written if they plan on making a series of them (ie. Game of Thrones) they consult with the author to get his vision so the dude does not get a pass.

        It’s disappointing that you’re not being an Indigenous ally while being Indigenous – allegedly – yourself.

      • aang says:

        Alissa, I’m also 1/2 Native, and I look it, beyond the way I look however is a lived identity as a native and as a mixed race person that very much informs who I am. So I’d say a native actress would have something to bring to the role besides an outward appearance.

      • Scotchy says:

        As a mixie myself, I have to say I am not sure if we should be up in arms about this. As you mentioned the ethnicity of those particular characters is mentioned in the second book not the first. Did the director/writer read the whole series? If he did and didn’t notice that alright, but if he only read the first book and adapted that and their ethnicity is not mentioned does this need to be a big deal.
        Honestly, we have SO SO SO many things to change this is a small thing in the grand scheme. It is also looking like it is going to shape up to be a bad movie, so perhaps it’s better those actors aren’t involved. Also there are a significant amount of leads that are WOC.

      • CatFoodJunkie says:

        @tania. calm down. Alissa is CORRECT when she says the source material being adapted does not identify ethnicity of the characters. Did you read her comment ?

        And the “- allegedly-“ comment ? WTH?! Uncalled for and insulting.

      • Tania says:

        @CatFood you’ve obviously never seen me angry if you think I need to “calm down” peanut! Did you read mine? The source material mentions it in the second book. I’ve lived a life looking native and all the negatives from the outside world that come with it. It brings a different perspective.

        I say allegedly because I question whenever anyone who has lived an Indigenous life sides with being further oppressed. We get that enough daily when we’re told to go back to our reserves, when we’re told we’re drunk, when we’re told we live on government handouts and all the freebies we get. THAT’s the authenticity a person who’s lived the life brings to this character. All that baggage but also the sense of pride of surviving about being strong women who carry their Nation. If you haven’t grown up in the culture and the tradition, if you grew up away from your people (and most through no fault of their own due to colonial policy) then you don’t get to tell us to get over something.

        So, she says she’s half native. I say allegedly because I want to know how she’s lived her life to honor her ancestors. It certainly isn’t by telling us that whitewashing a character is okay for all of us.

    • Littlestar says:

      They can pick a mixed actress then and not a white one while pretending “oh a mixed person COULD look this way”. So tired of that excuse for erasing Native American screen presence. So tired of the excuse that whitewashing only happens because they chose the “best” person for the role (so white people are just the most qualified, huh? Even when it comes to playing ourselves); no, it happens because Hollywood is racist.

    • Katie says:

      Hard to believe Natalie Portman is the best actress for the role. How about the best actress for ticket sales? They are choosing to cast mediocre famous people over lesser known talented POC. Seems like a self-perpetuating problem. It only takes one opportunity to shoot a talented actress into the spotlight if the movie is well made.

      • Peeking in says:

        I haven’t read the books yet. Are the characters played by Gina and Tessa described as Latina and black? Or was there also no description of them in the first book as well?

      • perplexed says:

        I don’t get why Natalie Portman was cast either. Whenever she’s in a franchise movie, she’s usually the worst part of it.

      • V4Real says:

        @Peeking in. You are so missing the point. The point is that they went with a White actress to play the lead of what should have been an Asian character. You sound as if you’re a part of the we cast PoC in the supporting role so that should make up for us White washing the lead.

        Also to everyone who said well the screenwriter/director didn’t read the second book. B.S.. Then you go to the author and ask his opinion or what race or ethnicity did you have in mind for the lead l, esp, when you know it’s a series of books. PoC, esp Asians have a right to be outraged.

      • Peeking in says:

        V – I didn’t miss the point. I’m asking people I’m checking his credibility. If the source material had no mention of race, why is anyone angry at him? Also, if the characters played by Guna and Tessa were ambiguous or non minority, then this whole conversation is moot.
        I’m a WOC, I’m sensitive to this issue.
        Also, I can get the point and still disagree.
        How do we know that he didn’t talk to the author and the author didn’t care?
        This is similar to the outrage about Idris possibly being bond. The world was outraged for no reason since bond was apparently ambiguous.
        All I did was ask a question, and you got very judgmental, V4real.

    • Anon33 says:

      Alissa, don’t you ever wonder why “the best” whatever is always a white person and usually a man? You can’t possibly imagine a world in which “the best” whatever it is IS NOT WHITE?
      That’s the fundamental problem.

    • Mrs.Krabapple says:

      I think it’s totally racist to say that when only white people are chosen, they were chosen simply because they’re the “best” person for the job. So only white people are ever the “best” at something? Or, in the case of Hollywood, only white people are ever the best at EVERYTHING?

    • CatFoodJunkie says:

      @alissa. Unpopular opinion, but I’m with ya.

    • Heyoka_indigo says:

      Whitewashing..what’s new? Like Olivia Munn wasn’t available…That’s just straight up savage! How many white saviors are they going to fake in one lifetime? Even Jesus was white washed! Oh the Narcassism. fix it Jesus!

  2. Hh says:

    I haven’t read the books either, so I’m not sure. I will say, however, that Hollywood isn’t doing themselves any favors by slowly becoming diverse. It’s at a snails pace. Underrepresented groups speak up about such changes because there are so few parts as is. If we just diversified film and TV, then it wouldn’t be a big deal. In 2018, I can’t believe there’s still the whole “first (insert demographic here) to win (insert award here).”

    • JosieH says:

      But this cast is plenty diverse. Hell, even Portman is Middle Eastern.

      • V4Real says:

        Middle Eastern with a phenotype that looks White, come on now.

      • perplexed says:

        Isn’t Portman ethnically the same as Scarlett Johansson (who also played an Asian character)? The Israel of today is a young country…

      • littlemissnaughty says:

        Natalie Portman is not Middle Eastern. She was born in Israel and is Jewish but her grandparents are from Europe and Russia. That’s not Middle Eastern. Come on.

      • HH says:

        Adding to what everyone else has said, Natalie’s birth name was more Jewish and Hebrew sounding: Neta-Lee Hershlag. I don’t know if the name change was for acting or simply when she moved to the US, however, the name choice is clearly to make her more white/more appealing to white audiences.

      • perplexed says:

        Portman was her grandmother’s maiden name. She says she changed her last name for privacy reasons.

        Her mother is American-born. Her parents met at Ohio State University, I believe.

      • magnoliarose says:

        She is Israeli. A lot of Israelis are Jews who left during the Soviet aliyah when they were allowed to leave to migrate to Israel and some to America. Though they later regretted it because it drained their scientists and other valuable citizens. But bigotry never makes sense so…Many Israelis come from all over Europe initially, and Africa but some are native to the region.
        Israelis, Jordanians, Lebanese among others can be blonde to dark.
        So if she were playing a Middle Eastern person or Turkish, I would say she fits.

        It isn’t fair to actors who can’t catch a break for looking “too ethnic” or are ethnic. They shouldn’t have to fight for the good roles to represent their own group. A bunch of extras running around in the background doesn’t make up for that.

        However, Blake Lively gets her DOA movies greenlit over and over even though no one sees them. Even though she can’t act her way out of a corner. Even though it makes no sense. Women over a certain age, women who don’t fit the beauty standard, people of color, disabilities or challenges, transgendered people with talent and stories to tell get nothing. They have to fight for scraps.
        I refuse to support this. Even for Natalie and sexy Oscar.

      • Megan says:

        @magnoliarose As someone who is half Lebanese, I can say with great authority that Natalie Portman cannot “pass” as someone of Turkish, Arab, or Persian descent. She is clearly of white European descent.

      • BorderMollie says:

        Portman was born in the Middle East, but isn’t Middle Eastern. She is a white American woman.

      • HoustonGrl says:

        I kind of resent that people are calling her “white” when Jews were the most persecuted people in the last century. I think it’s also problematic to attribute a degree to her whiteness. We don’t really know where Portman’s ancestors came from, they could be from India, North Africa, the Middle East, the diaspora was widespread etc.

      • V4Real says:

        @HoustonGrl um, what? the most persecuted. I guess you never heard of Africa, Aparthied, slavery, Jim Crow, Segregation and plain on racism towards Blacks that still goes on today. Get back to me when you have.

      • HoustonGrl says:

        @V4Real My comment is not intended to diminish what are obviously horrific crimes and marginalization of a number of ethnic and racial minorities on this planet. Nonetheless, I am referring to what is commonly known as the single worst atrocity in terms of death toll in the last century, and the largest genocide in history. We can wordsmith the word persecution all day.

      • BorderMollie says:

        White people can suffer from persecution, though. The Irish (when under British rule) immediately come to mind. Despite this, it wouldn’t be right to cast an Irish actress in an Asian role.

      • perplexed says:

        “We don’t really know where Portman’s ancestors came from, they could be from India, North Africa, the Middle East, the diaspora was widespread etc.”

        I was under the impression that she’s an Ashkenazi Jew like Scarlett Johansson or Mila Kunis or Gal Gadot rather than Sephardic Jew. She’s said her family are Romanian and Russian Jews.

        Ashkenazi Jews seem to have an easier time assimilating into being considered “white.” I think these actresses benefit from being considered to play both Jewish and white roles. Natalie Portman got the chance to play Jackie Kennedy who was Irish and French. Obviously Jada Pinkett Smith wouldn’t have the same option available to her.

      • Haifa says:

        She’s Ashkenazi Jewish: her ancestors are Jews from Eastern Europe and European Russia who moved to the US and Israel.

        @Perplexed, you’re right. She shares a similar ancestry to Gal Gadot (Polish-, German-, Austrian- and Czech-Jewish family who moved to Israel and Hebraized their surname from Greenstein) and, to some extent, Scarlett Johansson ( American mother of Belorussian-Polish Jewish descent and a non-Jewish Danish father). Ashkenazi are considered “white Jews” amongst Jewish people and the general non-Jewish population too (see Lena Dunham and her brand of White Feminism for example).

        Generally speaking, Sephardi Jews (the historically Ladino speaking, centuries exiled Iberian Jews of the far South Eastern Mediterranean Europe – Greece, Turkey, the Balkans, etc. – and North Africa – Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria, Egypt,etc.) and Mizrahi Jews (Jews from Central Asia, Iran, Pakistan, India, Syria, Iraq, the Middle East etc.) as well as smaller sub groups such as Maghrebi Jews, Berber Jews, Ethiopian Jews, Yemenite Jews, etc. are usually considered “non-white Jews” (although some Sephardi are sometimes considered white too – the fully Sephardi David Mazouz and half Sephardi-half Italian Catholic Lea Michele, for example).

        Israel is about 50-50 split between white and non-white, but, as is usually the case, the white part of the population is more powerful and over-represented in government, television and other positions of power in a similar way that white faces are over-represented in Latin American telenovelas. In the USA most Jews are Ashkenazi, which is why Jews, as a whole, are lumped into the “white category” and why Israel is sometimes considered a “white” country, even when it’s not really the truth.

        I’m Jewish (mixed Yemeni and Sephardi heritage) and am considered non-white. Natalie Portman, however, is white: all her ancestors are European Ashkenazi Jews. We’re a religious minority of many different colors (white, brown, black, etc.) . To categorize her as anything other than white would be disingenuous and a regressive step back to the times when only WASPs were considered white, which was obviously nonsensical.

        Othering Jews has been both a blessing and a curse – it allows us protection as a religious minority (which we are) but also opens up silly arguments such as Ashkenazi or European Jews being “not really white”, and argument that is especially prevalent amongst white nationalists.

        Hope I’ve added some useful background info for those who may not be too familiar with the different intricacies and facets of Jewish identity.

      • HoustonGrl says:

        Thank you @Haifa!

    • LAK says:

      It’s actually gone in reverse. In the same way that women’s roles have diminished with time.

      In the 90s, when people were more resistant to diversity, there was actual diversity. Think about all the big name actors , films, TV shows from that era. There was greater visibility. To extent that an *Asian film dominated the Oscars in 2000 with 10 nominations across the major categories, the BAFTAs with 14 nominations across the major categories, and no one lauded it as a benchmark in diversity, but simply a brilliant piece of cinema. We thought we’d reached an understanding.

      * and it was a non-english language film to boot.

      And then we reversed. Across fashion too. Everything whitewashed and we are now needing movements to insist on diversity.

      • PPP says:

        I know, it drives me crazy people don’t acknowledge that representation has gotten worse! Like, what happened to mainstream black sitcoms? There used to be so many of them! Sanford and Sons, The Jeffersons, Good Times, Cosby, Fresh Prince, Living Single. Now we have blackish.

        And Crouching Tiger is what I always brought up when we had that trend of buying Asian movies and remaking them with white people. People were willing to read subtitles and pay money for that! People love kung fu.

      • Megan says:

        Increasing globalization has lead to a demand for less diverse entertainment. One of the many unintended consequences of the global market.

      • LAK says:

        PPP: A different world, 227, Martin, Moesha, Family Matters, SisterSister, The Parkers, New Attitude and many, many more. All on mainstream channels and sold internationally too.

        If anything, Asia was under represented on TV, BUT there were many mainstream Asian films with internationally known Asian actors as opposed to specifically Asia- American ones.

        …but it is interesting to note that for a long time, the only Asian American actors in mainstream American TV / film came from THE JOYLUCK CLUB, made in 1993, as if that was the only pool of actors to draw from. And Dustin Nguyen or John Cho.

  3. Valentina says:

    I’ve read the first book and I don’t remember any physical descriptions of the lead character but I might be wrong. Honestly the novel is quite short and there was much more of a focus on world building than on the characters. They don’t even have names in the novel, they’re just referred to as the biologist, The anthropologist ect.

    The book makes it clear that they are all women but beyond that I really don’t think there’re many physical descriptors – but, again, I might be forgetting something.

    • Una says:

      I agree. I am trying to remember any physical definition from the book and I can’t come up with anything. The group says author describes it in the second book though. I didn’t read that one so IDK.

    • Rosalee says:

      The characters racial backgrounds and physical appearances are mentioned in the second book, Authority.

    • PPP says:

      The physical description they’re using in the press about this comes from the second book, which wasn’t published when the screenwriting started. The author is a white guy and he does color the way white people often do: by keeping allusions to the color really, really minimal.

      This situation is unfortunate, but I wouldn’t lay this at Alex Garland’s feet. It’s totally plausible that he knew nothing about it. If the characters’ ethnicity were important to the author I have to believe he’d have mentioned it, but he didn’t, so who knows if he even knew what his protagonist looked like at that point? Anansi Boys hasn’t been adapted because Neil Gaiman insists his characters stay black.

      This is the only white-washing situation I have ever felt the need to defend the filmmakers.

      • Una says:

        Huh. That explains it. It is weird though. You’d think the author would let Alex Garland know about how characters should look. I will not blame Alex Garland for this as well. He is not a mind reader.

      • sunny says:

        I agree with this. There is no physical description in the first book and that is what he was tasked with adapting. I also saw the film early this week followed by a chat with Garland, and hearing him talk about his process of the adaptation gives some context to this issue.

        He is a writer who generally prefers to create his own stuff as opposed to adapting. When he talked with the author about adapting the book, he didn’t want a faithful adaptation In fact, he didn’t even re-read the book. Instead, he wrote his screenplay off his own half-remembered impressions of the novel. So it was about more capturing what he thought the tone of the novel was and using that as the basis of the story as opposed to transcribing the events of the book. I hope that made sense…

        The movie is fantastic btw. It is weird as hell, creepy, tense, and very cerebral. Definitely would suggest for fans of sci fi.

      • Lori says:

        Anansi(and especially his slave ship intro) was the best thing about American Gods though, that should have revived interest in Anansi Boys the movie imho.

      • PPP says:

        @Una Honestly I’m not sure how important the characters’ ethnicity is to the author. I think he just didn’t want a wall of white and hand waved to non-whiteness. It’s not integral to the characters at all. You could stick all the ethnicities in a box and randomly assign them to characters and it would work just as well. As I said, it’s a very white approach to color, and not clear that it had any significance to the author other than to avoid a white-out. That’s part of why I’m reluctant to assign blame to the production.

        @Lori Before American Gods crashed and burned I figured that they would work the Anansi boys story into the show universe.

      • V4Real says:

        Please, why does the author of the book has to go to Alex, why couldn’t Alex have done more research or ask the author what ethnicity or race he had in mind. Clearly the author did have a certain race in mind as evident by the second book. No, Alex just went with your typical the lead must be White.

        Miss me with the making excuses for White washing bullshit

      • PPP says:

        @V4Real: The worst that can be said of Alex Gardner is that he assumed whiteness when he shouldn’t have. That is why I think the author, if he had specific ideas about ethnicity, should have disclosed them instead of waiting for the director to ask. A lesson can be learned here, but this is not a case of intentional whitewashing. The result is a missed opportunity for an Asian lead, which blows.

        Representation is a really important issue and we need to be able to have honest, nuanced discussions about.

        So you can miss me with your Tumblr-style woke-off.

      • V4Real says:

        Alex is the one making the film it’s his responsibility to go to the author and ask questions, esp, if it’s going to be a series of books that could lead to a franchise.
        Oh, and as a Black woman I was born woke. But you can keep on making excuses for White racist Hollywood and continue to miss me with your faux it’s not the White man’s fault BS.

      • Tiffany :) says:

        “The physical description they’re using in the press about this comes from the second book, which wasn’t published when the screenwriting started.”

        Thanks for your post, PPP. That’s really important information when it comes to this situation.

      • PPP says:

        @V4Real: This is not the level of disagreement that warrants the hostility of your post. I am also against whitewashing. I think it’s horrible that we’re missing the opportunity to have an Asian-led prestige film. I am simply saying it is very credible that this was not intentional white-washing, that this happened because Garland assumed whiteness, which sucks, and deserves a conversation, but which is not intentional white-washing. Being able to make that distinction is important because we could be having a conversation about what happens when you assume whiteness, but instead we’re arguing about what was or wasn’t in Garland’s head. Coming at me with your miss-me shit and presumptions about what I think (and what race I am, and I’m not going to say what I am lest you use my race against me like the delightful Tania above) is not how we have a conversation. And if you are coming at ME, who agrees with you on 90% of this, with this level of hostility, then you are never going to change the minds of the many, many people who are in control of these decisions. I am so very fucking over cancellation culture. It is such an incredibly negative and unproductive approach to a conversation to be hostile to a person who steps one fucking inch outside of your beliefs.

    • Amanda Roy says:

      I agree, I do not recall the main character or any character being described as Asian or Native American.

      I’ve read all 3 books and still can’t recall race being brought up…

  4. JosieH says:

    “Writer/director Alex Garland is not being true and honest to the characters in the book.”

    That’s for the author of the book to say, and thus far, he’s been supportive of Garland’s vision. This particular grievance group can kick rocks.

    • Rosalee says:

      As a member of “this group” I am increasingly annoyed by the trivialization of my concerns. So to be told to kick rocks..well @josieH you can do something else with rocks…

      • lucretias says:

        @rosalee THIS! 100% I am right there with you. That comment “kick rocks” Really?! was so dismissive. Talk about minimizing the concerns of a group of people.

    • Mia4s says:

      “That’s for the author of the book to say, and thus far, he’s been supportive of Garland’s vision.”


      Gee I wonder why an author is going to be supportive of even a misguided vision?


    • Ari says:

      It’s pretty amusing to me how a group of self-proclaimed feminists are so quick to dismiss the concerns of WOC. I guess we only applaud intersectional feminism when it gets us brownie points, as opposed to when it’s actually relevant to a situation. Between this and the infantilizing of the 19 year old in the Dane Cook story yesterday, I’m seriously side-eyeing modern day “feminists.”

      • Tanesha86 says:

        Agreed Ari

      • Tanesha86 says:

        You are so right Ari. Peek white feminism, again

      • littlemissnaughty says:

        Oh stop it. This is not the same as some middle-aged douche bro dating a teenager. You can condescendingly side-eye me or anyone else all you want but let’s not even put the two in the same category.

        I haven’t read the books but if her character is indeed described as Asian, this is bullsh*t.

        Dane Cook is still a douchey bro who is raising his girlfriend. 19 is legal but still a teenager. If you date a 19-year-old, you would date an almost-18-year-old. Let’s not even pretend that anything other than the law is holding you back.

      • Ari says:

        I’m not denying that the situation is sketchy. If they did, in fact, meet before she was 18, then of course the situation is wrong. We don’t know this, however. Moreover, either we consider 18 year-old women capable of making their own decisions and independent actions or we continue to regard them as constant children (a benefit which is mostly extended to white women, not WOC btw).

        I’m not here for it. Is it stupid? Yes. Will she likely regret it? Sure. Is it ultimately her choice to make if they started dating when she was 18? Absolutely. Youth does not absolve you from consequences.

      • littlemissnaughty says:

        18 is a line we draw. It’s arbitrary, if not completely pulled out of nowhere. But it’s not regarded as 100% adult either, at least not in the U.S. and many European countries. She can’t even order a beer so her decision-making is questioned not only by me. In Germany, where I’m from, you can still be considered a “youth” by the criminal justice system and be sentenced accordingly until you’re 21. I’m not saying let’s act like she’s a child until I personally consider her grown up. But let’s also not pretend like we don’t have exceptions either.

      • magnoliarose says:

        18 is arbitrary, and scientists believe adolescence now stretches to 24 due to expanded life expectancy, the average age of marriage and childbearing, average age people become independent, brain development, maturity, society, etc.
        This is why 19 seems so uncomfortable now when 30 years ago it would not have appeared as gross.

    • eatingpie says:

      Thank you for being so dismissive of WOC and their complaints and greivances. It’s always great to have an ally supporting our causes!

    • Geekychick says:

      To me, the poblem isn’t necessarily “whitewashing” by the definition: the director wrote the script before the second book (where the Asian heritage is revealed)….The problem is that the first thing the directors/writers/producers go to when imagining a character is whiteness.
      let’s be honest, in this day and age, except some parts of the Earth (like my country for example, bc we historically didn’t have many POC and we still aren’t interesting enough for immigration), I can’t imagine a social circle of all white people, unless they are racist.
      and I’m tired of the “she’s not white, she just looks white” POC character in every damn movie… I don’t have nothing against, I know that a significant portion of POC look that way, but it is NOT every single one, not every Asian-American looks like Emma Stone (remember that fiasco?).
      That’s what I have problem with. Look at NYC, for example: after visiting, I could not for the life of me figure out why was Sex and the City predominately white!!
      I just…I find it so disappointing, that even those people who should be great creatives, artists, people thinking “outside” the box-still don’t even realize/recognize their bias.

      • marianne says:

        Well Hollywood is kind of a vicious cycle in that sense. Studios generally want a “name” for their film. And since white people are generally given more work and acclaim it ends up being a white person that they go to get that “name” for their movie.

      • Tobbs says:

        @Marianne, this!
        We need to be asking ourselves why so few woc are considered “names” enough to carry movies in Hollywood and why white males continue to be regarded as “names” even though they roll out flop after flop. Like Johnny Depp for instance. And after that we need to ask ourselves how to we change that. I honestly think our efforts are better served by lifting actresses of color up than diminishing the credibility of a production where the reveal of the characters ethnicity happened after the script was written. Especially when said production can help elevate the woman of color that do star in it.

    • Valiantly Varnished says:

      White feminism: if it’s not about me I don’t give a s*hit. “This particular grievance group can kick rocks” is peak white feminism.

    • PPP says:

      The author of the book is white and I can’t say he put much thoughts into any of the characters’ ethnic backgrounds. It is a damn shame that we missed an opportunity to have an Asian woman lead a big budget prestige sci-fi fi drama, but I think this comes down to white people’s tendency to assume whiteness and not think seriously about race. I can totally see VanderMeer not bringing up race, seeing as it wasn’t until his second book that he did it.

  5. Scal says:

    I’ve read the books-she’s nor described as Asian until book #2-and from ive read about this he started writing the screenplay from a draft of the first novel (even before it was published) so I don’t think he meant to change the characters race.

    He could have asked the author instead of just assuming she was white though.

  6. deets says:

    with the author describing her as having “dark, thick eyebrows, a slight, slightly off-center nose (broken once, falling on rocks), and high cheekbones that spoke to the strong Asian heritage on one side of her family.”

    So yes, despite it being a bit of a weird description, she was described as being Asian.

    • anika says:

      Yes, but this is not from the first book.

      • V4Real says:

        It doesn’t matter. He could have asked the author what race or ethnicity is the lead in your book.

      • anika says:

        No shit – but I think deets was responding to:
        “Since I haven’t read these books, I’ll ask book readers: was Portman’s character really never described physically in the first book?”

      • Megan says:

        It’s entirely possible the author himself did not know the character’s race until he wrote the passage in the second book. Since she does not even have a name in the first book, why do you automatically assume she was fully formed in his mind?

      • CatFoodJunkie says:

        @4vreal. Is the director of a movie now required to discuss the author’s vision and repeat it? Or is he allowed to take a good story and make it his own? Without the latter, we wouldn’t have many of the fantastic movies we enjoy today: The Godather, No Country for Old Men, Jackie Brown, There Will be Blood, Childen of Men… just a few I can recall.

        Jackie Brown, an exceptional example, replaced the lead character in the book with a black woman, and it was the better for it.

        In the end, It’s just a movie made to entertain, not educate. It’s not made to exclude people or raise people up.

      • V4Real says:

        Good explanation. Something Racist White washing Hollywood would say.

        Using those films as an excuse to White wash another film. SMDH. A movie made to entertain just like the movies with Emma Stone and Scarlett Johanson. Ok, I gotcha.

    • Amanda Roy says:

      thanks for putting these quotes on this comment thread, because I couldn’t remember race being described from my reading all 3 books.

  7. FishBeard says:

    It’s 2018. There’s no excuse for whitewashing characters, and there never has been. I love NP and Alex Garland’s films but this should not get a pass.

  8. Red says:

    I’ve noticed a lot of people nowadays are very dismissive towards Asian discrimination. Whether it’s something like this (they are plenty of other WOC in this movie, it’s fine!) to thinking something like what Gigi Hadid was overreaching (she wasn’t making fun of asian eyes, she was making fun of the cookie!). When will we learn? Are now only tolerant to specific races/ethnicities/cultures?

    • Geekychick says:

      Unfortunately, yes, we are still very selective of which discrimination is not okay. Look at it this way: how long ago was Katy Perry apropriating Geisha’s? where was the backlash? how many commenters remember that? remember Rihanna’s “bland as rice cakes” Insta when insultin K. Tran, in her Chris Brown days? She never apologized, as far as I know.
      How many people here know that Gipsy is offensive term? not romantic, not boho, a derogatery term used when naming the second largest ethnicity that fell victim to Concentration camps in WWII, that is still heavily discriminated to THIS day, living in conditions that you wouldn’t believe people in the center of Europe still live.
      That kind of subjectivity, honestly, makes me incredibly sad and I don’t see it stopping any time soon.

      • Umyeah says:

        YES. Everytime there is a Rihanna post its full of praise bc everyone chooses to ignore her racist crap, it proves to me that people only care about racism when it impacts a certain group of people.

      • ORIGINAL T.C. says:

        I’m sorry but this is an ignorant statement The majority culture as a whole did not spontaneously wake up one day and decide to respect or pay attention to select minorities. African-Americans have spent centuries trying to be viewed as human. They have been murdered, hanged, torn apart my dogs and faced tear gas just to gain rights. And still have to fight eye tools when we point out discrimination. Hispanic and Latinos also have had to march, face police brutality, go on hunger strikes just their rights and still they are being rounded up and placed in camps. Many liberals are oblivious to their daily lives. So no, the culture does not respect nor care for you until you stand up for your self and demand it. This of course risks you no longer being considered the “good minority”, you face calls of being whiny or told to “kick rocks” as seen in a post up field. I am proud of this generation of Asian-Americans who are standing up, making noise and demanding to be noticed and respected. More voices however have to join.

      • Umyeah says:

        Original TC you might want to look into what Asian people endured in the US during ww2

      • Megan says:

        @Geekychick – there are 80,000 people in Jordan who self-identify as Gypsies. To suggest it is a derogatory term would be deeply offensive to them. In your defense of the Romani, you are dismissing the concerns of Jordanian Gypsies.

      • magnoliarose says:

        Black Americans have fought and made their voices heard. They protested and died for their rights. It isn’t their responsibility to rep every community and sorry to point out, but the Asian community hasn’t been all that kind to black people. Other ethnic groups come to America and frequently join in on discriminating against black people.
        I was raised in New York and LA where there has been tension between these two communities for a long time.

        People wonder why black people are so prominent in our culture when they have made sure they are. They fought with their bodies and lives for it. They have also been here before immigrants and are more American than most white Americans. Their history is tied to the beginning of this country. Regardless of their mistreatment they have fought in every war, have invented many of the things American culture is associated with such as music and sports as well as countless of others that were outright stolen and claimed by white people.

        I am well aware that others were here but not the same and not in the same numbers. Excluding Indigenous people.
        Being from a minority group myself that people try to define, blame, marginalize, demonize and stereotype I can relate.

        WASP America will give nothing if not forced to do it. I know Malcolm X is a little much for some fragile sensibilities, but he made some excellent points.

      • eto says:

        I’m so sorry that you feel this way. I’ve seen it myself and I believe we can do better. I feel uncomfortable about the tone in this particular thread because comments seem to be leaning towards some sort of blame on black Americans for our representation, which shouldn’t supersede your need but studios love to throw one or two POC in a film to check a box. As a note, please recall the writer/director of this film is a white man.

      • Umyeah says:

        @magnoliarose just to be clear im not comparing the unjust treatment of African Americans to Asain Americans nor am i blaming African Americans for their treatment. Im just saying that sometimes the commenters on this site pick and choose when they care about certain issues.

      • ORIGINAL T.C. says:

        “might want to look into what Asian people endured in the US during ww2”

        Thanks but I learned that both in history, on my own, and have lived in places in California where those atrocities took place. So moving on from your attempted deflection. What has this got to do with taking to the streets, prostesting and standing up for your rights? Black Americans were chained up and enslaved for centuries but still had to fight and face further violence for 50 years and counting to get any respect or get our issues heard. They had to do it, not wait for others to do it because it will never be done. You think Hollywood stopped doing Blackface out of the goodness of their hearts?

        I love when the topic of racism by Whites against a specific POC population comes up and people (usually White) try to blame other POC’s for that group not having a voice. Right. Yes, it’s not the White executives, writers, actors, actresses, or majority culture or even that specific group’s previous silence. It’s those Blacks and Hispanics still struggling who aren’t out there prostesting on behalf of the group that is not usually there enmass to protest when *they* are in trouble. Yes why don’t POC go and fight for White feminist when discrimination against POC is brought up, the White feminist join their white race and claim it’s on in our own minds and to stop whining.

        There are volumes of books written about this, I suggest you educate yourself but I doubt you will. And I highly doubt if Asian American women take to the streets that you would be joining them. No, you will be back her complaining about why they are trying to take roles from White women. I know women like you, deal with them Daily. Please take several seats if you aren’t going to do anything yourself but point fingers at other oppressed groups.

      • Umyeah says:

        Original tc i find your comments condecending and you are insuating a whole more then what i stated. My point is if you are amgry when African American cultute is appropriated then why dont you care when it happens to Asian culture?? That was my point, not sure what the rest of your overly wrought comment has to do with my point. Lets me clear about one thing, you dont know me so dont you ever persume to. Your assumptions are what are leading you into this tirade that had NOTHING to do with what i said. So you feel free to sit down bc if you are only outraged when your culture is impacted then you dont care about racism, you care about yourself.

      • geekychick says:

        Dear Megan, IDK how and what kind of connection Jordanian Gypsies have with Romani people in Europe. I’m also not sure, but I would bet on it-that when people over the world talk about “Gypsies” they are NOT talking about Jordanian Gypsies, they are thinking of romanticed, boho-clad, palm-reading, bear-dancing darker faced European Romani women. Who were the second most prosecuted group in NaZi Germany and occupied countries-25-50% iof the European Roma were murdered. Such a variation in numbers is btw the result of European countries not caring enough for the Roma people to even estimate the exact number.
        So, I’m sorry, but I don’t see how am I offending non-related group, with different past, over this term.
        One more thing: I just want to make it clear: nowhere in my original statement have I implied that one of the minority groups should step back or bow down in order for another one to have enough attention for their struggles to be known. I was writing from the perspective of a white Slavic person who is frustrated with the fact that, from the outside looking in (because I was discriminated against based on my gender, my nationality, but I’m incredibly privileged by the fact that I’m white), it seems that some fights are cool and hip for white people to acknowledge and pearl clutch over, but some are just “meh”, shrug your shoulders and move on.

  9. Georgia says:

    I’ve read the first two books and I don’t recall either ethnicities being discussed. Moreover I will say that I don’t recall the names of the characters either, since the book made it a point to strip the characters of everything but their role in the expedition, so I think in terms of “The biologist”, “The psicologist”.
    I will take “songbird” for the biologist as well as “the director” for the psicologist.

    It really doesn’t matter to me what they look like. It could have been any ethnicities as societal backround is not very relevant in the first two books.

    Having said that I am not the one adapting the books. It seems really silly to have a complete trilogy and not reading all the books, even if they are adapting only the first installment. So if the book says “this character has Asian heritage” they should have gone with that.

    • msd says:

      I read the first two books too. For some reason I didn’t get through the third. I liked the books overall, it was interesting sci-fi and reminded me of old John Wyndham but it felt as though the author had stretched one book into a trilogy.

      I digress …. I don’t recall much info about the characters at all. The info there was was about them being types. The Biologist etc. I don’t even recall them having names, they were rather blank slates. Maybe that’s partly why I lost interest?

      None of this disputes that there is def a whitewashing problem in movies. Just recounting what I can recall.

  10. Tig says:

    I recently finished the first book, and practically the only descriptions of the four that go on this assignment is female. My understanding is once the rights to a novel are purchased- unless specific rights are retained-the author is pretty much out of the loop.
    This is off topic- I was pretty disappointed in this book. I understand it’s the first of a trilogy, but nothing about it made me want to read the other two. I have a hard time seeing how a movie could be made of the this book w/o a lot of changes being made.

  11. CairinaCat says:

    What I don’t buy is that there are going to be multiple movies, and the guy making all three movies only read the first book?
    When you make a trilogy you kinda need to know the beginning, middle and end.
    So I call bullshit on him not knowing the characters ethnicity because he only read the first book.
    If that’s actually true it doesn’t bode well for character development.

    • adastraperaspera says:

      Agreed. I am side-eyeing him and his research team.

    • Jamie says:

      The screenplay was written based on the draft of the first book. So when he started the project the first book wasn’t even published and the second book wasn’t even written yet. Hard for him to know the details of the second book when the writer hasn’t come up with it yet.

      • Tania says:

        @Jamie When you have the showrunners to long running shows like Game of Thrones asking the author what his plans are for books not yet written so they know where to take that vision, this excuse doesn’t work.

      • LAK says:

        Tania: GoT was an established universe by the time it was made for tv, by several books and years of fan/ author discussions. Further, the writer used alot of real life history in terms of era, people, events to inspire his story in GoT.

        Without further books, a somewhat correct assumption can be made about GoT going forward because there is alot of source material to inspire or use the author’s own historical inspirations.

        In this case, the book wasn’t published. It was still in draft form therefore there might not have been a thought to go to series. Author barely gives descriptions of the characters’ physicality therein.

        Screenwriter took the themes of the draft book and adapted for the screen. He wasn’t crafting a franchise where he needs to build a universe that makes sense regardless of creative team involved.

        The characters as written in the first book could have been cast with any ethnicity. Someone upthread makes a valid point about white being the default casting choice where none is written into script / book, and that bears further examination, but you can’t compare this to GoT because they aren’t the same thing.

      • magnoliarose says:


        I think your last point is the most important. Why is that a default when it could have been anyone?

    • sunny says:

      There are not going to be multiple movies…or at least with Alex Garland involved. I saw him speak about this film at a screening before this story broke, and one of the first questions he was asked was about sequels and his response was, “I do not plan on adapting any of the other books, absolutely not”. Then to paraphrase he said his whole career has been him moving from new project to new challenge and he doesn’t want to get caught up in doing the same things again and again.

      I admit that I like his work so I’m trying not to be too biased here but I believe him. I mean, he went from writing an incredibly successful first novel in his twenties to writing original screening plays. to adapting other people’s work, too directing. He is a bit all over the place.

    • CatFoodJunkie says:

      There are plenty of movies out there made of a series of books. In this one, like many others, movies were made before the series was finished. Game of Thrones, anyone ? Divergent ? Just to name a recent few.

      Yes, I know GOT is a tv show. But it’s crazy popular and it’s source material is still being written.

      The Harry freakin Potter series was still in the works when filming began.

    • CatFoodJunkie says:

      @tania. And did you know that, despite the author having not finished the series, and that the producers indeed discussed his vision with the author, that despite all that, they chose to significantly change some of the events and characters. BIG changes. I’m not one to say they’re better or worse. But they are significant. Unless the author has explicit control over the adaptation, that’s what’s gonna happen. Stephen King was famously unhappy with the movie adaptations of his works. But many, many people feel the movies were far greater than the source material. Read The Shining, and re watch the movie.

      • marianne says:

        Same with True Blood as well. The first season was fairly close to the first book, but after that there was a lot of changes.

  12. Heat says:

    I saw Alex Garland speak after the movie this week. He did the movie as a standalone. As someone ^^^ mentioned already, he’s only read the first book, and didn’t revisit it to adapt it, he just wanted to capture the atmosphere and tone of the book. Having read the book, I’d say mission accomplished, but the book and movie are very different. He is not interested in doing sequels either.

  13. applepie says:

    Even if the characters weren’t described in the book, why couldn’t any of the leads be WOC anyway? Its sad.

    • cr says:

      Two of the leads are Tessa Thompson and Gina Rodriquez, so not all four lead female characters are white.

  14. Eveil says:

    As a POC, I say that we should vote with the power of our wallets. The less money they make from whitewashed films, the more reasonable these people will be.

    • Scotchy says:

      Wait a minute, two of the leads are WOC so because not all four of the leads are WOC you won’t support this? I mean personally it looks like a hot mess of a movie so I don’t plan on seeing it because of that but in terms of representation, all four of the leads are women and two of them WOC.

      • eto says:

        they whitewashed the lead. not sure if they added WOC in supporting roles to offset this but it’s a problem. studios throw us scraps of representation and we’re automatically supposed to show up and support it with our dollars.

  15. perplexed says:

    I assume they cast Natalie Portman because she’s “well-known.”

    But anytime I see her in a movie, I simply assume the movie is going to be boring (minus a few exceptions) so I had already made up my mind about not seeing this movie before I had even heard about the casting mis-hap, which is according to all accounts Alex Garland’s fault (? I think). I’m not blaming Portman for the casting as I presume she knew nothing about the book’s changes — but I tried watching Jane Got a Gun on Netflix and couldn’t make it through the first 15 minutes. So I have absolutely no desire to see this movie since she was touted as the star of it, and anytime I have tried to watch a movie with her in it where she isn’t cast alongside other well-known people like Julia Roberts or Mila Kunis, I usually go “snooze.”

  16. TrixC says:

    There is clearly an issue of lack of opportunities for POC in film, but I don’t think the answer is to get hung up on the ethnicity of characters in a science fiction novel, when people who have read it clearly think it’s irrelevant to the story and barely mentioned. Remember when people were complaining that a black actress was cast as Hermione in a stage production of Harry Potter? If we think that was totally foolish thing for people to be complaining about (I do, because Hermione’s ethnicity is not relevant to the story in any material way, an actress of any background could play her) then I don’t see the difference here, particularly if the film maker has hired POC for other leading roles in the same film. To me whitewashing would be if it was a character where their race or ethnicity was important to the story being told, particularly if the role is given to a white person who looks somewhat “ethnic”. Or, if the filmmakers had purposefully written out a POC character who appeared in the source material.

    • eto says:

      Your definition of whitewashing is not really accurate. If they take a lead of the series who is asian/mixed race and cast a white actress, that is whitewashing full stop. I’m so over the Hermione thing, but basically, this is not a 2-way street. In a perfect world, yes, it would be, but there is a systemic issue that stems from lack of opportunities for POC in writing, directing, etc that leads to the lack of opportunities for POC in film and theatre. I could go deeper here (generational wealth, education, etc), but I’m not trying to write an essay lol.

  17. Kam says:

    I just finished the third book in the series last night and I actually didn’t even know the Jennifer Jason Leigh character was supposed to be half Native American. Also, regarding Natalie Portman’s character, her ethnicity wasn’t totally clear to me at all when I was reading. They describe her high cheekbones but attribute it to her partial Asian heritage, not “she definitely looked Asian”. Just had high cheekbones. Lastly, both the director and the movie studio need a marque name to lead this film and I thought the casting of Natalie Portman was a great call from the way they described her in the book. As for giving the role to another high profile name to carry the movie who is of partial Asian heritage, with high cheekbones yet still looks vaguely of mixed origins…that’s a tall order to fill. Plus, if they had given the role to someone of Japanese descent, would actors of Chinese descent or any other Asian heritage cry foul? Seriously asking about that last part because it’s getting harder and harder to make sure everyone’s needs are met. P.s. I am 100% for diversity, just really confused on this issue having read all three books in the last week and I just don’t get it.

  18. Mina says:

    The sad truth is that this movie wouldn’t have been made without Natalie Portman (or an actress of her level in Hollywood). Unfortunately, there’s not an asian actress right now in Natalie’s range of popularity. The industry should aim to change that, but it will be hard, very hard. Unlike African Americans, neither the latinos nor the asian communities within the industry are really well organized to create the revolution that african americans managed. That is in part because they’re not as culturally homogeneous. Like Rubén Blades said, “We are not a race, we are like tribes and we act like it. That’s why we don’t have a united voice”.

    That being said, even with Natalie Portman’s presence I think this movie will tank.

  19. Kim says:

    I did not realize that I’m only half-Mexican if I look like a Mexican! If I look more like my white parent, then apparently I’m just white. Good to know.

  20. Melissa says:

    The sad truth is that this book is being made into a movie at all. Annihilation is ham-fisted trash. If you want to read a good woman-centered allegory of climate change try “The Bohr Maker” by Linda Nagata or “Ammonite” by Nicola Griffith. So much better in every way.