Actresses Natalie Portman and Jennifer Jason Leigh have responded to criticisms of Annihilation’s choice to cast two white women—the two of them—in roles that, in the books on which the film is based, were originally women of color. Their responses were simple: they didn’t know their characters were originally conceived to be nonwhite.
Yahoo Entertainment recently asked the actresses what they thought of the whitewashing controversy, which has been brewing for months. In both cases, though, their characters’ literary lineages appeared to be news to them. (Both characters’ backgrounds are not revealed until Authority, the sequel to Annihilation and the second book in the Southern Reach trilogy.) Portman agreed that casting her as a someone who, in the books, is of Asian descent “does sound problematic.” But as she told Yahoo, “I’m hearing it here first.”
“We need more representation of Asians on film, of Hispanics on film, of blacks on film, and women and particularly women of color, Native Americans,” Portman added. “I mean, we just don’t have enough representation . . . And also, these categories like ‘white’ and ‘nonwhite’—they’re imagined classifications but have real-life consequences . . . And I hope that begins to change, because I think everyone is becoming more conscious of it, which hopefully will make change.”
Leigh agreed that accusing the film of whitewashing is “probably a valid criticism,” but also said that she didn’t previously know about the lineage of her character; in Authority, it is revealed that she is half Native American. The actress told Yahoo she supposed that director Alex Garland cast whoever he thought was appropriate for each role, but added, “Obviously there should be more parts for everyone and more diversity in all films.”
A representative for Paramount Pictures did not immediately respond to V.F.’s request for comment.
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