Alex Garland's New Movie Annihilation Accused Of White-Washing

annihilation cast photo

If you've ever read Jeff VanderMeer's Southern Reach Trilogy, you may already know that the lead characters are of Asian descent and of half-white, half American Indian descent, whereas in Annihilation they will be played by Natalie Portman and Jennifer Jason Leigh, respectively. This week, representatives from both the Media Action Network for Asian Americans and American Indians in Film and Television have come out to declare the movie to be the latest example of white-washing. Per the MANAA's Alieesa Badreshia, the issue is a striking one. She said:

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

Director Alex Garland addressed the concept of white-washing months ago, noting that he hadn't planned to create a direct adaptation of Jeff VanderMeer's work. In addition, at the time he also noted he hadn't read the second book in VanderMeer's trilogy, and it's in the second book that Natalie Portman's biologist character is described as Asian. He previously defended the concept of white-washing, noting to the Nerdist,

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. And I thought, 'I'm not exactly sure how to adapt this, but I've got an idea.' And I just went with it. So that was it.

Although if Alex Garland had wanted to make a more direct adaptation, he could have looked into the races of the two lead characters, it should be noted that Annihilation has a really diverse cast. Natalie Portman herself is Jewish and her character, Lena, has a husband who goes into the environmental disaster zone and who will be played by Guatamalan-born actor Oscar Isaac. Tessa Thompson, Gina Rodriguez, Benedict Wong, David Gyasi and Sonoya Mizuno are also in the movie, so Annihilation didn't choose choose a bland or one-note cast overall. Still, groups like the American Indians in Film and Television still feel it's not enough, as representative Sonny Skyhawk also said in a statement to THR that white-washing pops up in film all the time and the whole thing is like "whack-a-mole."

The races of the characters are not the only things that will change in Annihilation, as the author Jeff VanderMeer has previously said the movie is not a totally faithful adaptation. If it still sounds like something you want to check out, the movie is out on February 23. You can take a look at what the critics have been saying about the flick already, here, or check out some of the other big sci-fi movies hitting theaters in 2018 with our guide.

Jessica Rawden
Managing Editor

Jessica Rawden is Managing Editor at CinemaBlend. She’s been kicking out news stories since 2007 and joined the full-time staff in 2014. She oversees news content, hiring and training for the site, and her areas of expertise include theme parks, rom-coms, Hallmark (particularly Christmas movie season), reality TV, celebrity interviews and primetime. She loves a good animated movie. Jessica has a Masters in Library Science degree from Indiana University, and used to be found behind a reference desk most definitely not shushing people. She now uses those skills in researching and tracking down information in very different ways.