Cultural Appropriation and Remixing

Winter Waters

I just watched Death Note. No, not the original morally complex and twisted Anime, the recent live action remake from Netflix.

Now, I thought it was okay, but not great. Not anywhere near the level of quality of the original… but it was a decent movie. The actor who plays L is actually very, very good. Unfortunately, the actor who plays Light is not great. Overall the whole thing is just a mediocre movie.

None of that is because they cast a white actor as Light. In fact, the cast is fairly racially diverse. While Light is the protagonist, he’s not the hero. L is the hero, and he’s not white at all. L is the one who is doing the right thing, the one who is making sacrifices. We sympathize with Light because he’s a well-meaning person, he’s trying to fix things.

In the end, though, the story is the same, and the race change of the one character is not that big a deal. The problems are poor acting, a shorter form presentation that doesn’t allow for the level of character development that’s in the original and a lack of writing.

The story could have benefited from cultural appropriation, as many stories do. It could have been made great by combining cultures instead of trying to be one piece. Most of our stories come from many traditions, most of our characters are built from a mixed cultural template.

Ghost in the shell had the same issue, it tried to be a Japanese piece of work, but it doesn’t really hold true to Japanese sensibilities… while not embracing western ones completely either. It does this without being conscious of it. There is no attempt to remix, to embrace and bridge the sides, instead, it’s just awkward, things pushed together.

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