Is there someone at streaming giant Netflix whose job is it to rile up lefty, social justice activists about ‘whitewashing’? It certainly seems like it.
Exhibit A is Netflix’s upcoming series Legend of the Monkey based on the 16th century Chinese novel Journey to the West. The 10-part series tells of the journey of a seventh-century Buddhist monk named Xuanzang to locate sacred texts and aided by three disciples—Sun Wukong the Monkey King, Sha Wujing (Sandy) and Zhu Bajie (nicknamed Pigsy).
The classic tale inspired a cult 1970s Japanese TV series Monkey Magic and more recently two Chinese movies.
Netflix’s 10-part series—an Australian-New Zealand co-production with ABC Australia—has ruffled feathers because the four main characters aren’t played by Asian actors.
Asian-American Lucy Linai has created a Care2 petition objecting to the series: “Netflix’s upcoming “Journey to the West” is actually a remake of a popular Japanese series called “Monkey Magic”, which was based off an ancient Chinese story. So why are none of the characters played by Asian actors?
“We need to show Netflix that this kind of whitewashing is wrong and we won’t support it. Sign the petition to show Netflix you won’t watch this show. The more of us who boycott the show, the more likely Netflix will be to stop this behavior going forward…it’s so ridiculous that this story has been completely whitewashed, erasing any hint of it’s actual origin, completely discrediting the genius of it.”
Some 9,800 people had signed the petition at the time of writing. On Chinese social media platforms, there was considerable anger about the whitewashing. “Can we take a show like Harry Potter and turn it into a Chinese series for revenge.”
It’s the latest whitewashing controversy to hit Netflix. Recent outcries have on the superhero web series Iron Fist and supernatural thriller Death Note (in addition to non-Netflix movies The Great Wall and Ghost in the Shell).
But is Netflix being unfairly criticized for their interpretation of what is considered one the four great classical novels of Chinese literature? After all the actor Chai Hansen, who plays Monkey, is half-Thai. Two other actors in the show have Maori backgrounds.
They’re just not Chinese. And that’s not OK according to the Care2 crowd.