Death Note and Cultural Appropriation

OK, cultural appropriation is a very tricky subject. Essentially what it is, is when a culture exploits elements of another culture, and does so in a way that causes the culture where elements are borrowed from feel disrespected due to a lack of authenticity or credit to the source material. Let’s excuse the white washing in Netflix’s adaptation of Death Note (2017). So let’s excuse the fact that hiring an East Asian American lead was not an option, that this is not a case of whitewashing. Let’s just focus on why cultural appropriation is bad for Death Note.

The reason why cultural appropriation is a concern, especially when dealing with Netflix’s Death Note movie, is that it takes away from the genius of the original series. Death Note (2003), is a manga with extremely vivid and intense artwork drawn by Takashi Obata (Hikaru No Go, Bakuman), complimented by the intricate narrative and flow from Tsugumi Ohba (Bakuman). The series is not just an example of dynamic storytelling but a series that plays with the morality of its viewers as they decide on which characters are right and wrong. Death Note is the classic tale of good versus evil, put on its head.

The problem with this case of cultural appropriation is that, like most American adaptations of Japanese manga, it does not do the source material any justice. It is panned by critics, and generally not well received by the average viewer. It currently sits at a 42% for critic reviews and a 25% from average viewers on film review aggregate website Rotten Tomatoes. OK, let’s be real, I don’t care if you like it, it’s not up to me to prove to you that Death Note is great, no one owes you anything to like it, but as a fan of the original source material, I want this franchise to succeed. When viewers who are not into the source material are dissatisfied with the live action film, they will not look into the manga or the anime. They are taking away from supporting the artist and writer, they are tarnishing the work of the manga. By not supporting Obata or Ohba, there is less of a demand for their work, leading to fans not getting the entertainment that they want. Yes, I am selfish, but this is how the market works. Every time someone is turned off from Netflix’s Death Note, they end up telling their friends and family how bad it is, in turn leading to a franchise as great as Death Note not doing as well as it should.

So in summary, cultural appropriation does not only take away from a culture, but it takes away from future works like Death Note to be created. If you only watched the 2017 Netflix movie, whether you enjoyed it or not, you should consider reading the manga or watching the anime. The story is something completely different from a lot of Western stories. It is unique in its use of the supernatural, the human condition, and mystery. At this point, I’ve stopped writing  for like six minutes because I’m trying to think of a Western classic like Death Note. Please consider supporting the original source material, you will not regret doing so.

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