Joel Kinnaman has hit back at critics who have lobbied whitewashing accusations against his new Netflix series Altered Carbon.
The upcoming series is based on Richard K. Morgan's novel of the same name, and tells the story of a future wherein human beings are able to digitally transfer their consciousness into a new body called "sleeves". The main character, played by Joel Kinnaman, is named Takeshi Kovacs and is of Japanese and Slovak origins, however he was later involuntary transferred to a white man's body.
This part of the premise is hauntingly similar to the Hollywood version of popular anime Ghost In The Shell. That movie starred Scarlett Johansson who plays an android that carries the consciousness of a Japanese girl, and it received quite a significant amount of backlash.
Altered Carbon has not faced the same amount of intense criticism, but there are some who feel that the series may be following in a problematic Hollywood trope. Kinnaman though has a different take.
Speaking to the Radio Times the actor explains why it is not the same as Ghost In The Shell or other previous western productions with the same problem. “Whitewashing is a real thing that has been happening for a long time, and it's quite disgraceful, in my opinion,” he says. “But whitewashing is when you have an Asian character that gets played by a white person. Here, it’s an Asian character that gets put into a white body and that is the story; that’s how it is described in the book.”
He even points out a way that the series took on the issue. “And, even to combat that – and it also played very well to the story – we have added a backstory of Kovacs (Will Yun Lee) where you see him in his birth sleeve, and you also have another version of Kovacs (Byron Mann) where he has gotten to chose his own sleeve," he explains. "You can then see that when he gets to choose, he chooses a person that looks more like him when he was growing up: an Asian guy.” However Kinnaman is still taking on the character majority of the time with six out of ten episodes, Mann is only credited with three episodes and Lee with one.
Kinnaman remains adamant. "It has been written about, I’m like, ‘look at it’," he says. "When it’s such an important issue, you don’t wanna accuse something that isn’t that, because then you can taint the argument.”
He does have a point in that, we'll have to see when the series arrives. After all 2016's The Great Wall was accused of whitewashing and promoting the white savior trope with star Matt Damon, when in fact the Chinese production showed the three western characters in the film including the one portrayed by Damon as less advanced and noble than the Chinese, he also did not end up saving China, his help was important but the final strike belonged to the lead female character.
Maybe that's the case with Altered Carbon? But what do you think? Is it whitewashing?
All episodes of Altered Carbon will be available on Netflix on February 2nd.