Director Alex Garland’s Annihilation recently came under fire for being the latest example of a movie casting white actors as characters who were people of colour in the source material. Garland has said that he wasn’t aware of the whitewashing issue, and in a recent interview actresses Natalie Portman and Jennifer Jason Leigh say they didn’t either – but they agree their film is part of a larger problem.
When Yahoo asked the actresses about their thoughts regarding the claims of whitewashing being levelled at the film, Portman and Leigh said this was their first time hearing about it, but that the critiques were entirely valid.
Portman emphasised the need for more on-screen representation and called out the industry's habit of dividing pools of actors according to who's white and who isn't:
We need more representation of Asians on film, of Hispanics on film, of blacks on film, women and particularly women of colour, Native Americans - I mean, we just don't have enough representation. And also these categories like "white" and "nonwhite" - they're imagined classifications but have real-life consequences. … And I hope that begins to change, because I think everyone is becoming more conscious of it, which hopefully will make change.
Portman's point about the white/nonwhite binary is particularly timely given the way that Garland went about making the film. After getting the clear from author Jeff VanderMeer, Garland committed to making a version of Annihilation that was never meant to fully mirror the original book. Additionally, although the characters races' are not mentioned in the Annihilation novel, they are specified in its sequels, and all three books were released back in 2014, before Garland was hired to direct the film.
On the other side of the equation, both Thor: Ragnarok's Tessa Thompson and Jane the Virgin's Gina Rodriguez also portray members of the exploration party seen in the film. Their casting in Annihilation is excellent, but their presence doesn't negate that fact that the film's lead roles are being played by white women. After hearing so many actors try to deny their films had similar issues, it's nice to hear two stars who recognise the problem.