You might be aware of the controversies that Netflix Original TV shows like Insatiable and 13 Reasons Why have become involved in, but their movies can end up causing just as much of a stink.
Only recently, the news that Dwayne Johnson would play African-American folk hero John Henry in an upcoming Netflix movie was criticised, largely over the fact that the Henry legend traditionally depicts him as a dark-skinned black man, whereas Johnson is mixed-race – his father is black and mother Samoan.
But John Henry and the Statesmen is hardly the first Netflix Original movie that caused controversy – and here are six that caused a fuss for various reasons.
1. Death Note
Netflix’s adaptation of classic Japanese Manga Death Note was hit with whitewashing accusations after casting two leading Japanese characters with non-Asian actors.
The controversy all came out before the movie had even reached the streaming service, leading to producer Roy Lee urging everyone to see the movie before criticising it since their adaptation wasn’t set in Japan.
“It is an interpretation of that story in a different culture, so there are going to be some obvious changes. Some people will like them, some people may not,” he explained. “[The changes] make it more appealing to the US or to the English-language market.”
Death Note didn’t exactly go down well with critics or viewers when it was released in August 2017, but that hasn’t stopped Netflix from ordering a sequel so we’ll see how that pans out.
2. Step Sisters
Comedy Step Sisters sees a black sorority sister help a group of white sorority sisters win a dance competition by teaching them how to step dance.
It was hit was threats of a boycott after people accused it of cultural appropriation, as well as being stereotypical and regressive about black culture, but lead star Megalyn Echikunwoke told CBS News that people were getting the wrong idea.
“I think people will come away being pleasantly surprised that the take-away message is actually the opposite of white people culturally appropriating the black culture. The messages are a lot different, and a lot more profound,” she noted.
3. Sierra Burgess Is A Loser
Before its release, Sierra Burgess Is A Loser looked like a winner for Netflix as it united Stranger Things fan favourite Shannon Purser with To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before break-out star Noah Centineo.
And then it was released and was widely criticised for its catfish plot that sees Sierra (Purser) pretend to be a cheerleader to win over her crush Jamey (Centineo), as well as its apparent transphobic and homophobic jokes.
What’s more, one particular scene that sees Sierra pretend to be deaf so she won’t have talk to Jamey did NOT go down well with viewers, including deaf model Nyle DiMarco.
“So one of my close friends’ deaf brother is in Sierra Burgess. When I learned, I was elated. Finally more deaf actors/representation & ASL inclusion in films… Only to find out the deaf character was written and used for a terrible joke. PS – pretending to be deaf is NOT ok,” he argued.
Better luck next time Barb, it seems.
4. To the Bone
People were so outraged about To the Bone that there were calls for it to be banned over its potentially triggering aspects.
Based on writer-director Marti Noxon’s own experiences, the movie saw Lily Collins play a young woman with anorexia nervosa as she tries to conquer her eating disorder. The criticism stemmed from it featuring shots of protruding bones and emaciated bodies, which is strictly discouraged by mental health organisations.
“I’m just so pleased that a conversation is being had around this subject matter. I don’t think Marti and I started the conversation, we just made one a lot louder, and I think that’s really important,” Collins told Digital Spy as she defended the movie.
“I am so proud and privileged to be a part of this conversation and I am very thankful for people’s kind reactions to it and their words. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, and I’m very proud of Marti and I.”
5. The Outsider
Death Note isn’t the only Netflix Original movie to be met with accusations of whitewashing as similar criticisms faced The Outsider.
Set in 1954, the movie stars Jared Leto as a prisoner in an Osaka prison who becomes a member of the Japanese Yakuza after he saves a Yazuka member from being hanged. Needless to say, having a white, American protagonist in a movie about the Yakuza did not go down well.
Others argued that since the movie was called The Outsider, it wasn’t whitewashing, but either way, the movie didn’t go down well with critics either, so perhaps the casting of Leto was the least of its problems.
It doesn’t take much for a movie to be booed at Cannes, but the response to the Netflix logo at the screening of Okja was a sign that a bigger controversy was to come. And it’s nothing to do with the film itself, for once.
Earlier this year, Netflix pulled out of ever showing another movie at Cannes for the time being after the festival ruled that any Netflix movie couldn’t play in competition, but could play out of competition (a consequence of banning any movie without theatrical distribution in France).
“We want our films to be on fair ground with every other filmmaker,” Netflix’s Ted Sarandos told Variety. “There’s a risk in us going in this way and having our films and filmmakers treated disrespectfully at the festival. They’ve set the tone. I don’t think it would be good for us to be there.”
That isn’t the only industry controversy Netflix has been involved in either as there’s an ongoing debate over whether their movies should be eligible for the Oscars. Steven Spielberg certainly thinks they shouldn’t be: “Once you commit to a television format, you’re a TV movie.”
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