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The Outsider: Netflix faces backlash over film starring Jared Leto as yakuza member

'There is literal #Whitewashing (Dr Strange, Ghost in the Shell) and figurative #Whitewashing when shows set in Asia center around a white actor'

Clarisse Loughrey
Saturday 24 February 2018 12:06
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Trailer- The Outsider

Netflix's latest film has faced immediate backlash for casting Jared Leto as a yakuza member.

The Outsider stars the Oscar-winner as a captive American soldier in the final days of WWII, set free from prison with the aid of his yakuza cellmate. However, he must repay his debt of gratitude by joining the criminal gang, aiding them in their nefarious activities.

However, there's no apparent modern or historical basis for a white American being accepted into the yakuza, with the film's synopsis having little understanding of how the crime syndicates work. While the majority of members come from the burakumin, descendants of the outcast communities of feudal era Japan, ethnic Koreans are also a prominent part of the yakuza, as Japanese-born people of Korean ancestry are considered resident aliens.

It's unheard of, however, for the yakuza to accept a white American. Stranger still that the film would call its lead the titular The Outsider, when the yakuza deliberately paint themselves an outsider force as a way to recruit new members.

Which has all led many to question why exactly the Netflix film felt the need to centre itself around a non-Asian character in an Asian setting. As author Nancy Wang Yuen tweeted, "There is literal #Whitewashing (Dr Strange, Ghost in the Shell) and figurative #Whitewashing when shows set in Asia center around a white actor."


William Yu, who created the #StarringJohnCho project, calling for better Asian-American representation in Hollywood cinema, stated, "STOP. WRITING. AROUND US"; indeed, it's impressive how far the Netflix film will go to warp the rules of the yakuza, rather than simply centre a yakuza film around an Asian or Asian-American lead.


The Outsider also stars Emile Hirsch, Raymond Nicholson, Tadanobu Asano, Rory Cochrane, and Shiori Kutsuna. The film will be available on Netflix from 9 March.

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