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Altered Carbon showrunner Laeta Kalogridis addresses concerns of whitewashing

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Feb 1, 2018

Forget about the fact that Netflix's Altered Carbon packs a really awesome premise about human consciousnesses being digitized. Forget about its bleak and dystopian Blade Runner aesthetic. And forget about its noirish undertones in a futuristic urban cyberpunk setting.

The most impressive thing about the upcoming show is that it took 15 years to get onto the screen. Originally optioned for a feature film by Warner Bros., it languished in development hell for the longest time before the rights lapsed and got snatched up by writer Laeta Kalogridis. 

The show is based on Richard K. Morgan's Takeshi Kovacs novels, the first of which is titled Altered Carbon. Kovacs finds himself downloaded into a new body (or "sleeve") and tasked with solving the murder of the richest dude on the planet. However, Kovacs, an Asian man, is placed into the body of an adult white male (played by Joel Kinnaman). This has caused some to wonder if this is another case of Hollywood whitewashing, especially since Kalogridis had helped write the script for last year's Ghost in the Shell, which was accused of doing the same thing by casting white actress Scarlett Johansson in the lead role.

"Of course I worry about whitewashing and I feel very strongly that whitewashing was, is, and continues to be a problem in entertainment," she told The Hollywood Reporter. "And I wanted as much as possible to try and mitigate those concerns. But I want to be really clear that I can't be the arbiter of whether or not I succeeded. The audience will have to see how they feel about it."

Instead of ignoring Kovacs's past, which is glossed over in the books, she greatly expanded on the character's backstory. By doing so, she figured out a way to circumvent accusations of total whitewashing and make Kovacs more of a multi-faceted figure. Takeshi's original "sleeve" is played by Korean-American actor Will Yun Lee. 

"By creating the story of Kovacs as he grew up ... I was able to create a part for an Asian man in a leading role in this television show where he becomes emotionally as important as Joel, [and] is represented as opposed to talked about in the past," continued Kalogridis. "So a whole different and much richer … storyline that has a lot of meaning and a lot of emotion and informed every single thing that happens in the present day, you see Will Yun Lee embodying that part. … Very significantly, I didn't want to erase Kovacs' Asian heritage. I wanted to play it up and to mine it."

All in all, Kalogridis wants to make you uncomfortable with this show by raising uncomfortable questions and putting uncomfortable images on the screen. All 10 episode of Altered Carbon's first season download themselves onto Netflix tomorrow.