'Altered Carbon' Cast, Creator Respond to Whitewashing Criticisms at L.A. Premiere

"It's always fair to criticize, to question, to engage about things like whitewashing and violence against women and choices of lack of diversity," showrunner Laeta Kalogridis told THR.
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Laeta Kalogridis (left) and Tamara Taylor

The cast and crew of Netflix's new sci-fi epic, Altered Carbon, are mindful of the criticism the show has received for casting a white man (Joel Kinnaman) to play an Asian hero, Takeshi Kovacs — especially showrunner Laeta Kalogridis. As she told The Hollywood Reporter at the series' Los Angeles premiere Thursday night, she welcomes the discussion.

"It's always fair to criticize, to question, to engage about things like whitewashing and violence against women and choices of lack of diversity. All those things are really, really a good thing to talk about," she said, expanding on what she told THR earlier this week when discussing her new series' 15-year journey to the small screen. "I would never say that it's unfair because whitewashing is a huge problem. It's not a problem that's solved."

Swedish-American actor Kinnaman plays the elite military operative, newly awakened from a 250-year cryogenic sleep inside a brand-new body. Korean-American actor Will Yun Lee plays the original version of the character, seen in flashback, and Chinese-American actor Byron Mann plays another version. Mann told THR that waking up in a white European man's body is actually part of the conflict in the character.

"That's actually what happened in the book [Richard K. Morgan's 2002 novel of the same name, on which the series is based]," he said. "That's actually the weirdness about it, because he's actually an Asian guy, but on the outside it's a white guy. So, he's like, 'Oh, that's a little funny.' So, that's part of the duality...the tension that's in the story."

Plus, he added, the rest of the cast is notably diverse."I think the show is pretty diverse, hugely diverse, if you look at all 10 episodes," he said. "It's like the United Nations. You've got people from everywhere."

Another criticism levied against the show is the depiction, like in many other sci-fi and fantasy series, of violence against women. Star Kristin Lehman, who plays the wealthy, sky-dwelling Miriam Bancroft, said she thought that criticism was also valid — but thinks the show is depicting it in a different way. 

"I think examining violence against women is fair and is necessary and certainly with the zeitgeist of the times, it appears to be examined through a lens of hopeful progress," she said. "At the same time, I think that we are — and this is no justification whatsoever — we make a product that is intended to titillate and the people are fascinated by the shadow elements of society's psyche. And if we're dealing with the deeply flawed elements of society that perpetuate violence against women, the telling stories about it are still prevalent.... I still think that ultimately, the human psyche wants a place to have its fantasies safely held and I don't know that there will ever be a day where violence against women is not going to be held within the fantasy of this human psyche."

After walking the black carpet, stars headed inside Mack Sennett Studios, which Netflix had transformed into a breathtaking version of the Altered Carbon world. The lobby was a lab filled with new sleeves (aka human bodies which are implanted with a "stack," a small disk on which a person's consciousness is uploaded) where guests mingled and drank beer and wine before heading into the crowded screening room.

Following the hourlong premiere episode, a curtain in the back of the room raised to reveal a hallway packed with neon signs leading to a large room simulating the illicit back alleys of Bay City (aka future San Francisco). Guests could get inked at a real tattoo parlor, eat food out of street carts (chicken and short ribs) and head downstairs into a dark Raven Hotel speakeasy themed after a location pivotal to the first episode. In the small, dark space they sipped on fancy cocktails and, if they were paying attention to the small stage in the corner so out of the way many didn't even know it was there, watched a performance by two lingerie-clad dancers.

Altered Carbon is available to stream on Netflix.