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Natalie Portman on ‘Annihilation’ Whitewashing Accusations: ‘More Diversity in All Films’ Needed

Portman and co-star Jennifer Jason Leigh say they were not previously aware that their characters in ”Annihilation“ were not white

Natalie Portman and Jennifer Jason Leigh responded to whitewashing accusations surrounding their latest film “Annihilation,” which follows a team of scientists sent out to explore a beautiful but deadly world from which no one has returned.

Based on the 2014 novel by Jeff VanderMeer, “Annihilation” has received some interest from sci-fi circles both for its female-fronted cast and its status as the follow-up film for director Alex Garland after his Oscar winning sci-fi thriller “Ex Machina.” But the film has also been hit with criticism as the sequel to “Annihilation” revealed that Portman’s character, Lena, is Asian, while Leigh’s character, Dr. Ventress, is half-Native-American.

When asked by Yahoo! for their thoughts on the whitewashing accusations, both Portman and Leigh said they didn’t know that their characters were people of color, but noted that it was, in Leigh’s words, a “valid criticism.”

“Well, that does sound problematic,” Portman told Yahoo, “but I’m hearing it here first.”

In an earlier interview two months ago, Garland said he based his screenplay for the film off a draft of the book he read before it was published, and with VanderMeer’s permission, decided to take the story in his own direction without reading the sequels in which Lena and Ventress’ ethnicities were revealed. The film also has several actors of color in its cast, including Tessa Thompson, Gina Rodriguez, Benedict Wong, and Oscar Isaac.

Portman, who made waves when she called out the snub of female directors at the Golden Globes, told Yahoo! that she is firmly in support of greater diversity in film.

“We need more representation of Asians on film, of Hispanics on film, of blacks on film, women and particularly women of color, Native Americans — I mean, we just don’t have enough representation,” said Portman. “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.”

“Annihilation” hits theaters Feb. 23.