On Mar. 9, The Outsider, a new crime thriller about an imprisoned American soldier who gets tied up in the organized crime scene after a gangster helps him get out of jail, comes to Netflix. Even though The Outsider isn't based on a true story, certain aspects of it come from real life. The American soldier, played by Jared Leto, ends up in the Japanese prison following WWII, though it's not entirely clear why he ended up there.
The Outsider follows the Japanese Yakuza genre, which means it's a gangster movie, and if you've never seen a Yakuza movie before, this would be a good one to start with. After all, as the AV Club wrote, The Outsider's plot is similar to a lot of other Japanese Yakuza movies like the movie Outrage. Since the new Netflix film takes place in 1954 Osaka, it has a few realistic postwar attributes like the conflicts between American and Japanese people. In the trailer for the movie, Leto's character confronts a fellow American who yells, "I don't give a sh*t about their traditions or whatever the f*ck it is that you're here to try to explain to me. We won, that's the way it is."
In between physical showdowns between fellow mobsters, Leto's character, named Nick Lowell, falls in love with a Japanese woman who happens to be his boss's — as in his mob boss's — sister (played by Kutsuna Shiori). The movie has come under fire for potentially fetishizing Japanese culture, especially given that Leto's character becomes somewhat obsessed with his new homeland. The fact that he gets a giant tattoo of what looks like a Japanese Koi fish doesn't help, either. The tattoo actually happens to be a Yakuza tattoo, which suggests that despite Leto's whiteness, his character is supposed to represent Japanese culture to the audience. If it sounds problematic, it's because it is.
Many have accused The Outsider of whitewashing a Yakuza film, as the Japanese genre usually features Japanese actors. Nancy Wang Yuen, the author of Reel Inequality, took to Twitter to voice her concerns over The Outsider after the trailer came out in late Feb. "Jared Leto as a Yakuza Killing Machine? No thank you to this," tweeted the author.
Some viewers believe that the movie frames Nick Lowell as a white savior. And it's true that his character has an air of being called for duty, as if something about him makes him special. It's a shame that Netflix and the movie's director, Martin Zandvliet chose not to att least cast a Japanese American soldier to play the "outsider," though that might still have problematic elements.
Unfortunately for Leto, the actor has acted in a couple of busts over the past few years. Suicide Squad was famously flawed, and superhero fans are already apprehensive about a Harley Quinn and Joker movie starring the actor. Yet even though Suicide Squad had its fair share of issues with the way it represented its actors of color, it wasn't nearly as heavily critiqued for that as much as The Outsider already is.
In an interview with GQ, Leto shared his thoughts on Hollywood's diversity issues, saying that a gay man would probably have a more difficult time getting cast as a leading man in a movie. "I don’t think you’ll have as many opportunities. And I think you could say the same for minorities," he said. "What a word, 'minority.' Have we taken that word off the list yet? ‘Cause it should be. Anyway, no, I think that this is still a very conservative business."
Considering that Leto has an awareness of Hollywood's favoring of white actors over actors of color, it might come as a bit of a surprise that his new movie, The Outsider, has a whitewashing issue. But unfortunately that's the truth, and naturally, many people are exasperated by the decision.