The director of "Annihilation" is refuting claims his new movie "whitewashed" characters and said there was "nothing cynical and conspiratorial" in the casting of the sci-fi drama.
The film, based on the first novel in Jeff VanderMeer's "Southern Reach" trilogy, stars Natalie Portman and Jennifer Jason Leigh.
The action centers around Portman's character Lena, a biologist who leads a mysterious expedition. Leigh plays psychologist Dr. Ventress.
Despite having a diverse cast that includes actors Gina Rodriguez, Benedict Wong and Sonya Miznuo, advocacy groups American Indians in Film and Television (AIIFT) and Media Action Network for Asian Americans (MANAA) argue the film is not true to the novels.
In the "Annihilation" novel, Leigh's character is described as being half-Native American. In the sequel book "Authority," Portman's character is described as being of Asian heritage.
The film is just the latest project criticized for hiring white actors to play ethnic roles.
Alex Garland, the film's director, defended the casting in a statement to Deadline.
"This is an awkward problem for me, because I think whitewashing is a serious and real issue, and I fully support the groups drawing attention to it," Garland said. "But the characters in the novel I read and adapted were not given names or ethnicities."
He added that he "cast the film reacting only to the actors I met in the casting process, or actors I had worked with before."
"There was no studio pressure to cast white. The casting choices were entirely mine," Garland said in his statement. "As a middle-aged white man, I can believe I might at times be guilty of unconscious racism, in the way that potentially we all are. But there was nothing cynical or conspiratorial about the way I cast this movie."
CNN was directed to Garland's statement to Deadline by a rep for him when contacted for comment.
In an interview with Yahoo, Portman called it "problematic" and said it was the first she was hearing of the issue
"We need more representation of Asians on film, of Hispanics on film, of blacks on film, women and particularly women of color, Native Americans," she said. " I mean, we just don't have enough representation."
CNN has reached out to Portman and Leigh for comment.
Director says there was no intent to "whitewash"
Portman spoke on need for diversity