The watchdog group, in a statement issued Thursday, said the ethnicities of key characters in the movie are significantly less Asian than their characters in the 2014 novel by Andy Weir.
Scott’s reps did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
“This feel-good movie, which has attracted Oscar buzz, shouldn’t get any awards for casting,” said MANAA founding president Guy Aoki.
MANAA noted that Weir describes NASA’s director of Mars operations Dr. Venkat Kapoor as an Asian-Indian character who identifies religiously as being “a Hindu.” The group pointed out that in Scott’s film, his name is changed to Vincent Kapoor, and he’s played by British black actor Chiwetel Ejiofor, who says his father was “a Hindu” but that his mother was “Baptist.”
MANAA also noted that Mindy Park, described by Weir as Korean-American, is played in the movie by Mackenzie Davis, a white, blonde actress.
Popular on Variety
The group noted that both characters play crucial roles in NASA’s attempt to rescue astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon) and work together on the rescue with the director of jet propulsion lab Bruce Ng (played in the film by Benedict Wong).
“Was Ridley Scott not comfortable having two sets of Asian Americans talking to each other?” said Aoki. “So few projects are written specifically with Asian American characters in them and he’s now changed them to a white woman and black man. This was a great opportunity to give meaty roles to talented Asian American actors — and boost their careers — which would’ve enabled our community to become a greater part of the rescue team.”
MANAA pointed out that Scott had been criticized last year for casting white actors such as Christian Bale and Sigourney Weaver in the lead roles for “Exodus: Gods and Kings” and dark-skinned Middle Easterners in the secondary, servile and villainous parts.
The group cited several other instances of Hollywood movies in which actors portrayed characters who had been Asian-American in the source material, such as “21,” “The Last Airbender,” “Aloha” and the upcoming projects “Ghost in the Shell,” which will star Scarlett Johansson, and “Doctor Strange,” in which Tilda Swinton will portray The Ancient One.
“This insulting practice of white-washing has got to stop,” said MANAA president Aki Aleong. “Alarmingly, it has been increasing in frequency. Today’s audiences expect multi-racial casts in entertainment, as they reflect the multi-cultural environment in which they’ve grown up. In fact, three of the television series that are doing very well this television season star Asians actors: ‘Fresh off the Boat,’ ‘Quantico,’ and ‘Dr. Ken.'”