Paramount Pictures and DreamWorks Pictures are accused of whitewashing in their new film adaptation of the anime smash Ghost in the Shell after casting Scarlett Johansson in the lead role.
The first look image of Johansson as the Major was released Thursday, leading to an uproar by fans offended that a white actress is playing a Japanese anime character.
“The excuse that she’s a cyborg and therefore doesn’t have an ethnicity literally doesn’t make any sense within the context of the story. She’s a JAPANESE cyborg in a Japanese society. Japan is one of the most homogenous (sic) societies with 98.5% of their population being ethnic Japanese (the most dominant native ethnic group is the Yamato people), so even a cyborg w/the ability to look like anyone in the population would most likely not look like Scarlett Johansson. ESPECIALLY when a major plot point is the Major looking like EVERYONE else in the population,” said Sensei Aishitemasu.
Ghost in the Shell, a 1995 film by Mamoru Oshii about a female cyborg police officer tracking a dangerous hacker, is often considered one of the best anime films of all time. According to an article by IndieWire, “the notion of identity plays a key role in the film, resounding as one of its primary themes.”
— Mashable (@mashable) April 14, 2016
In their Understanding Art Case Study video series, Nerd Writer looks at the context of identity within its space. This is not often explored in the West, Nerd Writer explains.
“There’s a 3-minute and 20-ish second long scene in the middle of the animated, sci-fi action thriller Ghost in the Shell that doesn’t really qualify as sci-fi, action, or thriller. It’s a sequence of 34 gorgeous, exquisitely detailed atmospheric shots of a future city in Japan that’s modeled after Hong Kong.”
Ghost in the Shell originated as a manga series written and illustrated by Masamune Shirow. The anime ran for 20 months in Japan beginning in April 1989.
Scott McCloud, a legendary comic book writer, describes the story as written in a style ubiquitous in Japanese manga. In aspect-to-aspect framing, “time is virtually abandoned for the exploration of space.”
“The emphasis is on being there, rather than getting there.”
This format is in stark contrast to comic books in the United States, which traditionally employ a consecutive series of action, frame by frame.
Scarlett Johansson has been cast to play a beloved manga character, and people are not happy about it https://t.co/K2ODTrvuvx
— NowThis (@nowthisnews) April 15, 2016
In Ghost in the Shell, characters are deeply woven into their culture and surroundings.
“Spaces are made by humanity, but humanity is made by its spaces, too. To drive this home, the rest of the film is framed with characters set against the city they live in.”
Therefore, the character of the Major couldn’t ethnically be any more distant from New York-born Johansson, whose mother is from an Ashkenazi Jewish family and whose dad was born in Copenhagen.
Hollywood’s tendency to whitewash roles goes all the way back to the 1956 epic The Conqueror, in which John Wayne starred as Genghis Khan. Then, 1961’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s put Mickey Rooney in a role that the Guardian described as “the shamefully offensive Japanese caricature IY Yunioshi.”
One of TV history’s most notorious case of whitewashing was the casting of Ed Ames, the famous American singer born in Massachusetts from Ukrainian parents. He played a Native American named Mingo on the 1960s TV series, Daniel Boone. Ames is probably best known for his appearance on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, during which he thunked a tomahawk into one of the funniest moments in TV history.
Rupert Sanders (Snow White And the Huntsman) is directing the anime adaptation of Ghost in the Shell. Filming will take place in Wellington, New Zealand. Paramount will release the film in the United States on March 31, 2017.
[Image via Shutterstock/DFree]