American Ultra writer, Max Landis, took to YouTube a couple of days ago to offer his opinion on the controversy surrounding the casting of actress Scarlett Johansson in the lead role for Ghost in the Shell.
“The only reason to be upset about Scarlett Johansson being in Ghost in the Shell is if you don’t know how the movie industry works.”
– Max Landis
Scheduled for a 2017 release by DreamWorks Pictures and Paramount Pictures, Ghost in the Shell is a film-adaptation based on the 1989 manga of the same name. The story follows “The Major” Motoko Kusanagi and her agency, Section 9, as they attempt to thwart cyber criminals and hackers.
As you have read, the main protagonist’s name is Motoko Kusanagi, and portraying her is Scarlett Johansson. Yes, Kusanagi is Japanese. Yes, ScarJo is American. Yes, fans are outraged.
— Complex Pop Culture (@ComplexPop) April 17, 2016
“You should be mad,” Max exclaims. “But you’re mad at the wrong people if you’re mad at the studio, or the director, or the actress, or the film industry.”
In the almost six minute long video, the Victor Frankenstein writer explains why ScarJo was cast as the lead in Ghost in the Shell.
“Let me explain how getting a movie with the scale and budget of Ghost in the Shell works. First [the film] has to be bought by a studio. Studios work through distribution models. Distribution models are fueled by imaginary metrics, which are treated like a religion having to do with stars and marketability of certain movies.”
Evidently, getting a film made in the first place is already complicated, having to jump through flaming hoops just to get the film considered for production.
Landis continues, almost erratically, detailing a small handful of actors and actresses that can get movies made. “There are really, like, only 10 or 15 men who get movies made. Two of them are Black—Denzel and Will Smith—the rest are White. And then there are about, like, 5 women who can get your movie made. One of them is Scarlett Johansson, and I think they’re all distressingly White.”
There is a prevalent theme here: “whitewashing” and under representation is an epidemic permeating the entertainment industry — this includes video games, television shows, films, music, books, etc. With Chris Rock bringing the issue to the forefront during the 88th Academy Awards ceremony (#OscarsSoWhite), and the debacle encircling the casting of ScarJo—and the fact that the studio “Asian-ed” her—fan outrage and the discrimination dialogue is now louder than ever.
Ghost in The Shell Allegedly Used VFX to Make Scarlett Johansson Look More Asian https://t.co/pVW80KE0qG
— Janise Sekhmet (@JaniseSekhmet) April 16, 2016
Max is aware of this, but recalls a time when this level of under representation didn’t exist.
“Now this wasn’t always how it was. There was a time in the 80s and 90s where the property could afford to have actors in it who weren’t huge names.”
– Max Landis
However, immediately after the nostalgia finishes tugging on the heartstrings, Max sinks to a bit of despondency. “But now look at who gets cast in things. You don’t see people getting their stars made by being in superhero movies. You see them just being identified as that superhero and often times they were already kinda famous.”
All of this brings up a curious question though: if we aren’t to be mad at the film industry, who are we to be mad at? Ourselves for not helping diversity in the industry? I would say nay, we should be mad at the film industry. The world boasts plenty of excellent talent, such as Oscar nominated Rinko Kikuchi—who happens to be Japanese—or Tao Okamoto—who also happens to be Japanese. I mean, a quick Google search pulls up “Top 40 Asian Actresses Under 40 to Watch for in Hollywood.”
While Max’s points are valid, and his sentiment is understandable, the question isn’t whether there are “big enough” Asians actresses to make the film. The question is why, after there are plenty of Asian actresses available, go for ScarJo?
As Max notes, “it’s incredibly f*cked up.”
[Photo by Sonia Recchia/Getty Images]