The Ghost in the Shell movie has officially begun production, and new photos have arrived showing Scarlett Johansson in character as the main protagonist. However, this doesn’t dispel the popular belief that Hollywood is “whitewashing” movies today, or casting white actors in roles commonly believed to be meant for those of other cultures.
Johansson’s costume is the usual common Asian clothing ensemble and straight black hair as seen in the anime series, but fans regularly feel that she isn’t supposed to be there. She looks like Major Motoko Kusanagi, but that’s not the point. The role was initially offered to Margot Robbie, but she turned it down for reasons which should be obvious when Suicide Squad hits theaters.
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The Ghost in the Shell movie isn’t the first to cast the wrong ethnicity for an Asian character, but it may be one of the most high-profile. Breakfast at Tiffany‘s was the first notably racist portrayal of an Asian character, played by Mickey Rooney, a short actor whose height has earned him several roles as children. Of course, Rooney may have inspired the roles played by Gary Coleman (Diff’rent Strokes), Warwick Davis (Willow), and Verne Troyer (Austin Powers).
“Whitewashing” has been around for decades, with some early films and TV shows portraying white actors in black-face, a practice which Robert Downey, Jr. poked fun at in Tropic Thunder. It was also satirized in the Wayans brothers’ spoof White Chicks. That doesn’t make it right, according to contemporary critics who feel that Dr. Strange‘s Tibetan elder, The Ancient One, should have been portrayed by an Asian male, not Tilda Swinton.
The “Nostalgia Critic” actor Doug Walker even touched on the subject with his video on whether “whitewashing” is still a thing. He pointed out that when Asian audiences saw Scarlett Johansson on the set of the Ghost in the Shell movie, they didn’t appear to have a problem with it.
Many find it still unacceptable that only the extras in the film are actual Asians, as filming has begun in Hong Kong, while the hero is a white woman who looks vaguely Asian. They might take small comfort in the fact that she didn’t go all the way like Sean Connery did in You Only Live Twice, where James Bond wears prosthetics and altered hair to disguise himself as Japanese. In that case, nobody was fooled, despite the characters acting like it was convincing.
— Movie TV Tech Geeks (@movietvtechgeek) June 8, 2016
Pilou Asbaek also plays the secondary hero, Batou, another case of a non-Asian playing an Asian role. He sports the usual white flat-top the character is known for, but that might not be enough.
gotta say like extra’s costumes in the GiTS set photos, but eh. So much whitewashing, asian characters in background https://t.co/g2B6NSXGwg
— Tim Maughan (@timmaughan) June 8, 2016
The internet wants to know why Asians can’t play these roles, and there are plenty of choices if you know where to look.
For those who don’t really care about the casting choices, keep it in mind that the anime which the Ghost in the Shell movie is based on might have been directly responsible for inspiring the original plot behind the Keanu Reeves action vehicle, The Matrix. That makes it a big deal for fans of the anime series, where the Major attempts to destroy a rogue technology giant bent on enslaving humanity.
What do you think? Is “whitewashing” going to ruin the Ghost in the Shell movie, or will Scarlett Johansson make it worth watching?
[Image via Masamune Shirow]