Ghost In The Shell hit the theaters this weekend amidst a whitewashing controversy. Since the news of Scarlett Johansson’s casting in the live-action adaptation of the Japanese manga, critics have been non-stop until its premiere.
The movie has ignited the discussion on the whitewashing of Asian roles in Hollywood, where minorities keep fighting for representation. Let’s break down this news for you.
Ghost in the Shell
Ghost in the Shell is a Japanese manga series written by Masamune Shirow in 1989. The story takes place in a futuristic and fictional city in Japan. In this world, people have prosthetic bodies and even cyber brains which have their advantages and disadvantages.
The title makes reference to the duality of the system, ghost like the human consciousness, and the shell the cybernetic body. The story centers on issues related to the growth of the artificial intelligence the questions and problems it carries.
The original movie was released in 1995 and it’s considered a masterpiece and a classic when it comes to Japanese anime. TV series, video games and animated movies were made after the acclaimed anime story.
Spoiler alert, in the anime and the movie Major Motoko Kusanagi’s mind and soul are put in a cybernetic body. Once she learns that’s not her actual body, she goes through a journey to find out who she was before that and ends up fighting her “previous body” enemy.
Controversy in Hollywood (shocker)
In January 2015, the casting of the remake was confirmed and it included a lot of white actors for a story set in Japan. This is when Scarlet Johannson is cast as the main role of the film. Through the years celebrities and activists have been pretty vocal about the race issue and giving it more visibility.
Whitewashing is not a new thing, in fact, is as old as the 1930s movies in which Warner Oland played Charlie Chan, and the list goes on, but in a Hollywood where actors are fighting for representation, Ghost in the Shell really ignited the discussion.
The first critic is the fact that there’s basically no Asian actor in the cast, let’s stress the fact that the movie is set in Japan. People are also arguing the fact that the film’s director seemed to want the Japanese aesthetic but without Japanese people.
There’s also the fact that Scarlett’s role, called Major Motoko Kusanagi in the original, is refashioned in the American remake as Mira Killian, and simply goes as the Major. People consider this is simply swapping the whole character’s identity, story and culture and suiting it for their best.
The Website Nerds of Color also pointed out that the stereotypes perpetuated in Hollywood’s movie only offer a limited portrayal of Asian characters. This strikes as low representation on screen, which could be interpreted as if they wouldn’t exist at all, therefore denying them.
Above all, people are arguing that whitewash actually suits this movie, considering we’re talking about a Japanese girl put into a white body. Which happens to every character in the movie, they’re secretly all Japanse people inside a white body.
Arguments of some sort.
On the other hand, the original anime director, Oshii, doesn’t see Johansson casting as whitewashing at all. During an interview, he said, “What issue could there possibly be with casting her? The Major is a cyborg and her physical form is an entirely assumed one. The name ‘Motoko Kusanagi’ and her current body are not her original name and body, so there is no basis for saying that an Asian actress must portray her.”
Oshii also pointed out how he expected the remake to give a different perspective to the original and explained that the body is actually no problem at all. “Even if her original body (presuming such a thing existed) were a Japanese one, that would still apply,” he said.
The movie’s producers and the director have also defended the fact that the movie has a cast from around the world and that they don’t consider the story a specifically and limited Japanese story, “I don’t think it was just a Japanese story. Ghost in the Shell was a very international story, and it wasn’t just focused on Japanese; it was supposed to be an entire world.”
Scarlett Johanson told Marie Claire last February, “I certainly would never presume to play another race of a person. Diversity is important in Hollywood, and I would never want to feel like I was playing a character that was offensive.”
Box office and the discussion.
Ghost in the Shell was premiered on March 31. In Japan, many fans applauded Scarlet as the right choice since they consider her suitable for the role and the movie’s cyberpunk vibe.
In the US the movie has had negative reviews and people seems to restrain from watching it, projections say that the movie might do better in the international audience than at home. The discussion seems to have hit the mainstream hard and to keep the conversation going for a while now.