Scarlett Johansson Talks “Whitewashing” Ghost In The Shell

Photo: Courtesy Marie Claire.
This year's live-action remake of Masamune Shirow's Ghost in the Shell didn't even have a trailer when it started to stir up controversy. All it took was the announcement of its lead: Scarlett Johansson. In the latest issue of Marie Claire, Johansson addressed claims that the film has been "whitewashed," though she doesn't offer much by way of explanation. For those unfamiliar, Ghost in the Shell is originally a manga, a.k.a. Japanese comic, that was made into a dark, sinister animated feature in 1995. It also received a remake in 2015. This year's upcoming feature, out March 31 and directed by Rupert Sanders, is much more mainstream. After all, it's starring the highest-grossing actress in Hollywood right now. But fans are in an uproar because Johansson's character, the Major (originally called Motoko), has been portrayed as an Asian woman-cyborg hybrid in every iteration of the manga and anime. It's clear to viewers that Johansson's role is based on an Asian look, with everything from kabuki-style makeup during certain sequences to the Major's hair and general aesthetic. It's tough for people — even if they're not familiar with the source material — to separate the general feel of the new movie from its manga roots. "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," Johansson told Marie Claire. "Also, having a franchise with a female protagonist driving it is such a rare opportunity. Certainly, I feel the enormous pressure of that — the weight of such a big property on my shoulders."
This isn't the first film in the past year that's been accused of the practice, either. The Great Wall, starring Matt Damon, has been lobbed with similar criticism. Last year's Marvel spectacular Dr. Strange was met with disdain when Tilda Swinton was cast in a role that's portrayed as Asian in the source material as well. In all three cases, Johansson, Damon, and Swinton have defended their decisions. Damon told the Associated Press, "I didn't take a role away from a Chinese actor [...] it wasn't altered because of me in any way." Swinton explained to Out that "the Ancient One in this film was never written as the bearded old Tibetan man portrayed in the comics." And Johansson is shifting the focus of her role in Ghost in the Shell to highlight the fact that there are so few opportunities for female actors to head a huge film franchise. Pivoting to another issue entirely isn't going to make up for the fact that Asian actors are grossly underrepresented in the entertainment industry. While it's too late to change Ghost in the Shell, Disney's live-action remake of Mulan is still in preproduction. Let's hope we're not having this conversation all over again when that movie hits theaters.

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