Ghost in the Shell has paid dearly for its casting of Scarlett Johansson in a role that was originally meant for a Japanese woman. Though the character Major is a robot, the original manga and anime both used a Japanese character for the role. To make matters worse, the entire film leads up to the revelation that Johansson's character indeed is Japanese. That's pretty ridiculous, and has led to widespread ridicule.
Just yesterday, a group of Japanese actresses panned the casting choice in a roundtable hosted by The Hollywood Reporter. There have, of course, been memes. Seemingly the only person interested in still defending the choice is the director of the original Ghost adaptation. He has a point, the robot is not a race. But the original character clearly looked Japanese. People have voiced their displeasure both in the form of negative reviews and with just staying home. The movie made only $19 million in its opening weekend against a $100 million budget. That's not even including marketing, which must have cost millions more.
Paramount domestic distribution chief Kyle Davies says that casting Johansson in the role maybe sort of hurt them with reviews.
“We had hopes for better results domestically. I think the conversation regarding casting impacted the reviews,” Davies told CBC News. He added that, “You’ve got a movie that is very important to the fanboys since it’s based on a Japanese anime movie. So you’re always trying to thread that needle between honoring the source material and make a movie for a mass audience. That’s challenging, but clearly the reviews didn’t help.”
That, friends, is as close as you'll ever come to seeing a studio executive admit publicly that they made a misjudgment. Look, none of the people involved in Ghost are bad people (probably). The casting choice was tone deaf in the way that many others have been throughout the history of cinema. But we're in a cultural moment that prizes identity above all else and using a white actress when a Japanese one was appropriate was making the wrong bet. Johansson is a great performer and a seemingly conscious one, but she was playing from behind from the start. Maybe now studios will get the message not to change characters' races at random, especially when a large and rabid fanbase is watching.