#GhostintheShell is finally coming to theaters on March 31, 2017 after a convoluted development process that spanned almost ten years. Unfortunately, it started dealing with controversy almost as soon as everything began to fall into place.
When #ScarlettJohansson was announced as Motoko Kusanagi (a.k.a The Major), people were outraged by the race-swapping of such an iconic character, calling it another example of whitewashing and a dismissal of Asian representation in Western culture. The situation even prompted a popular petition to replace Johansson in the film.
During the film's trailer launch, the director even had to defend Johansson's casting, stating:
"I think whenever you cast someone, someone's going to be critical of it. To me, I stand by my decision. She's the best actress of her generation, and I was flattered and honored that she would be in this film. So many people that were around the original anime have been vehemently in support of her because she's incredible, and there are very few people like her."
Now, during an interview with Playboy, the actress finally gave us an in-depth explanation of why she feels her casting should not be as controversial as it's been so far:
"I think the conversation about diversity in Hollywood is an important one and one that we should be having. My character has the unique experience of being a person whose human brain has been put into what was essentially a synthetic robotic body. I guess I always thought the character was a universal one, in the sense that she has no identity, and the heart of this story is her search for an identity."
She continued with this interesting statement:
"I hope that whatever questions people have about my casting in this film will be answered by actually seeing the movie. It’s hard to say, because you haven’t seen the movie yet, and there’s a part of it that I don’t want to talk about because it’s the turning point of the movie, but I think it answers the question for the audience as to who I am, who I was and what my true identity is, and it has nothing to do with how my character looks or how you see me."
So does this mean there's an explanation in the film for Major not being Asian? Like Scarlett said, we'll have to watch the film to find out, but it does seem to mean that. And it highlights a big problem with representation in films. After all, an in-story excuse was created for the character not being Japanese.
Now, this is certainly a much more detailed explanation than the one we recently got. During an interview for Marie Claire, Scarlett opened up about the pressure that comes with carrying a female-led franchise, with the weight of a racial controversy on top of it:
"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. 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."
The thing here is that the character itself didn't offend people; the casting choice did. It was the big missed opportunity to finally put Asian actors in the spotlight that disappointed fans. Therefore, the frustration that comes with it for what it represents for Asian culture is completely understandable, especially with a franchise as important as Ghost in the Shell. And her latest comment for Playboy highlights that concern. Like RUNLOVEKILL author Jon Tsuei explained:
"You can 'Westernize' the story if you want, but at that point it is no longer 'Ghost In The Shell' because the story is simply not Western. Understand that media from Asia holds a dear place in the hearts of many Asians in the west, simply because western media doesn't show us."
Asian actors need more representation in Hollywood, and it would have been a good move to cast them in a story stemming completely from Japanese culture. It's understandable that Johansson has been trying to be diplomatic, and she's not wrong that there aren't enough female-led franchises out there. But in turning it into a feminist issue (during her interview for Marie Claire) rather than one of ethnic representation, she skirts the point of whitewashing entirely and fails to address the most obvious thing: An Asian actress could have just as easily played the role and fulfilled both representation for women and her culture.
- The 'Ghost In The Shell' Super Bowl Trailer Revealed Some Intriguing Details
- Warner Bros. Prepares To 'Attack' Titan With Live-Action Hollywood Movie
- 6 Must-See Anime If You're A 'Ghost in the Shell' Fan
Now, given that the film is about to hit theaters, there's obviously not much that can be done in regard to using it as an example for future manga- and Asian culture-inspired films. But hopefully, it will be a template for upcoming adaptations - like Attack on Titan - to have their roots treated with more respect.