Amid accusations of whitewashing, DreamWorks Studios has been asked to reconsider their decision to cast Scarlett Johansson as Major Motoko Kusanagi in their live-action remake of Mamoru Oshii's 1995 anime masterpiece, Ghost in the Shell.
Fans have cried foul over the 'race-bending' casting choice, after the movie studio approached Johansson - a white American actress - to play the role of Japanese counterterrorism taskforce leader, Major Motoko Kusanagi.
"Stop Whitewashing Asian Characters!"
A petition designed to convince DreamWorks to reconsider their decision has reached 31,837 signatures; just shy of its 32,000 goal.
Fans of the original movie seem perplexed as to why Johansson has been selected to play a Japanese character in an originally Japanese film, and are angered by the ongoing subjugation of minority actors in Hollywood. A similar uproar was provoked late last year after Ridley Scott was accused of mis-casting caucasian actors in Exodus: Gods and Kings - an historical film set in Egypt.
The petition plea reads:
The original film is set in Japan, and the major cast members are Japanese. So why would the American remake star a white actress? The industry is already unfriendly to Asian actors without roles in major films being changed to exclude them. One recent survey found that in 2013, Asian characters made up only 4.4% of speaking roles in top-grossing Hollywood films.
Defenders of the casting choice stress the financial inviability of a film that can't boast mainstream star appeal, thus explaining the inclusion of a highly recognizable actress instead of a lesser known, more race-appropriate one.
After all, the large audience base a name like Johansson will attract means the project is less likely to become a box-office flop (her recent film Lucy made more than 10 times its budget back despite receiving middling reviews).
If Not Johansson, Then Who?
So, the petition is gaining traction. Let's assume for a moment that DreamWorks does rescind their casting decision - what then?
While I understand the business motivations behind casting an A-list Hollywood star, I find it hard to believe that an Asian leading lady and financial success are mutually exclusive concepts. Even if there is an endemic industry problem concerning the lack of representation for race-minorities (and let's face it, there probably is), I'd like to think that movie studios are taking productive actions to combat the issue, rather than re-enforcing it.
As the petition reads:
Dreamworks could be using this film to help provide opportunities for Asian-American actors in a market with few opportunities for them to shine.
So, to prove that you really can have your race-appropriate cake and eat it, let's take a look at 3 potential candidates who are more than capable of filling Motoko Kusanagi's cyborg shoes.
Option 1: Rinko Kikuchi
Appeared in: 47 Ronin, Babel, Pacific Rim.
As the first Japanese actress to be nominated for an Academy Award in over 50 years, Kikuchi would be the prime choice for a role like this. The immensely talented 34-year-old stunned audiences in Babel playing deaf-mute teenager Chieko Wataya, and more recently starred in Guillermo del Toro's raucous robot romp, Pacific Rim.
She has Hollywood appeal, she's the perfect age and is more than capable of taking on a challenging performance. Oh yeah, and she's actually Japanese.
Option 2: Chiaki Kuriyama
Appeared in: Battle Royale, Kill Bill.
You might well recognize Kuriyama as the psychotic mace-weilding school girl from Quentin Tarantino's bloody bridal revenge flick, Kill Bill: Volume 1.
The young actress also starred in Kinji Fukasaku's Hunger Games-esque cult classic, Battle Royale. Kuriyama totally has the Major's look down and would be absolutely ace in a Ghost in the Shell remake!
Option 3: Meiling Melançon
Appeared in: X-Men: The Last Stand, Rush Hour 2.
Quite the multi-talented individual, Melançon is an American actress, writer, director and producer, and is of Japenese descent.
She starred as the mutant super heroine Psylocke in X-Men: The Last Stand and would be comfortable pulling off some high-octane stunts in Ghost in the Shell, having trained in Kung-Fu since a young age.
Who do you think should be cast as Motoko Kusanagi? Was DreamWorks right to go with Johansson, or should they reconsider their decision?
If you're so inclined, the petition can be signed HERE.
Ghost in the Shell is scheduled for release on April 14, 2017.