The long-awaited live-action adaption of the iconic 1995 animated Ghost in the Shell is at last in the works, with a release date set at April 14, 2017. Fans of the beloved anime and manga franchise have long clamored for a big-budget Hollywood reimagining, but many were not so pleased at DreamWorks Picture’s casting decision: Scarlett Johansson has been confirmed as the lead, Major Motoko Kusanagi in the 1995 version, a cyborg cop pitted against a treacherous hacker.
Given Johansson’s recent sci fi film credits, from Her to Lucy to Under the Skin, along with her role in the Marvel Universe as action hero Black Widow, her casting may have seemed like an easy call for DreamWorks. Several online petitions, however, have been launched, urging DreamWorks to reconsider their choice and cast an Asian or Asian-American actress instead.
One such petition 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.”
Public outcry against the whitewashing of Asian (and many other) narratives is not a new thing: similar reactions surfaced in response to M. Night Syamalan’s casting of Avatar: The Last Airbender, when he slotted white actors in all but the protagonist’s part, despite the anime source material featuring primarily Asian and Inuit characters. Cries of Hollywood whitewashing were also raised over Tom Cruise’s role in Edge of Tomorrow, which was based on a Japanese novel. Big Hero 6, 47 Ronin, and The Last Samuri have all likewise drawn fire for the diminishment and erasure of Asian and Asian-American leading roles, not to mention Christian Bale’s lead role as an Egyptian prince in the recent Exodus, among so many others.
The most prominent of the Ghost in the Shell anti-whitewashing petitions has more than 30,000 signatures so far. While it seems a reach to think that an online movement will stir DreamWorks’ ideas on the subject, let alone spur them to recast the film, battling for fairer and more authentic representation in our media is important. People of color are already underrepresented in blockbuster films, without the added obstacle of whitewashing source material. Check out these numbers:
The public outcry, then, is not about Johansson. She would/will probably do very well in the role, and the movie will likely be fun. It’s about, instead, the value of diversity and representation in our media, and reconditioning Hollywood to understand that stories featuring a diverse and varied spectrum of characters are important. Fan recasting of Johansson’s part has pointed to Pacific Rim’s Rinko Kikuchi, among others, to star.
Interestingly, and perhaps partly because of the differences in fan base, the outcry for the whitewashing of Tiger Lily in Pan has not been nearly so vocal.