After the furore surrounding the Oscars, allegations of Hollywood’s institutional racism has once again reared its head as DreamWorks have been accused of whitewashing in the upcoming Ghost in the Shell remake.
Admittedly, I would like to see an Asian play the role of Major Motoko Kusanagi mainly so that audiences can have a bridge in between the remake and the original. I have also retweeted some of the criticisms of Scarlett Johansson’s casting in the role but at the moment it seems like there is no conversation going on, only accusations of racism.
Scarlett Johansson has been on a bit of a hot-streak in her portrayals of action characters (Black Widow, who I actually wanted to be portrayed as Russian) and in her portrayals of “non-humans” in Her and Under the Skin, so it makes sense for her to be cast as the role of a cyborg that frequently questions its own existentialism.
We don’t even know where this version of Ghost in the Shell is even going to take place. By having the film set in North America and by slapping the word remake over promotional material DreamWorks has its get-out-of-jail free card. If the remake is set in North America, do DreamWorks really have an obligation to cast an Asian as Major Kusanagi?
At the moment we do not know enough about this remake to call racism on it. At the moment all we can really accuse Dreamworks of is casting Scarlett Johansson purely on the basis that she is money in the bank.
I’m more annoyed at the lack of originality in remaking what is already a decent film for an audience that refuses to read subtitles. Ghost in the Shell is regularly praised for withstanding the test of time, the animation still holds up and the themes of existentialism and technological advances are still very much relevant today.
That being said, I can understand why Asian-American actors such as Ming-Na Wen are annoyed by this casting. Ghost in the Shell is a staple of Asian cinema/culture and ideally the remake needs to respect that, and ultimately this could have been a big money, breakout role for an Asian actor in what is a predominantly white industry.
The role of Major Kusanagi would have been perfect to break the trope of Asian sidekick (in some cases the over-the-top Asian sidekick). Major Kusanagi does have the potential to break that trope and give American audiences a non-sexualised, strong female lead which is something that the 1996 movie is routinely praised for.
All we really have a screenshot of Scarlett Johansson staring out of a window with black hair, so it would be unproductive to petition to have her removed from the film on the accusation that DreamWorks are racist.
However it’s not the first time that Hollywood has been accused of whitewashing, The Last Airbender and Dragonball Evolution also cast white actors in what probably should have been an Asian role. Cameron Crowe also dropped the ball by casting Emma Stone as a Polynesian in the film Aloha.
All of those movies tanked at the cinema, which probably helped the issue go away, but it is a worrying trend for those in Hollywood, such as Ming-Na Wen and Karen Fukuhara, who could possibly be denied work because of Hollywood playing it safe and going for the bankable star who happens to be white.
Whitewashing is absolutely an issue in Hollywood, with the Prince of Persia movie being a stand-out movie not only because a prince of Persia was played by Jake Gyllenhaal but because it is a whitewashed film that I really enjoy.
Ghost in the Shell should probably have an Asian lead like the Prince of Persia should probably have had a Middle Eastern core, but at the same time I would absolutely be happy for Idris Elba to play James Bond.
Prince of Persia gave Gyllenhaal’s character an identity that he could make his own by giving the Prince a name. In the games, the prince is never referred to by name. Ghost in the Shell ideally needs to give Johansson’s version of Major Kusanagi her own identity and nuance, and seeing as the character is a cyborg, it shouldn’t be that difficult to do.
Ghost in the Shell is not going anywhere and I cannot see Scarlett Johansson leaving the role any time soon. Twitter is a great way for us to have this conversation and for us to make our feelings known to anyone within Hollywood that is willing to read, but ultimately the film industry revolves around money.
The conversation is healthy, but the best way to show your opinion is with your bank account.
At the moment I’m not interested in the upcoming film for the same reason I ignored Spike Lee’s remake of the Korean vengeance movie Oldboy: