Exclusive: ‘Ghost in the Shell’ Producers Reportedly Tested Visual Effects That Would Make White Actors Appear Asian
Back in late 2015 when Scarlett Johansson was cast in Paramount Pictures and DreamWorks’ live-action adaptation of Masamune Shirow’s manga series The Ghost in the Shell, fans were already critical of the casting of the Danish-Polish actress in the role of Major Motoko Kusanagi, an Asian woman. It was the latest example of the long Hollywood tradition of “whitewashing,” the practice of casting white actors in non-white roles. Recent films have been criticized for casting Emma Stone as a half-Chinese/half-Hawaiian woman (Aloha), Rooney Mara as a Native American (Pan) and the entire caucasian cast of Gods of Egypt playing Egyptians. And that was just in 2015.
Yesterday, as the first photo of Johansson in Ghost in the Shell (her character is now simply referred to as “Major”) was released, the controversy was renewed. Despite a predominately Asian cast, many questioned why the studio didn’t choose an ethnically appropriate actor as the film’s lead. Chinese-American actress Ming-Na Wen (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.) had strong words for Johansson’s casting on Twitter.
After the backlash surrounding Johansson’s role in the film, producers reportedly attempted to quell the controversy with an old standby Hollywood uses to fix a lot of problems: CGI.
According to multiple independent sources close to the project, Paramount and DreamWorks commissioned visual effects tests that would’ve altered Scarlett Johansson in post-production to “shift her ethnicity” and make the Caucasian actress appear more Asian in the film.
It’s the latest, and most extreme, case of “beauty work,” the new trend in Hollywood to discreetly use visual effects to tweak an actor’s appearance, making them thinner, younger or stronger. The Ghost in the Shell tests were conducted by Lola VFX, the same company that aged up (and down) Brad Pitt in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and is considered the industry leader in so-called beauty work. Though the tests were requested by the production team, once they were developed and reviewed, the idea was rejected “immediately,” says an insider.
We reached out to Paramount Pictures who acknowledged the tests, but refute the claim that Johansson was involved:
A test was done related to a specific scene for a background actor which was ultimately discarded. Absolutely no visual effects tests were conducted on Scarlett’s character and we have no future plans to do so.
Our sources maintain Johansson’s character was specifically the focus of these tests, though they were done without her participation or knowledge.
A representative for Lola VFX did not respond to requests for comment.
[UPDATE 4/18/16: Thomas Nittmann, VFX Producer and Managing Partner at Lola VFX told us an in an e-mail, “Lola was not / has not been contracted to do VFX work on the film Ghost in the Shell.”]
Ghost in the Shell opens in theaters on March 31, 2017.
[UPDATE: An earlier headline specifically mentioned actress Scarlett Johansson. Despite Paramount’s denial, we stand by the assertion that visual effects tests were performed on Ms. Johansson’s character and likeness.]