Scarlett Johansson Sorta Gets That ‘Ghost in the Shell’ Whitewashing Thing, But Not Really
Two movies steeped in the very same kind of controversy are about to hit theaters: The Great Wall, whose casting of Matt Damon in the lead role of a movie ostensibly about a fantastical spin on Chinese history is laughable at best, and Ghost in the Shell, which cast Scarlett Johansson in a role that is, for all intents and purposes, a Japanese woman. Well, robot-woman. Both sets of actors from both films have tried their best to find ways around this whitewashing issue, with many involved in The Great Wall calling it a “cross-cultural” story of “an outsider.” Johansson recently addressed accusations of whitewashing leveled at her own movie, and unfortunately she doesn’t really get it.
While speaking to Marie Clare for the upcoming March issue, she defended her casting, citing issues of feminism in Hollywood as the main factor in her decision to take on the role.
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 main character of the original Ghost in the Shell is an android named Major Motoko Kusanagi, which should be a clue all on its own that she’s Japanese. But the live-action movie seems to have ditched the first and last name, and is simply calling Johansson’s character “Major.” (Interestingly, the official art book seems to show that the name was changed altogether to whiter-sounding “Mira Killian,” but all of the promotional material still has her listed as just “Major.”)
The issue here, and what Johanssen doesn’t seem to understand, is that while there is certainly a dearth in properties driven by female characters, most of those properties — The Hunger Games, Resident Evil, Underworld, the new Star Wars trilogy off the top of my head — are lead by white women. A franchise with a nonwhite female protagonist is an even rarer opportunity, and if we’re talking feminism here, wouldn’t it have been even more feminist to have cast a Japanese actress in the part? Yes, Johanssen’s name and likeness has a certain action movie cachet, but Paramount squandered a great opportunity for inclusivity in this case.
Ghost in the Shell opens March 31.