The spectre of whitewashing haunts Ghost in the shell


By James Field

The silhouette of a spandex clad woman, bob hair lightly blowing in the breeze of the city night, stands on the edge of a drop. 100 metres from the busy streets below, a gun in each hand, Major Motoko Kusanagi slowly leans out into the night. Just as she’s about to fall, the glow of the Tokyo streets below lights up her face and we see the steely determi… wait… is that… Scarlett Johanson?

The trailer for the upcoming live action Hollywood remake of the much loved Ghost in the Shell series will probably be no real surprise to anyone. But perhaps it should be.

We’ve all become accustomed to Hollywood appropriating the work of other cultures whilst casting box office friendly actors, somewhat pastier than the source material requires.

Japanese anime and manga is no exception, the god awful remake of Avatar: The last Airbender staring a shaved headed Noah Ringer as Aang, is still seared by the sheer force of its dreadfulness onto my retinas.

This brings us to the upcoming release of Paramount Pictures’ Ghost in the shell. Based on the manga and anime series of the same name from late 80s and 90s Japan, that famously inspired the Wachowski’s to dream up The Matrix.

However, here enough adaptation from the original allows for a pale faced Keeanu to be our monotone flying cyber hero without raising any eyebrows, other than those raised in confusion at the climax of the third instalment.

2017’s Ghost in the Shell has no such excuse. Like Liam Neeson’s Ra’s al Ghul, Tilda Swinton’s Ancient One and pretty much every character in 2016’s Gods of Egypt, to name just a few recent examples, Hollywood’s faith in the source material and the audience didn’t extent to casting a Japanese actress in the lead role of Major Motoko Kusanagi.

One more time that’s Major Motoko Kusanagi.

Instead they’ve predictably gone for the box office, Marvel arse kicking action star and FHM magazine’s sexiest woman in the world 2006 Scarlett Johanson. Whose only connection to Japan seems to be that time Bill Murray whispered something in her ear there once.

In her defence Johanson recently told Marie Claire in response to allegations of whitewashing, “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…Having a franchise with a female protagonist driving it is such a rare opportunity,”

Unfortunately for Scarlett, while this seems a sincere sentiment, it is also exactly what she is doing, and a brief google search of “Scarlett Johanson whitewashing” finds many a fan of the original anime unappeased by her pleas of innocence.

For my part I will reserve judgement on the merits of Rupert Sander’s film until I’ve watched it, but in a time when Hollywood is attempting to claim the moral high ground in the US perhaps it’s also time they had more faith in their audience and a bit more imagination in their casting.

As Major Motoko Kusanagi says, “If we all reacted the same way, we’d be predictable, and there’s always more than one way to view a situation.”



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