There has been more open discussion in Hollywood about equality in the last few years. Female actors are talking about wage inequality. Female directors, writers, and producers have been speaking about the challenges they face, as have people of color in the same positions. The #OscarsSoWhite controversy drew attention to the limited numbers of roles for actors of color. And the Hollywood practice of ‘whitewashing’ is starting to be called out.
Whitewashing is a slang term for taking a character who is supposed to be a specific non-Caucasian ethnicity, either due story elements, them being based on a real person, or their existence in a pre-existing media, such as a book or video game, and casting a white actor in the role. Recent examples have included Emma Stone playing an Asian American woman in Aloha, Johnny Depp as the Native American Tonto in The Lone Ranger, and Maika Monroe as the Asian and Apache Ringer in The 5th Wave. Even though this practice is being called out more and more, it seems to continue happening.
The latest example of whitewashing controversy has been the casting of Scarlett Johansson as Major Motoko Kusanagi in Ghost in the Shell. Based on the Japanese franchise, Ghost in the Shell started as a manga, and since then has also been a series of animated movies, several TV shows, and a few video games. Major Kusanagi has always been portrayed as Asian. Until Johansson was cast in the role, that is. Her casting has been a topic of conversation for months. And in a recent interview with Marie Claire, Johansson spoke about the controversy:
“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.”
That quote does not exactly explain why she felt Kusanagi was appropriate to play. Perhaps because the character is actually a cyborg she is not thinking in terms of ethnicity. After all, a machine doesn’t truly have an ethnic background. However, the main argument against whitewashing is that it takes opportunities away from actors who do not have as many available roles as white actors do.
The film’s director, Rupert Sanders, has also spoken about the choice to cast Johansson, citing her talent and body of work as the reason she was the right person for the role in his opinion. Sam Yoshiba, Director of International Business for the manga’s publisher Kodansha, also supported the casting choice. Regardless of what the individuals say in regard to Johansson being cast in the role, the decision will continue to be controversial and that will likely increase as the film approaches its release date.
Source: Marie Claire