For a film that hasn’t even been released yet - a movie slated for a March 2017 premiere - Rupert Sanders’ big-screen adaption of Masamune Shirow's anime/manga, Ghost in the Shell, has ruffle quite a few feathers. The movie has been beset by accusations of whitewashing and cultural appropriation ever since the Paramount Pictures film cast Black Widow herself, Scarlett Johansson. To the dismay and disapproval of many filmgoers and die-hard Ghost in the Shell fans, Johansson was signed to take on the role of Major Motoko Kusanagi - the cyborg star of Shirow’s popular series.
Such was the level of outrage following Johansson’s casting, a petition was launched by fans against the film - a petition which British newspaper, The Guardian, reports has since been signed by over 65,000 supporters. The situation didn't improve for the project when Paramount and DreamWorks released the first image of Johansson as The Major, either.
Incensed by the decision to overlook the many qualified Asian performers available for the role - a character portrayed and regarded as decidedly Japanese - many took to social media to decry the casting choices on Ghost in the Shell, particularly after rumors emerged claiming that effects tests were run to make Johansson "look more Asian" (reports that Paramount and DreamWorks have denied). Constance Wu, star of ABC’s Fresh Off the Boat, tweeted, “It’s like way to reduce race to mere (physical) appearance as opposed to say culture, social experience, identity, history”; with Ming-Na Wen, of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., adding, “Nothing against Scarlett Johansson. In fact, I’m a big fan. But everything against this Whitewashing of Asian role.”
One of the Ghost in the Shell manga's publishers has since defended the casting of Johansson - and now, so has Steven Paul (a producer working on the movie), asserting in an interview with BuzzFeed News that fans of the beloved property will be pleasantly surprised and pleased with the film. Speaking up for Sanders’ live-action adaptation, Paul said:
“I think everybody is going to end up being really happy with it. They’re going to be very, very happy with it when they see what we’ve actually done with it, and I don’t think anybody’s going to be disappointed.”
Shedding more light on the project, the producer also clarified some points of contention, confirming Johansson’s character will simply be referred to as “The Major”, before going on to reveal that the contentious silver-screen version of Ghost in the Shell will be set in an “international world”; as opposed to the original, which takes place in Niihama, Niihama Prefecture - a fictional Japanese city. Addressing the whitewashing backlash, Paul added:
“There [are] all sorts of people and nationalities in the world in Ghost in the Shell. We’re utilizing people from all over the world. … There’s Japanese in it. There’s Chinese in it. There’s English in it. There’s Americans in it.”
Keen to stress the universal appeal and nature of the film’s source material, Paul - an avid manga fan - also reiterated his view that Shirow’s Ghost in the Shell was not only a Japanese story, but an “international” one, contending the Japanese author’s classic anime was meant to encompass and reflect “an entire world.”
Just how well Paul’s words will be received remains to be seen. The producer’s allusions to a more cosmopolitan and internationally-minded film - as opposed to an ethnocentric Japanese one - is not likely to appease fans who are eager for greater representation of minorities and people of colour (actors and actresses of Asian descent in particular) on the big and small screen. With Paul confirming he is hard at work on a remake of Lone Wolf and Cub too, we can expect to hear more from the producer and the rest of Hollywood on tinseltown’s whitewashing problem and attitude towards diversity in casting/hiring.
Ghost in the Shell will open in U.S. theaters on March 31st, 2017.
Source: BuzzFeed News