And The Fangirls DID NOT Rejoice: Scarlett Johansson Cast in live-action Ghost in the Shell

Scar-jo1

According to Variety, Scarlett Johansson is set to take on the lead role in an American live-action adaptation of the popular anime Ghost in the Shell. With the success of Lucy, which made $394 million worldwide, and the popularity of her portrayal of Black Widow in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it’s clear that Johansson is more that capable of tackling the role. But fans are not impressed because the character she’s set to play is Major Matoko Kusanagi, who is, as The Mary Sue pointed out, “kind of unavoidably Japanese”.

Hollywood has a long and unavoidable history of whitewashing any and every character they can, and while they usually get away with it, the tide of popular opinion is definitely turning against the trend. Fangirls have been pretty outspoken about the whitewashing of Tiger Lily in Joe Wright’s upcoming Peter Pan prequel, and the less said about Ridley Scott’s Exodus: Gods and Kings, the better. (I’m also having horrible flashbacks about The Lone Ranger…)

While most fans understand that whitewashing is just something Hollywood does, that doesn’t mean they are simply going to keep accepting it. Especially when it concerns, as Tumblr user fistopher says, “a blonde-haired white woman playing the Japanese cyborg squad leader of Japan’s Section 9 with a stock Japanese body in order to blend into ethnically homogeneous Japan.” And fistopher is not the only one more than a little confused by the decision.

Scarlett Johansson as Major Motoko Kusanagi. Yep… Wonder what her American name is gonna be. – comicbookwomen

All of the articles about Scarlett Johansson being cast as the star of the Ghost in the Shell movie are hilarious because they never say the name of the character she’s playing:

Motoko

Kusanagi. – zandergb

Just read about Scarlett Johansson being cast for Motoko Kusanagi in the Ghost in the Shell movie. How the Hell does it make sense that she is white in Japan with that name? What’s with all this mayonnaise being forced down my throat? – thighlerposey

There’s scenes where Motoko is meeting with Americans and they’re dicks to her because she’s A) a woman and B) Japanese wtf Hollywood #GITS@bleshany

Reason 1; “Yeah sure let’s immediately whitewash the **** out of this gig” #GITS@tinydogsbarking

“Hmm, what beautiful and thoughtfully complex work of art can we google translate into Oblivious White American next?”- hollywood #gits@ppchalker

Kusanagi is Japanese I just-…..Hollywood WHY – @dauntdraws

ScarJo is CLEARLY white and Major Motoko Kusanaigi is CLEARLY Japanese. Hollywood whitewashing still going strong. #GITS@girl_gone_geek

No but seriously, ScarJo, don’t do this, Motoko Kusanagi should be played by a Japanese actress period, FFS #gits@MarieMJS

It’s even worse when fangirls are forced to recognize that if they don’t go see this movie, its failure will be used as another excuse to avoid female lead action films – but if they do go see it, Hollywood will keep on justifying whitewashing. It doesn’t matter how many ways they try to justify it, whether it’s within the text (“she’s a cyborg, she can look however she wants”) or via interviews (they needed a bankable star to get funding), the implications of this decision are not good.

Author: Undie Girl

Undie Girl (aka Von) has a BA (Hons) Major in Cultural Studies. The title of her honours thesis was “It’s just gay and porn”: Power, Identity and the Fangirl’s Gaze. She’s currently pursuing a Masters of Media Practice at University of Sydney. Von’s a former contributor The Backlot’s column The Shipping News and a current co-host of The Geekiary’s monthly webcast FEELINGS… with The Geekiary.


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About the author

Undie Girl (aka Von) has a BA (Hons) Major in Cultural Studies. The title of her honours thesis was “It’s just gay and porn”: Power, Identity and the Fangirl’s Gaze. She’s currently pursuing a Masters of Media Practice at University of Sydney. Von’s a former contributor The Backlot’s column The Shipping News and a current co-host of The Geekiary’s monthly webcast FEELINGS… with The Geekiary.

Comments

  1. I can think of a few fanboys that might have some opinions on this subject, too. The series is wildly popular in many circles.

    Like you said, a movie like this needs a big star behind it. ScarJo will help show that YES a female lead can make money. You could look into that more or just gloss over it.

    The movie still opens up several supporting roles for Asian actors and even other POC. Besides, I know a few people that would be upset if they were to cast a popular Chinese or Korean actress in a Japanese role, while others would be happy to see any Asian in the role. You’re never going to make everyone happy.

    It’s the future, some sort of Neo-Tokyork (which would make a good setting for the American Akira, too), keep lots of Japanese (or Asian/Asian-American) actors in leading and supporting roles, round it out with some white folks and maybe a Hispanic or two, and one really gruff black guy. Is Forest Whitaker busy?

    1. This is part of a series called “And The Fangirls Rejoiced” so I’m pretty sure it wasn’t intended to slight fanboys from the discussion.

      That said, there are so few POC roles out there, why take one away and give it to a white actor? It should have been a Japanese actress. That would have pleased most people in these hypothetical scenarios. And supporting roles are very very different from lead roles.

      1. Why take one away and give it to a white actor? Because it’s Scarlett Johansson.

        If you can name one Japanese/Japanese-American actress that can guarantee butts in seats internationally and a number one opening then I will eat my hat. The movie is going to make millions on her name alone.

        I know that there are plenty of amazing Asian actresses that would totally OWN the role, but integrity comes at a price in Hollywood. You want to make an amazingly deep and interesting manga to film adaptation, cast someone like Rinko Kikuchi or Devon Aoki. It’ll be the scifi indie hit of the straight to streaming market. If you want to make a summer blockbuster, cast ScarJo.

        An all or nothing scenario kills the box office, kills the marketability of female leads, and makes it look like minority led films don’t make money. Of course there’s a possibility of success, but no modern Hollywood producer is taking a risk like that. This ain’t a movie, this is making movies. A compromise, unfortunately, casts a white woman in the lead instead of a Japanese woman. But it still opens many other opportunities.

        I hate “white-washing”, but I’m also trying to be realistic.

        1. Why the quotes around “white-washing” though? No need for scare quotes. It’s a real thing. And as realistic as it is to want to attach big names to something, that doesn’t make it right to white wash characters. At all. That’s the problem. We’re going to have predominately white EVERYTHING unless we can get past this extraordinarily poor excuse.

          1. It’s not a poor excuse. It’s a sad reality.

            As for whitewashing; I know whitewashing is real. I don’t use that epxpression regularly in type speech so when I typed it my fingers just kinda put quotes around it. (Damn fingers.) Look at the Last Airbender Race-bending fiasco. Or Keanu Reeves role in 47 Ronin being turned from a supporting character into a lead and destroying the story. It’s real.

            But like I said, of the two scenarios I said one of the outcomes is very likely. Which one would you prefer? Neither decision is going to get 100% of the results or representations that the other gets. The closest we’ll get to a compromise is other leading roles in the movie using Asian actors.

            Once the rest of the cast is revealed, then we can really start examining it with a microscope.

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