Scarlett Johansson, Ghost in the Shell, Motoko Koyanagi, film, movie, manga, anime, whitewashing

“Ghost in the Shell” Shows That Whitewashing Is Alive And Well

Why we’re covering this: Whitewashing is racist bullshit. We didn’t like it in Roland Emmerich’s Stonewall and we don’t like it now. Any excuses to explain it away ignore the larger trends of racism in media.

I’ve been seeing a lot of defenses for the ScarJo casting [in the live-action film adaptation of Ghost in the Shell] that seem to lack a nuanced understanding of a Ghost In The Shell as a story. The manga came out in 1989, the first film 1995; an era when Japan was considered the world leader in technology. Everything hot in that era came out of Japan. Cars, video games, walkmans, all of that. Japan was setting a standard.

This is a country that went from poised to conquer to the Pacific to forcibly disarmed. They poured their resources into their economy.  And as a country that was unable to defend themselves, but was a world leader in tech, it created a relationship to tech that is unique. Ghost In The Shell plays off all of these themes. It is inherently a Japanese story, not a universal one.

— California-based comic-book writer Jon Tsuei writing about the casting of Scarlett Johansson in the lead role of the 2017 live-action film adaptation of Ghost in the Shell, a Japanese manga about a female cyborg tracking down a master hacker known as “The Puppet Master.” The female lead in the manga and anime is named Major Motoko Kusanagi; right now the film has only referred to Johansson’s role as “the Major,” suggesting that she may not retain her Asian identity in the film at all.

Johansson’s casting has revived the conversation about whitewashing in Hollywood films, that is having characters of color played by White actors — hardly surprising considering the overwhelming Whiteness of LGBT and mainstream movies. Ridley Scott’s 2015 film Exodus: Gods faced similar complaints for casting European actors as Middle Eastern and North African characters.

American companies Paramount Pictures and Dreamworks productions will release the 2017 Ghost in the Shell adaptation with Greek-American screenwriter Laeta Kalogridis writing it and English director Rupert Sanders (of Snow White and the Huntsman fame) directing. Thus, Asians and Japanese artists have been sidelined from creating the Japanese tale — and we all know what happens when American companies handle the release of much-beloved Japanese comics.