Saturday, February 18, 2017

Whitewashing Controversy Of "Ghost In The Shell" Resurfaces

Ever since the first still of Ghost In The Shell with Scarlett Johansson was released last year, the film has been subjected to major scrutiny due to the whitewashed casting of Johansson as a Japanese woman. We've heard from the filmmakers about the issue since then but nothing from Johannson herself. Until now that is.

Recently, she gave an interview with Marie Claire where she claimed how she never intended to take the role away from an Asian woman and essentially said how she emphasized feminism over race when taking the role. Here's an exerpt from the interview:

"Diversity is very 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."

Now, I can sort of get where she's coming from. While she's been involved in the Marvel Cinematic Universe as Black Widow, she's not the main lead and she still doesn't have her own solo movie despite proving with Lucy that she can carry a film on her own. So Ghost In The Shell is an opportunity to lead her own franchise. I'm sure that is one reason why she chose to sign on. A woman leading her own franchise is a pretty rare opportunity. But at the same time, an opportunity for an Asian actress to lead her own franchise has never happened and the casting of Scarlett Johansson as the lead in Ghost In The Shell shows how Asians may never get to be the lead in a Hollywood movie unless Hollywood is willing to take a chance.

It also shows how Asians are neglected to the point where they can't even play themselves. It's just like with the casting of Eddie Redmayne as trans woman Lili Elbe in The Danish Girl. When the first still of the film with Redmayne in costume was released, it became an object of controversy and justifiably so. Redmayne being cast shows how trans actors in Hollywood are neglected to the point where they can't even play themselves or be able to tell their own stories.

It's no mystery as to why Scarlett Johansson got cast. She brings a lot of star power and can get a movie made. It's likely the chief reason why they inserted Matt Damon as the lead in The Great Wall. While Damon isn't playing an Asian character, the film still falls under "The Last Samurai" syndrome: A white male as the lead savior in a movie pertaining to Asian culture.

If people like Scarlett Johansson really care about representation and diversity, then they would turn down offers to play roles like these. Yes, it is important to have women in more leading roles. But it is also very important for women of color in more leading roles. If Hidden Figures being the highest grossing Best Picture nominee, with $135m domestically, taught us anything, it's that people want to see stories with women of color at the forefront. Heck, when Hidden Figures opened wide, it bumped out STAR WARS!!!!! And Rogue One: A Star Wars Story was also female-led with a diverse cast.

While I'm not attempting to make Scarlett Johansson a scapegoat for the whitewashing controversy surrounding Hollywood at large, I'm only saying that if actors like her want to see more representation, they should put their money where their mouth is and use their A-list clout to help out diverse talent. Start screenwriting/directing labs for female, minority, and LGBTQ+ filmmakers, produce films with diverse casts, and again, turn down roles intended for ethnic actors.

If the box office receipts of whitewashed films like Exodus: Gods And Kings, Pan, Gods Of Egypt, and Aloha taught us anything, it's that audiences are taking a stand against this practice and films that aren't diverse are really bad for business.

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