Debate about “whitewashing” in Hollywood is nothing new. In fact, claims around the practice have been around for a long time, with Katharine Hepburn’s casting in Dragon Seed in the 1940s a good, and controversial, early example of how the movie world in the West has created its own versions of Asian movies.
After the 2016 Oscars controversy, it seemed as though the crisis had reached its peak, and sure enough, the 2017 Oscars represented a far more accurate reflection of society. This year’s remake of the Japanese anime classic Ghost in the Shell has, however, started up the debate all over again, with the film’s lead actor Scarlett Johansson and director Rupert Sanders both questioned about why this very Asian-influenced film has been turned into a white-centric movie suitable for Western movie appetites.
Fuss Geographically Contained?
The Asian Times hasn’t held back in documenting the controversy that has plagued the “whitewashing” of Asian films, highlighting, for instance, the rather crass decision to cast Matt Damon as the saviour of the orient in the flop The Great Wall, but it appears that the decision to cast Scarlett Johansson in Ghost in the Shell, a film that should perhaps be celebrating Japan and Japanese actors, has been met with far more derision in Hollywood than in Asia.
— DOLPHNSIX USA 🇺🇸 (@dolphnsix) 17 November 2016
In fact, instead of the expected derision, boycotting, and perhaps even an angry hashtag or two on Twitter to bemoan the remake of the Asian classic, it appears as though the majority of Japanese film fans have responded with surprise at the outrage in the West. It may well be the case that the reverse “racebending” that has taken place in Japan with the use of Japanese actors to replace Caucasian characters in remakes has entirely normalized the process, with no need for creating controversy where none really exists.
Are Critics Missing the Point?
If you simply focused on the furor surrounding the film without looking into it, you might have assumed Johansson was making a terrible career choice, whilst in the process denying a talented Asian actress the chance to take on a leading role in a blockbuster. What this criticism misses, though, is the fact that the film is about a character called “Major” Motoko Kusanagi, a cyborg, not a human.
— Ghost In The Shell (@GhostInShell) 9 March 2017
Not everyone has been blind to this, with Forbes magazine arguing that Scarlett Johansson is the perfect actress for the role. The debate will, however, no doubt continue for some time, which is a shame as it detracts from some of the important themes and concepts in the film, which is set in post-nuclear war Japan.
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Success the Overriding Factor?
Of course, the most important measure of success for any movie comes down to whether it’s a box office hit and whether the actors end up winning at all during awards season. Take the – albeit rather ridiculous – gay scene furor surrounding the 2017 remake of Beauty and the Beast (speaking of which, 888poker’s odds for the world to end courtesy of a giant monster are akin to a 30p bet turning into a £500,000 accumulator win!).
This debate didn’t do the film any harm, with around $170 million brought in on its opening weekend. It therefore remains to be seen whether Ghost in the Shell goes down as a hit or a miss, despite all of the early controversy surrounding the release.