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Ghost in the Shell: The Whitewashing Row

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By Charlie Jordin 

Hollywood is no stranger to whitewashing. This year Rooney Mara was cast as a Native American in Pan, Emma Stone played a half-Chinese, half-Hawaiian woman in Aloha and the majority of the cast of Gods of Egypt are white. Recently the trailer for Marvel’s Doctor Strange was released sparking questions over casting Tilda Swindon as the Ancient One, an Asian character.

Dreamworks’ latest announcement has caused further furore on the internet. Ghost in the Shell, an adaptation of the Japanese anime film, is set to be released next year. The story is set in Japan with Japanese characters, yet the majority of the cast is white. Scarlet Johansson is cast as Motoko Kusanagi, the main character. This week it was announced that Dreamworks has been using CGI to make Johansson appear ‘more Asian’, igniting frustration and anger. It also prompted many to question why they would go through all this trouble and criticism when they could have simply cast a Japanese actress to play the Japanese lead.

Ghost in the Shell was released in 1995 and is hailed as an icon in Japanese animation. Adapted from a manga series, the film is set in a futuristic Japan, exploring the effect technology has had on Japanese society and individual identities. The film has had a huge cultural impact on Japan and has become a huge franchise. Everything about the franchise encapsulates modern Japan and its social issues. A Western adaptation with a white cast is seen by many as particularly short-sighted and obnoxious.

Scarlet Johansson is no stranger to controversy with regards to the representation of Asians. One of her most recent films, Lucy, was panned for its offensive representation of Asians; in one scene Johansson’s character point blank shoots an Asian taxi driver for not being able to speak English. There were also multiple translation issues throughout the film reflecting the lack of integrity given to the Asian characters. Lost in Translation, perhaps one of her most famous films, was also highly criticised for its portrayal of the Japanese as clowns rather than three-dimensional characters. Margot Robbie was also in talks for the lead in Ghost in the Shell, which disturbingly suggests that they never actually considered an Asian woman for the role.

In 2014 only 5.3% of actors on screen were Asian. With the huge array of talented Asian actresses and actors, how can the film industry continue to whitewash and perpetuate racism amidst so much criticism and controversy? Hollywood believes that only big names attract audiences, so the only way to change the status-quo is to hit the industry where it hurts- their profits. Many are boycotting the film and calling others to join in their protest.

Charlie is a second year Film and Media student who loves old films and 90’s TV shows. You can follow her on Twitter here.

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