We’ve seen it before, in Dragonball, in The Last Airbender. Now we may be seeing it again with the forthcoming Ghost in the Shell live-action adaptation. Today we learned that Scarlett Johansson is playing the lead in the new film from the director of Snow White and the Huntsman. Which probably means we’re closer to the real Ghost in the Shell adaptation than ever before. If successful, this could open a door.
I’d love to see more anime stories on Hollywood silver screens. There’s a lot of good material out there, and it’s a hell of a lot more diverse anyway than superhero mythos and YA novels.
Diverse, you say? But the whiteness. They’re calling the casting of Scarlett Johansson ‘whitewashing,’ but it’s more complicated than that.
Look, I don’t want to speak out of turn (because I… haven’t already?), but I want to be honest for a second. I dream for myself a beautiful Hollywood future, of drugs and sports cars and gambling some suit’s money on the next Star Wars and drugs and murder, and so as an aspiring science-fiction writer, I’ve thought about a prospective career.
And you knows how much I hate adaptations in film (a matter of principle, not in practice), so I decided that I’d never piss my career away on the big score, on the ‘here you go, director of some bullshit I didn’t actually watch, you seem like a perfect fit for this huge franchise, and now we control you and now you’ve… made something awful. Why didn’t we make a lot of money?’ But I also decided on a secret list of five properties that if ever offered to me (in my murder game fantasy), I wouldn’t turn down.
Ghost in the Shell is #2. So I’ve thought about how I’d do it. Rule 1 is simple: No more goddamn Puppet Master. Do something new — please. Rule 2 is who’d play the Major. First thought is that she’d be Japanese, because this is an adaptation, so why not carry that DNA over. So we’d have a Japanese Major, and everyone else would be white, or varied? More varied than Section 9 (if they appear). Scratch that.
This isn’t just an adaptation from animation to live-action, it’s also from Japan to America, unlike Dragonball or The Last Airbender, which were specifically Asian stories. The Major can be Japanese, because there are certainly Japanese American women police officers, that’s not crazy. But she can also be anyone else, because nobody else would be crazy either. I doubt the character’s name will be “Motoko Kusanagi,” and so that opens up the field. My second thought then was black — that would be neat, but shit. People would go fucking ballistic. Maybe if Zoe Saldana looked more convincing in an action role…
Is it whitewashing? Yes and no. They first looked at Margot Robie, from The Wolf of Wall Street, and now it’s Scarlett Johansson. Did they ever even consider a non-white actress? Doesn’t matter — a non-white actress wasn’t cast. Not only is an actress cheated out of the chance for a peachy job because of racism, we as an audience are cheated out of a normalizing image.
Imagine. A black female who — fuck’s sake — is the main character? Not even is an action hero, just is the main character.
But what about Scarlett Johansson? She’s an award-winning actress, and she’s unique, a kind of female Keanu Reeves in terms of affect. She’s done at least two machine-person movies, Her and Lucy, and arguably, Under the Skin. She’s demonstrated action prowess with The Avengers, and proven her name long before.
She’ll make for a great Major (though I’d rather Melanie St-Pierre, Malgorzata Foremniak, or Mary Elizabeth McGlynn), and once I’ve seen Snow White, I’ll be more confident about the movie’s chance of success. I’ll be optimistic just because either way, Ghost in the Shell is back, and more Ghost in the Shell is always welcome.
But, really it’s a funny kind of tragedy. On the theoretical level, it’s not whitewashing, it’s not the replacement of a Japanese character with a white one. I’d rather we didn’t immediately spring to these labels — labels are what got us into this mess. And yet, it sucks, because the end product here is no different.
With the prospective Cleopatra remake, and the current Exodus: Gods and Kings (somehow we’re surprised at Ridley Scott’s casting behavior?), whitewashing is the issue of now in Hollywood, actually important and less idiotic than what’s going on with The Interview. This is the cost of the continued ignorance in that dreamy murder-scape on the west coast — our future.
And in the future, the line between man and machine blurs, and a woman is the most frighteningly powerful individual in the world. Let’s not try to contradict the good nature of this particular franchise.