Dang Hollywood, back at it again with the character whitewashing. I wish I could say that I’m surprised, but I feel like at this point it’s par for the course. It’s outrageous that we’ve come to expect the erasure of the racial, ethnic and cultural aspects of the characters that that are born from this. The first image of Scarlett Johansson as Major Motoko Kusanagi in the live action film, “Ghost in the Shell,” based on the anime of the same name, has spurred backlash and deservedly so.
I cannot think of a single reason that Paramount would cast Johansson in an Asian role when there are so many wonderful and talented asian actresses out there. Did the casting directors even entertain the idea of having a non-white lead in a non-white film? Did they assume the fame Johansson has received from the “Avengers” movies would attract more to the film than someone like Rinko Kikuchi from the acclaimed “Pacific Rim?” Now, with the slew of negative responses, the movie has the potential to head in the same downward hole as the ill-received “Gods of Egypt.” Hollywood needs to realize that movies with a non-Caucasian lead can be successful films as well and that placing a white actor in a role designed for a non-white character is one way to ensure the limited success of the movie.
Besides alienating those who would like to see their culture represented on screen, by whitewashing this character, Hollywood is disregarding the importance of the cultural background and the aspects of Japanese life that makes the character who she is. The setting, the character names, the plotline — everything is Japanese, except the appearance of the actors. It’s not only Johansson either; the whole cast of the movie — a Japanese based movie — is severely lacking Asian representation.
It is not only the casting agents who should be held accountable for the lack of cultural awareness. The actors themselves who agreed to these roles should claim some level of responsibility for allowing the issue to perpetuate. If someone is going to say that they support more diversity in Hollywood, but then turn around and take a role that eliminates any chance of a minority being given and recognized for that role, then their words mean nothing and they are a part of the problem.
Has Hollywood not learned? Especially after the lack of racial representation at the Oscars, one would think that maybe they should rethink the idea of cutting out the race of culture of beloved characters. How are the Oscars supposed to finally enter into the diversified world if it doesn’t hire diversified actors? You can’t award someone who was never given the chance to do the job in the first place. After being trashed on social media for the Oscars fiasco, I don’t know how the latest casting choice was approved as a good idea. I have nothing against the acting skills of Johansson or anything of the other actors in the movie. It is just another scenario of the correct cultural representation of races being shoved to the side for another white lead.
A few months ago, I wrote about how I would like to see Idris Elba as James Bond; a possibility that many people found controversial. Clearly, it’s not “controversial” to make a Japanese character Caucasian; it’s just “normal.” So, in the mind of top Hollywood producers and directors, it’s fine for countless characters to be erased of their cultural identity, but the moment someone thinks to turn the table, it becomes a problem. The current issue should not exist; what should be considered a problem is the blatant lack of respect and representation that people across various races are experiencing each time a character is whitewashed or a minority character is delegated to a small role in the name of diversity.
There is a severe lack of representation that Hollywood needs to fix and that we need to demand and support. It is outrageous, especially in our multicultural country, to see our screens rarely showing a non-white face in a lead role. It is high time that the movie and television industry realize that not only do they cater to a national market full of people of various backgrounds and races, but American media influences international markets. If they want to increase their national share of the market and public opinion, then it would be in their best interest to start realizing that people are getting sick of the cookie-cutter white (usually male) lead. By casting Johansson in “Ghost in the Shell,” Hollywood missed the perfect opportunity to give a non-Caucasian female a prominent and respected role.
Everything required to take the steps toward a more diversified and inclusive Hollywood was practically gift-wrapped in the form of “Ghost in the Shell.” It’s setting of Japan allowed another city besides New York City or London to be a world stage and the ethnicity of the character as a native of that country was right in the source material; it should not even have been a thought to cast a white American actress in the film. It seems that even with past flops of whitewashed movies, Hollywood has not learned from their mistakes — or worse, they refuse to. Apologies, like ones issued from The Academy, can be made, but it is not until people in the movie industry actively follow through with these empty words that there will be balance and equality to the many different cultures, not just in the United States, but across the world.