This week the American adaptation of Ghost in the Shell hit cinemas, and for me, actually seeing the film provided a new angle on the Scarlett Johansson / whitewashing controversy surrounding the release.
From the moment the first image was released, right up until the film’s release, there were people debating fiercely for both sides of the argument. Those saying that it was whitewashed pointed to the fact that the character’s name in the original film is Motoko Kusanagi, which definitely has a Japanese ring to it to say the least. It’s also based on a Japanese property, is an adaptation of a Japanese film, and would be a rare opportunity to give an Asian woman the leading role in a giant blockbuster.
Those saying that the film wasn’t whitewashed pointed to the fact that anime characters are drawn to be racially ambiguous (the main character here has purple hair and red eyes / blue eyes / grey eyes / green eyes depending on the scene), and the fact that the director of the original Ghost in the Shell publicly stated that there was no basis for any criticism aimed at the casting.
Personally, I understand that this film probably wouldn’t have been made were it not for the star power of Johansson in the lead, and the fact that we’re getting a big budget adaptation of an anime film in itself is a small step in the right direction. That being said, now that I’ve actually seen the film, it’s abundantly clear that this was not a case of whitewashing, for one major reason (pun intended).
Past this point I will be discussing the plot of Ghost in the Shell in detail, so this is a spoiler warning for anybody not wanting to have it ruined for them.
Near the end of the film, it’s revealed that Major (Scarlett Johnasson’s character) was born Motoko Kusanagi, and has a Japanese mother. However, at one point in her life, she’s abducted and experimented on, while her family is told that she’s dead. The reason she now looks different is because she was implanted with false memories, essentially rendering her a new woman, but with the brain of a living human.
In the context of this story, it makes complete sense to have Major look different now to how she did before. If you’re going to have somebody that’s meant to be dead running around in the city they used to live in, it would make sense to change up the way they look, so that there are no complications. On top of that, the city the film is based in (I don’t think it was ever specified, but it could really be anywhere) is very diverse and multicultural, so this change wouldn’t attract much attention.
On top of this, there’s the fact that if people were going to make robots in real life, they would probably make them look like Scarlett Johansson. I’m not saying that to be creepy, I’m saying that because this exact thing actually happened not long ago. If you don’t believe me, click this link.
What’s so frustrating about this is that whenever the cast and crew were questioned about it, they couldn’t give away this major plot point, as it would ruin the film for a lot of viewers, so they had no choice but to smile through he allegations. Now that the film is out however, I hope, and I’m sure they do too, that people will realise why these choices were made.
Now that you’ve seen the film, how do you feel about the casting of Scarlett Johansson? Do you agree with me, or do you think I’m wrong, as usual? Share any thoughts in the comments.