Though Scarlett Johansson is a strong, talented woman who can hold her own on the silver screen, her latest role as The Ghost in the Shell‘s cyborg policewoman Major Kusanagi has people confused.
The Ghost in the Shell by Masamune Shirow is a Manga series that takes place in a Japan-based, dystopian setting. Scarlett is starring in the live-action version of the narrative and, though she resembles the main character in the first photo released from the set, she does not represent the Asian community.
Fans are now speaking out against this whitewashing, which has become a resolute theme in Hollywood. There was the time when people petitioned Disney to cast an Asian woman in the live-action Mulan, the time when the movie Gods of Egypt featured no Egyptian actors (contrary to the title), and the infamous time when Rooney Mara was cast as Tiger Lily, a Native American character, in the 2015 movie Pan.
Even other celebs and writers in the industry are speaking out about this casting choice. Actress Ming-Na Wen – best known for voicing Mulan and for her role as Melinda May on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D – recently tweeted, “Nothing against Scarlett Johansson. In fact, I’m a big fan. But everything against this Whitewashing of Asian role.”
Nothing against Scarlett Johansson. In fact, I’m a big fan. But everything against this Whitewashing of Asian role.😒 https://t.co/VS6r6iish9
— Ming-Na Wen (@MingNa) April 14, 2016
Comic book writer John Tsuei seconded Ming-Na’s statement on the matter. “This casting is not only the erasure of Asian faces but a removal of the story from its core themes. You can ‘Westernize’ the story if you want, but at that point it is no longer Ghost In The Shell because the story is simply not Western,” Tsuei writes on Twitter. “Ghost In The Shell, while just one film, is a pillar in Asian media. It’s not simply a scifi thriller. Not to me, not to many others.”
Understand that media from Asia holds a dear place in the hearts of many Asians in the west, simply because western media doesn’t show us.
— Jon Tsuei (@jontsuei) April 15, 2016
As of right now, 66,771 people agree. When it was first announced that Johansson would be in the film, a petition was created to promote her dismissal. It reads, “One recent survey found that in 2013, Asian characters made up only 4.4% of speaking roles in top-grossing Hollywood films.” On the other hand, 74.1% of these roles were taken by white individuals.
Though this is one film, it is symbolic of a broader problem. A problem tens of thousands of individuals want to be solved. Hopefully, their voices will be heard by those who have the power to make change, by those who can easily promote diversity in the media we consume.