To say Ghost in the Shell is a cornerstone of Japanese media—and perhaps all modern science fiction and anime—is no overstatement; since it first began as a manga in the ‘80s, it has spurred film and anime adaptations, is the inspiration behind many modern animes and films, including The Matrix, and is still widely praised today for its incredible plot following augmented cybernetic Japanese woman Major Motoko Kusanagi. The casting of white actress Scarlett Johansson as Major Kusanagi in the upcoming American live-action adaptation is disgusting and disheartening.
Major Kusanagi is the head of a counter-cyber terrorist organization in 21st century Japan. She is strong-willed, incredibly powerful, intelligent and—I reiterate—a Japanese woman. To cast a white woman as Kusanagi shows once again that Hollywood is full of bigots who shamelessly justify whitewashing with archaic reasoning and blatant racism. The film’s producers have stooped so low as to perform CGI tests to make Johansson look more “Asian” (though they quickly disposed of that idea) and director of the upcoming film, Max Landis, said there are no “marketable” Asian actresses who could take on the role. No marketable Asian actresses? He means to say that Ming-na Wen (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.), Rinko Kikuchi (Pacific Rim), Constance Wu (Fresh Off the Boat), Elodie Yung (Daredevil), Bae Doona (Cloud Atlas) and Karen Fukuhara (Suicide Squad) are all unmarketable? By that standard, I would love to be an unmarketable journalist. Landis, and many others, is simply too lazy and racist to look for non-white actors. But if it is truly difficult for people to name a few Asian actresses, that just further proves that systems squander the opportunities of people of color before they even have a chance.
This movie is just the latest of Hollywood’s long list of bad moves. With whitewashed Dragon Ball Z, Pan, Avatar: The Last Airbender and Aloha—all which flopped terribly—I foolishly thought Hollywood might eventually learn its lesson. But no, Johansson will play as Major Kusanagi, and the archaic reasoning that more famous (white) film leads are needed to make a film marketable will likely persist. That reasoning, by the way, doesn’t hold up especially considering Ghost in the Shell has always been marketable in the U.S.
Even though I can list all the reasons why the casting of Ghost in the Shell is horrible, the only one that should matter is this: Ghost in the Shell is set in 21st century Japan and Kusanagi is Japanese. It should be that simple.
—Melissa Lin, Editor in Chief