Home Entertainment Midweek Movie Mouth-Off: More Hollywood whitewashing?

Midweek Movie Mouth-Off: More Hollywood whitewashing?

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There was a lot of hubbub last week around the first look we got at Scarlett Johannson as Major Motoko Kusunagi in the upcoming feature film adaptation of Ghost in the Shell. As Kervyn pointed out, while she looks quite good in the part, Johannson is about as Japanese as he is a French poodle. And by no means was this the first WFT reaction we’ve had around Johannson’s casting, but the release of this picture has really brought it home. Hollywood really doesn’t want to cast Asians in anything, do they?

Look, I’m all for respecting that an actor can take on a role and make it their own regardless of how they look, but there are some things that are just so fundamental to some roles that it can’t be ignored. I think that Jon Tsuei explained it better than I ever could in this series of tweets, which basically boils down to how Ghost in the Shell is an inherently Japanese story, and “Westernising” the casting for any reason undermines one of the core themes of the story. For me personally, I love Ghost in the Shell, it’s what got me in to anime and manga when I was a pre-teen so it holds a special place in my heart. To see it essentially undermined like this is saddening, and makes me not want to support a movie I should theoretically love.

Then there’s also the furore surrounding the first look we got at Tilda Swinton as the Ancient One in Doctor Strange – a character from the comics which is Asian, and male, and Swinton is decidedly neither of those things. As Angie Han over at /Film pointed out, this has come at a time where Marvel’s erasure of Asians is more apparent than ever, and it’s frustrating to say the least.

Both Ghost in The Shell and Doctor Strange could have, and really should have, been excellent opportunities for proper representation, but instead they’re just more high-profile examples of a Hollywood problem that’s just not getting better.

So what do you think about the latest examples of Hollywood’s whitewashing problem? Are you outraged, saddened, or don’t you think there’s a problem at all?

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Critical Hit as an organisation.

Last Updated: April 20, 2016

16 Comments

  1. Hargrim

    April 20, 2016 at 11:01

    I get that Hollywood has become the ‘global’ film industry, and as such should be much more sensitive to these issues, but their first market is still America and the western world.

    If a popular story is remade in Asia, Asian actors are used regardless of the original race of the character, because their films cater to the Asian market.

    I’m not saying whitewashing is OK, I’m saying that if they westernize a story, westernizing the characters is OK, if they westernize characters in a story that isn’t westernized (Gods of Egypt), that is pure wrong.

    So if they made Ghost in the Shell true to the original as a purely Japanese story and still cast Scarlett Johansen in the lead, I would be with you, but by westernizing the story I feel Johansen’s casting is right

    Now whether they should have westernized the story is a different topic entirely

    Reply

    • Tracy Benson

      April 20, 2016 at 11:55

      Well, the whole point was how they shouldn’t have westernised it at all. It’s such an inherently Japanese story that by westernising it, you remove a core part of the story itself. Never mind that it did not need to be westernised in the first place as it’s an incredibly popular anime and manga that has been big in the West for many many years. There are Asian actresses more than capable of carrying the role and the movie and making it “palatable” to a Western audience, casting Johannsen was unnecessary.

      Reply

      • Hargrim

        April 20, 2016 at 12:24

        “It’s such an inherently Japanese story that by westernising it, you remove a core part of the story itself”. That is true, and I completely agree that it shouldn’t have been westernized, but then that is a problem with the writing and production of the movie, not the casting of Johannsen. The only reason her casting is the ‘issue’ is because it is much easier to get attention by throwing out the race card.

        Reply

      • James Francis

        April 21, 2016 at 07:51

        I don’t get how it is an inherently Japanese story.

        Reply

    • James Francis

      April 21, 2016 at 07:50

      Here’s the problem they face: Asian actors are not big draw cards as leads in US movies. Jackie Chan had to be paired up in any of his blockbusters. Jet Li really struggled to get enough audience interest. Movies like Harold & Kumar had to play on the fact that they weren’t white actors. The great Takeshi Kitano had zero luck with western audiences. Marco Polo, the Netflix show, was named after the sole white character in the entire production, a slight of hand as it is clearly the Kublai Khan Show.

      Ridley Scott even said with Gods of Egypt that he wouldn’t have gotten the funding without a strong lead anchor, of which the crowd the pick from is mostly white. Even with black actors, the choices are limited to the likes of Denzel Washington.

      Yes, there is a problem and needs to be looked at. But people crying foul because blockbusters go for white leads don’t appear to appreciate the business gamble involved. Adding a non-white character does not magically attract non-white audiences, so investors make the cold call of a safe bet.

      Ghost in the Shell would not have had an Asian lead – it’s too big budget for that. What the world needs is an Asian Jennifer Lawrence to break the mold. Until something like that happens, decisions like this will keep happening.

      Reply

  2. Kromas untamed

    April 20, 2016 at 11:12

    The ghost in the shell thing is the one and only time I would disagree. Her body is not Asian or American or whatever it is manufactured. I mean it is the god damn opening of the anime. “But Kromas in the anime she looked Asian”. I agree up until the point where you realize in the sequel she does not look Asian at all. Then again this is my opinion and most people will disagree. I do agree with all the others though as the setting does not allow for other races to play a specific race.

    Reply

    • Tracy Benson

      April 20, 2016 at 11:57

      Well, she’s manufactured yes. In Japan. You say she doesn’t *have* to look Japanese and that’s fine, I’m saying why does she *have* to look Caucasian?

      Reply

      • Kromas untamed

        April 20, 2016 at 12:08

        I agree that she does not have to look Caucasian but it is less of an issue for me who they cast than casting say a white person to play a Asian person or person of colour in a “based on real events” movie. Or for that matter casting a black person in a fictional universe that has always been white in other media (Fan4tastic). Gods of Egypt could have done with actual North African actors as much as the new Annie should not have been made at all.

        Reply

  3. konfab

    April 20, 2016 at 11:59

    Can I cite this article every single time someone wants a black James Bond? Or if someone complains about the black Hermione in the play adaptation.

    Or when you have American actors playing British roles and vice versa.
    Or having an Australian actor playing a Canadian mutant (wolverine).
    Or having an American doing a Soof Efricen accent.

    I would like some consistency…

    Reply

  4. Andre116

    April 20, 2016 at 13:13

    If they didn’t want a Caucasian playing a manga character, maybe they should stop drawing them with big eyes.

    *runs*

    Reply

    • Tracy Benson

      April 20, 2016 at 16:46

      ಠ~ಠ

      Reply

  5. Alien Emperor Trevor

    April 20, 2016 at 14:04

    Ridley Scott gave everyone the plain truth when he said Hollywood is unwilling to bet big on a movie without a white lead when talking about Gods of Egypt. And that is a problem. It’s an even bigger problem when one of the limited chances for a non-white actor to take the lead is taken away.

    Reply

    • Tracy Benson

      April 20, 2016 at 16:45

      My point exactly! These were gift wrapped opportunities to finally showcase an Asian actor, the IP is popular enough to not *need* a Caucasian in the role, but they did it anyway :

      Reply

      • James Francis

        April 21, 2016 at 07:53

        Yeah, but the point of a big budget film is not to showcase an actor. It’s to make money. What investor will risk $100 million for the sake of philanthropy?

        Reply

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