I Feel it In My Ghost…

So.  I have thoughts about the live action Ghost in the Shell movie.

The first one, which is probably surprising me the most, is that I *really* want to see it. The trailers make it look cool and weird and dark and very, very cyberpunk. It’s clearly sticking very closely to the source material from a visual point of view (with one or two, shall we say, problematic exceptions).

And that leads me on to my second thought. There’s no getting around it: this movies *reeks* of whitewash. The lead character in the original GitS is Japanese.  Her name is Motoko Kusanagi, for heaven’s sake.  Scarlett Johansson may be many things, but Japanese she ain’t.  It’s not just ScarJo either: I’ve had a look at the cast list and it looks like anyone who could be considered a main character is being played by a white actor, with the Japanese actors picking up the supporting roles. It reminds me of the Doctor Who episode, “The Talons of Weng Chiang”, which did have genuine East Asian actors, but only in the background. Thankfully, we’ve been spared the horrendous yellow face of Weng Chaing, although only just, it seems.

Ordinarily, this would be a no brainer: I’d steer well clear and maybe, maybe, watch it on Netflix in a billion year’s time. But, and here’s the rub, it’s a female-fronted genre action movie, and those aren’t exactly growing on trees. Johansson has appeared in five Marvel movies to date, with a sixth on the way, and yet the Black Widow solo movie is just an eternal ‘maybe’.  There are a few series: Underworld and Resident Evil are the obvious ones, but those are the exceptions that prove the rule.

There’s no good outcome here.  If I see the movie, I signal to the studios that the course they set was correct: Western audiences need/want Western leads in their movies (*cough* Great Wall *cough*). If I don’t see it, I signal to the studio that action movies with women just don’t have that much of an audience. (The studio thinks very highly of my opinion, as I’m sure you can tell.)

I will still probably go and see it. If I can support underrepresented groups in cinema, I will, even if it’s a rather pyrrhic victory. I would love to get the opportunity to support minority actors in these kind of roles, but I’ll take what I can get at the moment.

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9 comments

  1. Adam Higgins

    So as an alternative position.

    Is it all possible, that the CD chose his lead, and primary supports, based on an entirely different set of principles than the ones you are assuming here. For example, the actors with the highest audience acceptance in similar roles, leading to increased sales and therefore greater margins (IE the capitalist casting principle), or possibly having seen the actors in other films, when thinking about personalities who could successfully carry the role of the character and keep as true as possible to the artistic vision of the piece (IE the artistic casting principle).

    May I also suggest that eliminating actors based on nothing more than the colour of their skin, ethnicity or cultural identity has a term that is widely used. One that I don’t believe that you would appreciate me using here.

    Perhaps if you wish to understand, rather than assume the reason for the casting choices, we should look at what the Director (Rupert Sanders) said his reasons were, namely that he felt the piece wasn’t about japan, merely set there, and that he had intentionally chosen a cast from a wider range of ethnic roots to represent this. It is also worth mentioning that the original publication team, has (with the exception of Masamune Shirow, who historically does not interact directly with the discussion surrounding his work) come out overwhelmingly in favour of the casting choices with the live action remake.

    In short I would suggest watching the film, and then judging it on its relative merits, rather than assuming a political agenda that may not even exist.

    Watch the damn film Logan…

    • Logan

      You made four points here. Let’s start at the top.

      1. You’ve misunderstood why I think that ScarJo has the role of the Major. I 100% think it’s down to money. The studio thinks, for whatever reason, that they will make more money with her in the lead. I don’t think it’s because Paramount is secret front for the KKK.

      The problem though, is whatever rationale you want to put on it, a character of Asian decent is now being played by a white actress. With the balance of leading film roles (certainly for films of this type) disproportionately skewed towards white actors, taking away a role from a minority actor is problematic, and keeps things unbalanced.

      2. If you’re going to call me racist, then call me racist. But if you’re going to call me racist for suggesting that a character called Motoko Kusanagi should probably be played by an Asian actor, maybe have think about what your definition of racism actually is.

      3. Saying that ‘It’s not about Japan, it’s just set there’ is a dodge. You could say that about the majority of films. And the original creative team saying they are OK with it (which is different from being OK with it, but I don’t think you’d ever be able to really prove that either way) doesn’t change the fact that a white actress is playing a Japanese character.

      4. You’re assuming that I’m assuming a political agenda. Far from it: as I said before, I think this is cold hard economics. But the problem is that the perfectly sensible economic factors tell studios to cast white actors in parts that should really go to minority actors. The actually quality of the film is irrelevant in this context.

      • Adam Higgins

        If your position is that the studios may have passed over better actors for the role, for no other reason than Scarlett Johansson’s “star power”, I am sure you will forgive my misinterpretation of your post, as you made no reference to this, at all.

        I am assuming that you are assuming a political agenda, because you make large reference to identity politics throughout the post. Whilst (knowing you to be a smart fellow) I am sure you will have considered a fiscal bias to the casting, however reading the post it reads as a position on identity politics.

        Whilst I am not saying that you are racist nor, do I believe that you are by any stretch of the imagination. What I would say is that if the casting director believed that a white person was the best fit for a role, turning them down based on their skin colour is. There is more to an artistic choice than skin tone…

        My concern is this, there is many aspects of life were the liberal left (which I would include myself in) is too quick to throw -ism’s around. By doing so we weaken them, which mean when we NEED them to draw attention to the travesties that exist within the world, they are meaningless. Look at the ridiculousness of the “Racist PB+J” sandwich debate.

        I feel therefore that anytime we post/say something that reads/sounds like a “anti-ism”, we should ensure that we have relevant facts included, If we are saying something has been westernised to increase audience acceptance and therefore sales we should make sure that, that is what we say.

        If we fail to do this, then we hand the bigots the tools they need to disregard any cry raised against them. That is a bad thing.

        • Logan

          The problem with a meritocracy argument is that it makes it very easy to maintain the status quo while pretending to be egalitarian. ‘Best person for the job’ thinking tends to favour the majority. Ask yourself this, is ScarJo really the best person for the role? Really? I don’t believe for a second that there isn’t an Asian actor who could do the part as well as her. To get better representation of minorities in media, people are going to have to start actively choosing non-white actors. Is that unfair? To the individual, maybe, but on a structural level? Absolutely not.

          • Adam Higgins

            You know when a selection of rabid fanboys were going insane, because the (probable) clone of a character played by a half scottish- half maori actor was played by an african american?

            Do you remember the argument you used to justify it then? I’ll give you a hint, its the one you’ve just rejected for Scarlett Johansson, playing a character of Japanese descent (who has had her entire body replaced by cybernetics and therefore could look however she wanted, a fact discussed in the series).

            My problem isn’t that she is or isn’t the best role. Its the fact that you, as the self-appointed guardian of equality have the cast iron balls required to announce the issues present within one set of casting choices, whilst having previously argued the opposing side of an argument when the roles were reversed.

            Whilst I in no way would encourage any form of discrimination, I feel that when we as the liberal argument, provide an uneven argument we strengthen the extreme right by making it easier to dismiss our concerns.

            This effect is stronger, when a post (which will admit is on a personal blog, but which you have projected to a wider audience by sharing on social media etc) in which you refer to no greater investigation than checking the casting list on one website, receives a response referencing both the current and original development teams stated position, which you dismiss out of hand. Referencing to the new teams response as a “dodge”, whilst the Japanese teams position you inferred was (at best) a diplomatic lie. Again with out any supporting documentation, or evidence other than your own gut feeling.

            My problem is not with your position at all ( its worth mentioning that my own initial reaction to her being cast as the major was more or less the same). Its with the fact, that the way you present and support your position is detrimental to the liberal side of the debate.

            In an era where the “alt”-right is growing more powerful, we NEED to ensure that we avoid both weakening the argument with unsupported debate, and overcompensating by swinging to far to the extreme left. It is our responsibility to ensure that our arguments are balanced, and that we can’t be accused of hypocrisy. If we don’t then we have no one to blame but ourselves, when our arguments are dismissed out of hand because “the bleeding hearts liberals” are at it again.

          • Logan

            Look, if you’re going to get aggressive, I just won’t respond any more. You’re welcome to think I’m a bad liberal because I didn’t do enough debate prep, but either keep it civil, or keep it to yourself.

            For the record, I don’t recall the conversation you’re referencing. I think you’re talking about Finn and Jango Fett. If you are, then you’re talking about a completely different situation. It’s called ‘whitewashing’ for a reason.

            Also, I’m not presenting an argument; I’m presenting my opinion. I’m not claiming to have any kind of expert knowledge, I’m just saying that I find the ‘international story’ argument less than compelling, and that I can envision a scenario where the Japanese team might not be as thrilled with the casting choices as they say they are.

  2. Colin

    I love the sound track. Nearly as good as the original, but not quite….
    Thing is I do think it looks like Japanese actors have been sidelined. Cynically I suppose they are looking at a wider audience beyond the manga fans Scarjo sells films and the producers need to see an obscene return. Look what happened to Judge Dredd. A bloody good film but who knows about Judge Dredd? I rather suspect GitS would suffer the same way without the big names.

    • Logan

      I completely agree. Looking at the trailers, this is going to be weird and dark, and that feels like a hard sell without a big name attached to it.

  3. Sam

    I am also torn over watching ghost in the shell. It looks like it could be a great film, but watching it I feels like I’m giving the green light for the film industry to keep on making hatchet jobs of portraying other cultures. What I am not in any way at all torn over watching is The Great Wall. From what I have seen and read, it’s basically the final act of Lord of the rings: the two towers but with the fellowship replaced by Matt Damon in power ranger armour and awful CGI.

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