The live-action "Ghost in the Shell" movie has just opened in cinemas, and while its makers might have thought they put the accusations of whitewashing that greeted the initial casting announcement of Scarlett Johansson in the lead role behind them, the film itself actually makes the issue a core plot point.
Now, the Media Action Network for Asian Americans (MANAA) (via TheWrap), has called out the film and its star directly, accusing the actor of “lying” in her earlier claims that the film isn’t guilty of whitewashing.
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“Though defenders of [Johansson’s] casting claimed that both the original 1989 manga and 1995 animated Japanese film were vague about Major Motoku Kusanagi’s original ethnic identity before her brain was placed into the body of a cyborg, this film verifies she was Japanese; her real name, in fact, was Motoku Kusanagi (her cyborg identity, implanted with false memories, was Major Mira Killian),” the organization stated in a press release, issued on the film's opening day.
It went on to add “when the actress recently told ‘Good Morning America’ that ‘I would never attempt to play a person of a different race, obviously,’ she was lying."
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The organization also highlighted the casting of Michael Pitt as the antagonist Kuze, whose character is revealed to named Hideo, also making out his Japanese origins.
The release also included quotes from MANAA president Robert Chan, who said, “Apparently, in Hollywood, Japanese people can’t play Japanese people anymore,” adding, “there’s no reason why either Motoku or Hideo could not have been portrayed by Japanese or Asian actors instead of Scarlett Johansson and Michael Pitt. We don’t even get to see what they looked like in their original human identities — a further whitewash.”
“Hollywood continues to make the same excuses, that there aren’t big enough Asian/Asian American names to open a blockbuster film,” MANAA founding president Guy Aoki added. “Yet it has not developed a farm system where such actors get even third billing in most pictures. Without a conscientious effort, how will anyone ever break through and become familiar enough with audiences so producers will confidently allow them to topline a film? When will we ever break that glass ceiling?”
It remains to be seen to what extent this controversy will affect the film's box-office take.
Directed by Rupert Sanders (“Snow White and the Hunstman”), “Ghost in the Shell” also stars Daisuke Aramaki, Juliette Binoche, Michael Pitt, Pilou Asbæk, and Kaori Momoi. The film is in cinemas now.