Scarlett Johansson Defends Her ‘Ghost in the Shell’ Casting Against Claims of Whitewashing

Matthew Loffhagen
(Photo: Paramount Pictures)

Scarlett Johansson has a fight ahead of her.

It’s possible that when the star, who was 2016’s highest grossing actor, signed up for the live-action remake of the Japanese manga and anime Ghost in the Shell, she wasn’t fully aware of how controversial her casting would become.

In the months since she was officially announced as the new face of the robotic Major Motoko Kusanagi, the biggest criticism levied against the movie has been the decision to hire a Caucasian American to play the lead role in the movie.

With every new trailer and promo that’s been released, this criticism has grown in strength from commenters and fans of the original work, who are upset to see a role that could have gone to a Japanese or at least East Asian actor, instead taken by such an already phenomenally popular white star.

After all, it’s argued, Hollywood doesn’t lack for white actors. It does, however, have a noticeable lack of prominent Asian stars.

Now, addressing the controversy that her casting has created, Johansson has spoken publicly, and her argument for her inclusion in the movie is very interesting – essentially, Johansson argues, it’s not whitewashing if the character in question isn’t actually human:

“I certainly would never presume to play another race of a person. Diversity is important in Hollywood, and I would never want to feel like I was playing a character that was offensive. Also, having a franchise with a female protagonist driving it is such a rare opportunity. Certainly, I feel the enormous pressure of that—the weight of such a big property on my shoulders.”

It seems that in Johansson’s mind, playing The Major isn’t a case of playing someone of another race. Her character is a robot, and exempt from racial bias.

Except, of course, that the costume designers for Ghost in the Shell saw fit to dress Johansson in a black wig –her natural blond hair was clearly too much of a departure from the classic character design.

Source: Paramount Pictures

What’s more, it’s argued by critics that everything else on display in the Ghost in the Shell trailers is decidedly Japanese, in keeping with the movie’s source material.

In truth, this isn’t much different from the same kind of logic that’s created movies like The Ring, Godzilla, and The Magnificent Seven; all American movies that have been remade, in some cases shot-for-shot, from Japanese source material.

The question, then, is that if Johansson’s role in Ghost in the Shell is inappropriate, why aren’t these other movies similarly considered culturally insensitive?

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