Scarlett Johansson’s pants are on fire, and not because she’s so hot. At least, that’s the word from the Media Action Network for Asian Americans (MANAA), which says the actress was “lying” when she said that her new film “Ghost in the Shell” isn’t guilty of whitewashing.
“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 group said in a press release issued Friday. “So 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.
The group also called out the casting of Michael Pitt in the role of Kuze, which MANAA said “is revealed to have originally been named Hideo, meaning he too was Japanese.”
“Apparently, in Hollywood, Japanese people can’t play Japanese people anymore,” MANAA president Robert Chan said of the castings. “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 white-wash.”
“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?”
The group went on to suggest that the purported whitewashing in ‘Ghost in the Shell’ could affect the film’s box office results, if history is any indication.
“Remember that hiring white actors to star in live action movies based on anime/manga source material has always backfired: ‘Dragonball Evolution’ and ‘Speed Racer’ were flops and now, we have ‘Ghost in the Shell,’ which, this weekend, is predicted to gross only $25 million (against a $120 million budget) behind ‘Beauty and the Beast’ and ‘Boss Baby,” MANAA said.
Earlier this month, Johansson told “Good Morning America” that her “Ghost in the Shell” character is “identity-less” because of her nature as a cyborg, which is where the series gets its title from.
“I think this character is living a very unique experience in that she has a human brain in an entirely machinate body,” Johansson said. “I would never attempt to play a person of a different race, obviously. Hopefully, any question that comes up of my casting will be answered by audiences when they see the film.”
Still, the film has been met with pubic criticism over the casting of Johansson. In mid-March, a meme generator was created to market the film. The campaign backfired, however, when many Twitter users employed the tool to mock the casting of Johansson.