Scarlett Johansson in ‘Ghost in The Shell’ & Hollywood’s Asian Diversity Problem
The first look at the Western live-action film adaptation of Masamune Shirow's iconic manga, Ghost in the Shell, is finally here. As the Rupert Sanders-directed flick has entered production, already fans of the original comics and anime are up in arms. The cause of all the backlash? Actress Scarlett Johansson's casting as Major Motoko.
A cybernetic human/cyborg who serves as the head of the Public Security Section (a counter-terrorist organization in a future dystopian version of Japan) Major Motoko is, as her name would suggest, originally Japanese. Naturally, Johansson, a white woman, being cast in a role that would otherwise be for an Asian actress is a point of perplexity for many fans of the popular series, as well as yet another frustrating instance in which a Caucasian actor takes a role meant for an ethnic player.
In an entertainment culture where Emma Stone gets cast as a bi-racial Hawaiian (Aloha) and Rooney Mara plays a tribal native (Pan), roles for ethnic actors are not only slim-pickings, but are also constantly threatened by the film industry's affinity for casting white actors as characters of color. Thus, not only are the roles barely there, but when they are, they are often commandeered. And whether blatantly stereotyped (Mickey Rooney in Breakfast at Tiffany's), sexually fetishized (Bai Ling in Wild Wild West), "yellow-faced" by white actors (Katharine Hepburn in Dragon Seed), or just plain whitewashed altogether (Keanu Reeves in 47 Ronin, everyone in Dragonball: Evolution or Avatar: The Last Airbender), Hollywood has a major Asian diversity problem.
The statistics back it up: In 2014, a research study conducted by The School for Communication and Journalism at USC Annenberg and The Harnisch Foundation concluded that there was only 5.3% of Asian representation in the top hundred films of that year. Similarly, findings showed that over 40% of films had no speaking Asian characters. Compared to the fact that roughly 61% of the Earth's total population is considered Asian, it makes little sense that an ethnic group that makes up for more than half of the human race receives so little representation in the entertainment industry.
So, what's the solution? Well, it's really very simple — just cast Asian actors in Asian roles. And no excuses, Hollywood: There are plenty of talented Asian actresses who would have been perfectly suited to the role of bad-ass Major Motoko, from Pacific Rim's Rinko Kikuchi to Sin City's Devon Aoki to The Wolverine's Rila Fukushima. And in the event that none of these ladies were available or interested, consider casting a fresh face?
Perhaps the industry should begin truly paying attention to the minority groups it continues to appropriate from, because while Asian speaking roles may be lacking on celluloid, that doesn't mean Asian actors and viewers aren't speaking up. Just listen to Ming-Na Wen, the Macau-American voice-actress behind one of modern cinema's most celebrated and iconic Chinese roles, Mulan:
We hear you, Ming-Na.
Ghost in the Shell is set to release on March 31st, 2017.
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