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Here's why people are angry about The Ghost In The Shell

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When Scarlett Johansson was announced as the main character of DreamWorks’ Ghost In The Shell, I laughed. Because of course, I wasn’t even surprised. Just bitter.

Hollywood seems to continue to find it acceptable and enjoyable to place white men and women in what should be the roles of people of colour.

I was angry in the moment and although it irritated me, it fell into obscurity because no one I spent any time with cared enough to mention it again.

Except now we’re in the month of release and YouTube has made me sit through more Ghost In The Shell trailers than I ever wanted to watch, so I feel like it’s important to address the issues of racism and whitewashing.

In case you weren’t aware, Ghost In the Shell is a Japanese anime set in a futuristic cyberpunk world. The main character is Mokoto Kusangi. Mokoto. Kunsagi.

Already, it feels ridiculous that this character should be played by a woman called Scarlett Johansson. It shouldn’t even be a fight. It shouldn’t be something up for discussion.

Except, on social media, there were those who defended the casting choice by saying that the character is “ethnically ambiguous”, a politer way of saying “my default race for all characters is white”, which is something that we as a society should be working towards changing within ourselves, not reinforcing.

Even worse was the response of writer, Max Landis, who defended the whitewashing by citing that “there were no good Asian actresses”, something that disregards the work of people of all actresses of Asian descent, from Lucy Liu (Elementary) to Constance Wu (Fresh off the Boat) to Rinko Kikuchi (who you might remember from Pacific Rim, an amazing Japanese actress who would definitely have been a better fit for the role).

On Twitter, Jon Tsuei made a good argument for why it’s not just the whitewashing that’s the problem, but the removal of the core themes that relate specifically to Japan and Japanese people. He states, “Ghost In The Shell….is an inherently Japanese story, not a universal one”.

This is not just about Ghost In The Shell, although it did spark this article.

Around the same time this casting choice was announced, the first stills from Marvel’s Doctor Strange was also released – showing off a white man with East Asian mythically magical powers, a white woman as the Ancient One, a should be Tibetian man, and a white man and a white woman in yellow face. Despite this, it was defended and people were assured that they shouldn’t feel ‘ashamed’ for supporting this movie.

The cast for the American version of Death Note has also been announced, with Nat Wolff playing Light Yamagi, William Defoe as Ryuk, and Keith Stanfield playing L. I would also like to add that having a black man playing L is still whitewashing – L is a mixed race, white and Japanese man, and it’s not okay to act as if all people of colour are interchangeable.

Whitewashing – and specifically the whitewashing of Asian roles – needs to be addressed by everyone, not just a few. A recent study by USC has shown that Asians represented just 5.1% of speaking or named characters across film, television and digital series. The first time that an Asian male was a love interest in any popular Western piece of media was Selfie (2014) with John Cho as leading male, and this was cancelled after the first season.

As a group of people who care about each other, it’s important to be aware of these things and try to make a difference. Refuse to watch whitewashed works, refuse to read books or watch movies that perpetrate racial stereotypes. It can be hard to break internalised racism, something that we all have through living in this society, but it’s not acceptable to ignore it, and it’s not acceptable to know and yet do nothing with that knowledge.

Ghost in the Shell is released on the 31st March 2017 through Paramount Pictures.




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