If you too are angry about Scarlett Johansson’s latest role, you have plenty of company. Seriously, Hollywood, you’re casting a blonde white woman as Motoko Kusanagi, the lead character in the upcoming adaptation of the iconic manga/anime Ghost in the Shell? We need to talk about your love of the ‘default white person’.
If the world was the way videogames and Hollywood movies portrayed it, most of us would be white. Asians and other ethnicities would probably live in a secret bubble somewhere and only procured to add ‘colour’ to a setting, much like adding a little pepper to porridge.
“What’s the big deal? They they adapted All You Need is Kill and cast white actors too?” If you haven’t heard of All You Need is Kill, you might know it better by the Hollywood adaptation: Edge of Tomorrow, starring Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt.
Comparing Edge of Tomorrow to Ghost in the Shell is inane, really. While both films are based on Japanese stories, Edge takes inspiration from its source but does not try to cast white people as Japanese. Instead, the story is reworked for a slightly different setting, where it makes sense that the lead actors are Caucasians.
GITS on the other hand has its lead actors all being white people playing Japanese, while real Japanese actors are relegated to background or bit roles, judging from the IMDB listing.
The Departed was another excellent film that was a remake of the Hong Kong thriller Infernal Affairs. Instead of having us suffer watching Leonardo DiCaprio and Matt Damon play Chinese people in Hong Kong, they took the basic plot and reworked it into a different setting. The results were powerful and the film managed to win plenty of accolades.
“Scarlett Johansson’s a big star so it makes sense that Hollywood cast her.” There’s no denying Johansson is charismatic, talented and good at action roles. But the fact is there are plenty of roles for hot, white women. There aren’t enough stories being told about people who don’t fit the default white person mould and to have white people take those roles too is highly insulting.
“So? If you want more Asian/non-white representation, make your own movies.” GITS is an Asian story – it is set in an Asian country, with a backdrop of uniquely Japanese issues and context and it is definitely not the standard white people story.
Let us face it: Hollywood is running out of ideas. There are only so many white people-centric films they can churn out. White family drama? Check. White people cop dramas? Check. White people save the world/the US president/other white people? Check. So what happens when you want to expand on storytelling? You start looking at stories different from what white people are used to. For some reason, the most popular in that aspect is martial arts films.
Remember Romeo Must Die? Where Jet Li and Aaliyah made decent box office by selling the stereotype of Kung Fu-fighting, tiny Chinese men? Then, of course, we had Jackie Chan doing more Kung-Fu while selling the other stereotype – Chinese funnymen with funny accents.
Hollywood needs to up its game and realise that the real money lies in making films that can make bank everywhere. The world is not made up of ‘default white people’. Foreign box office takings matter now and sometimes, films that don’t do so well in the US market can still break even overseas. Case in point? The super dreary Pearl Harbour, which was basically Michael Bay trying to make the next Titanic and failing horribly.
Outside of white people culture, there are so many stories to explore. Sure, borrow some stories and make them your own, there’s no harm in that. But trying to sell the idea to Asian people that some white chick could better play an Asian woman is insulting bullshit.
The argument some people give is that isn’t the whole point of acting being someone you’re not. Let’s twist that around a bit and ask, then why can’t women play men then? Or why can’t men play women? Why not have a man play a pregnant woman; he’d probably win an Oscar for the childbirth scene now, wouldn’t he considering he will never actually experience what it’s like, even if he were to have a sex change operation.
A role is specific – it takes into account history, gender, setting. Sometimes you have leeway to maybe stretch a role; if a character’s gender is not a key aspect of the role, then hey, make the role one for a different gender. But you would never, for instance, have a man play a woman or vice-versa, though once upon a time that was the case, when women were not allowed to perform thus men were forced to play them. Now that there are actual women available, there is no reason, for instance, to cast Matt Damon as Lara Croft.
Cast Johansson if you must but don’t set GITS in Japan. Don’t make her character Japanese. Don’t further marginalise struggling Asian actors who would like the world to know they exist. If Asian moviegoers money is good enough for Hollywood to take, then maybe it should realise that Asian actors are worth the risk. And if Hollywood still only wants to make movies about the default white person, then individuals who aren’t the default should just stop watching their movies.