Anime

The Real Issue With Hollywood & ‘Ghost in the Shell’

Everyone and their aunt was put in their 2 cents about the upcoming ‘Ghost in the Shell’ film, and I figured it was my turn. Way back in 2004, I watched ‘Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex’ with my mum. It was something we did every week, and we both absolutely loved the character of Major. If I’m going to be honest, I can’t remember much about the series, and I desperately need to re-watch it. But what I do remember, was seeing, for the first time, a strong Asian female character absolutely kick ass. Not in the ‘Mulan’ kind of way, but in an almost superhero way. Major was who I looked up to growing up, sure Sailor Moon and Card Captor Sakura were alright, but Major was such an empowered being, she was everything I wished to be. So when I heard that Scarlett Johansson was going to be playing, I was really disappointed. Then I heard the backlash against that and I was excited – there was a community out there who reacted as I did. Then there was backlash against the backlash, and my hopes sunk.

Reading through the second wave of backlash I’ve found some really common ‘themes’. I want to address these ‘themes’ in my post, not just for ‘Ghost in the Shell’, but they really do speak to a lot of the issues facing People of Colour and their stories when they try to breakthrough into Western Cinema.

“It’s an American Film, So An American Should Play The Characters”

I’ve seen this used countless time over the years, way back when ‘Avatar the Last Airbender’ was made into film, and even when ‘Dragonball Z’ was made in an American film. What does these two films have in common? White people were playing Asian characters. Now that isn’t even the real issue here, the real issue is that; when you say ‘An American should play the character’, what you’re really doing is associating ‘American’ with ‘white’. When you walk down the street, how many people of different ethnic backgrounds do you see? While almost 70% of Americans are White, that leaves 30% who are not. Do these 30% deserve to not be represented? Why is ‘American’ immediately associated with being White? Why can’t an Asian-American portray Motoko Kusanagi, she would still be ‘An American playing a character’.

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My other issue is that white people are consistently inserting themselves into POC stories. Besides ‘Ghost in the Shell’, we also have the upcoming ‘The Great Wall’ film where Matt Damon randomly appears in Ancient China. There’s an army of Chinese people, but guess who is front and centre? That’s right, Matt Damon!  Last year we had ‘Gods of Egypt’ where Gerald Butler and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau playing EGYPTIAN GODS. What the actual fuck is Jamie Lannister doing in Ancient Egypt? What’s worse is that the POC characters are all ‘humans’ but most of the gods are played by white people. For even more recent examples, you even have Emma Stone in Aloha (2015) playing an Asian-American woman, and Tilda Swinton in Doctor Strange (2016) whose character was originally meant to be a Tibetan monk. Marvel changed her character into a random Celtic woman, except this Celtic woman is now living in an Asian country, dressed in Asian clothing and  still kind of appearing like a Buddhist monk.  Rather than researching how to portray an Asian character sensitively and finding an Asian actor/actress they took the cheap way out.

POC are consistently pushed to the side when it comes to telling their stories. This isn’t an issue with just ‘Ghost in the Shell’ this is an issue with Hollywood as a whole.

“Even The Creator of the Manga and People in Japan Don’t Care”

So yes, the people in Japan are actually pretty impressed by this film. But you have to remember, people in Asian countries are used to seeing themselves on screen all the time. If you go to the Japan, American films will be showing as well as Japanese films. There is diversity there for them. But the people are who are genuinely upset about this are POC who live in Western Countries. These are the people who rarely see themselves represented on screen.

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When you think about it, how often do you see a Sci-fi film or even a superhero film featuring a POC as its lead? The upcoming ‘Black Panther’ film is a really big win for the African American community. But for Asian Americans or Asian Australians this has never happened. We’ve never had an Asian hero shown to us (in Western cinema) since freaking Mulan! So when a film like ‘Ghost in the Shell’ comes along, which is so iconic to many Asian people, of course we are going to be upset that we are not represented in the film.What’s even worse is that, it’s not just Scarlett Johansson taking over an Asian role. A majority of the cast is also white. In main cast of 6 people, it appears that only 2 of them are Asian.

“Scarlett Johansson Has Already Responded and Said It Doesn’t Matter”

Oh you mean this piece of bs?

 “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.”

Let me start off by saying that Scarlett Johansson has never cared about what the Asian community says about her roles. In 2014, she starred in a film called ‘Lucy’ where she plays a woman who is forced into being a drug mule, the drug spills into her system and gives her enhanced cognitive abilities. Sounds fine right? No, the whole film is essentially depicting her as a white woman murdering off Asian people. Sure some of them are awful, they’re drug lords, but she just indiscriminately kills them, there’s even a scene where she shoots a man who can’t speak english.Then turns to his friend, who can, and demands him to take her to a hospital. Even if you look at the film on the most basic level – every character in the film is Asian, except the one ‘good’ character who is white. The film is shot in Asian, so why the heck is there only ONE good person who happens to be white. You can check out more about Lucy here, here and here.

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So after just 3 years ago, watching this woman on screen in another racist film, I think I’ll take her statement excuse with a pinch of salt. Furthermore, one thing a lot of non-POC people don’t understand is that YOU cannot CHOOSE whether someone is offended or not. For example if I punched you in the arm, and you complained I can’t say “I certainly would never presume to hit another person. Not hitting people is so important to me, I would never want to hit anyone.” I can’t just deny hitting you, you felt it, and the proper thing to do it apologise. Rather than trying to cover her own ass, Scarlett Johansson’s statement SHOULD HAVE gone something like this.

“I understand people’s anger over my role as Motoko Kusanagi, and I am very sorry. Diversity is very important to me, and I will ensure, in future, to respect the ethnic portrayals of characters.”

“SJWs Should Shut Up, It’s Just a Film”

It’s not just fanatical SJWs who are attacking this film. The large majority of people who are upset about this film are people from the Asian American community. And they have every right to complain about it. Sure, it’s just a film, but it’s a film that reflects a very deep rooted racism in American culture. This is something that does not affect you personally, you can literally just go watch the film without feeling any form of offence. If you can’t even sit back and not complain about people fighting for their right for representation, you really need to take a long hard look at whether you can truly say you are not part of the problem.

To sum up, I am really disappointed with Paramount Pictures, and Hollywood as a whole. After #oscarssowhite and controversy after controversy of white washing of films, you’d think they would have gotten the message. Representation matters. Representation is important. We will continue to fight for representation. I will not be seein

For those of you who have been fighting against the backlash towards this film, or are undecided on the issue, I hope my post helps you to understand why this is so important to Asian Americans, Asian Australians and any other Asians living in Western countries. If you have any other questions about it, I’ll be happy to answer them down in the comments or through personal messages on twitter 🙂

32 thoughts on “The Real Issue With Hollywood & ‘Ghost in the Shell’

  1. I agree with your statement about Hollywood casting white people to play characters that aren’t white but as far as major kusanagi goes she can technically look like any race she chooses and depending on which series you watch she’ll either look more like a white woman or more like an Asian woman.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for your comment.

      With regards to the Major looking look any race that can be true, she’s technically a cyborg and it depends what ‘skin’ is put on her. But even then her most iconic representation is that of a Japanese woman – even her name is Japanese.

      Even if Paramount wanted to go down the road of ‘it’s just skin on a cyborg’, there is no reason they could not haven chosen an Asian actress. It was a real chance to have more diversity in their films. If they could so easily change Major’s ethnicity why not have a POC in one of the other major roles as the villain Kuze or the second in command Batou (both played by white actors)?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. There’s a simple reason why they didn’t choose an Asian actress, it’s because there isn’t one that has the same star power as Johansen. As far as the other roles I could imagine they chose the first people that came to mind that wanted to play the roles which is something many people forget about.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. That in itself shows the issue about Hollywood that I’m talking about. Because Asian actors and actresses are not given opportunities such as this, they do not even have the opportunity to gain ‘star power’. The studio took the easy way out by choosing some white woman who was well known, they didn’t even bother checking if she was right for the role. Someone shouldn’t get a role because of ‘star power’, and that’s the point I am trying to make – Scarlett Johansson being chosen because of her ‘star power’ is wrong.

        If they really looked there are heaps of fantastic Asian actresses out there, Karen Fukuhara recently played Katana in Suicide Squad, Maggie Q was Nikita (TV), Doona Bae was in ‘Cloud Atlas’ and the tv series ‘Sense8’ (doing heaps of stunts and action scenes), Tao Okamoto & Rila Fukushima were in Wolverine, Juju Chan (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon), Celina Jade is in Arrow (TV), Rinko Kikuchi was in Pacific Rim. You cannot say there are no good Asian actresses out there, who could have done a great job in the role.

        If star power was really the issue why did they have 2 other white people who are pretty much side characters in TV shows? Pilou Asbæk has only recently started out in Hollywood with the film ‘Ben Hur’ which was a major flop, and Michael Pitt’s main claim to fame is being in ‘Boardwalk Empire’ and having a small role in ‘Game of Thrones’. Is that enough for the studio to look over actors like Steven Yuen (The Walking Dead), Daniel Dad Kim (Hawaii Five-0 & Lost) and even Ken Watanabe (Inception, Godzilla, Batman Begins, The Last Samurai, Memoirs of a Geisha). Their first thought, in creating a film with Japanese characters should not have been “oh lets cast these two white guys”, they should have looked at the incredible amount of talented Asian actors there are out there.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. It may be wrong but let’s not forget the fact that Hollywood’s aim is to make money and sadly majority of the actors that can make people watch a movie simply because they’re in it are white niggas.

        Like

      4. I really hope by writing posts like these, and seeing other people complain about it the film industry will change. It will take a long time but bit by bit, I hope we can get to a point where everyone can be represented 🙂

        My main aim for this post was to address people who complained about people’s reactions to the lack of representation. I’ve seen videos like ‘people should shut up about the whitewashing of Ghost in the shell’ or comments like ‘SJWs should stop screaming about bullshit’. When people cry out about it, they become a force of change, but when people react so strongly against this force of change it kind of dulls it down. The debate ends up being ‘whether there was whitewashing in the first place’ rather than ‘how can we improve the industry’ 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      5. Personally I don’t see the industry changing but it might. as far as white washing in the entertainment goes I personally don’t care much about it as a “POC” mainly because I don’t even stress about it, especially with the fools that complain about a lack of blacks in Asian media.

        Liked by 1 person

      6. I’m sure it will change, we’ve come a long way from ‘yellow face’ already, it just takes a lot of people to tell those in power that we won’t take shit anymore 🙂

        That’s interesting to hear, just out of interest, is it that you genuinely don’t care or that you don’t care, because you don’t think it will change and as such being upset about it is a waste of energy? (just for interest no need to answer if you don’t want to)

        Liked by 1 person

      7. Film is a modern form of art, and art is meant to be representative of a society. Society’s values, hopes and fears – but if film consistently prevent POC actors, actresses and narratives from joining, it essentially reflects that POC are not part of the society. The fact that POC struggle to be part of something such as film is indicative of a much wider societal problem, if we can fix it in something as widespread as film, then change can come to all facets of society. If kids can see an Asian man playing a lawyer or an African American woman playing the president they can see themselves in those positions , it becomes real to them, they feel they are acknowledged and represented.

        But ultimately I can’t convince nor force you to care about it, and in the end, it’ll save you a lot of frustration 😛 But hey, I don’t mind being frustrated if it’ll help getting things moving for more representation.

        Liked by 1 person

      8. I wouldn’t necessarily say they struggle to be a part of the film industry just due to the simple fact that there’s plenty of minority actors that get big roles, the problem that Asian actors face is that there’s not as big of a pool to choose from compared to everybody else. If people want to see a real change then there needs to be more really good Asian actors too choose from. Another thing that going to hold them back with female leads is that a lot of time looks beat out talent. A good example is this GITS film, ScarJo isn’t really a good actress her acting is pretty flat but her looks override that to an extent.

        Liked by 1 person

      9. If there are plenty of minorities that can get into big roles, then why is there also a small pool to choose from? The real issue is that Asian actors and actresses are consistently put to the side for white actors and actresses to take the lead. If you want to talk about a small pool to choose from, I literally listed 8 fantastic actresses above and it took me 10 seconds to google search. I chose those 8 actresses from a list of 40 that I found on imdb. It’s the same story with Asian male actors. I didn’t even bother to list some of the bigger actors/actresses like George Takei or Ming-Na Wen or heck even John Cho. The talent is out there, the film industry just prefers a white face on a product than an Asian face. That is an issue within society and that is something that should not be ignored.

        In regards to ScarJo being a good looking actress, you are just putting your own personal preferences into this. If looks were really an issue, all the actresses I listed above are phenomenally beautiful people. For example in 2016, Doona Bae was the muse for Louis Vuitton’s newest collection (http://www.vogue.com/article/doona-bae-louis-vuitton-muse-campaign) and she, along with many of the other actors and actresses I’ve listed have done modelling campaigns.

        I would really encourage you to read and do some more research on this topic. You can check out the links below as a starting point. The quora article also has more links.

        https://mic.com/articles/133067/7-asian-actresses-who-could-change-the-oscars-race-problem#.DdBBGwhsk

        https://www.quora.com/Why-is-it-rare-for-Hollywood-to-cast-an-Asian-actor-in-the-main-role-of-a-movie

        http://everydayfeminism.com/2016/06/asian-americans-in-hollywood/

        Like

  2. Let me first start off by saying that I am completely in awe of Asian culture. I have the utmost respect for it, and I own an enormous Asian movie Library on dvd (and no, they are not only Martial Arts flicks, but cover an enormous range of all kinds of genres).
    I wish myself that an Asian woman would play the role of the Major. Admittedly, from what I have so far seen of the film, it does look good but after reading this post I can only say that I completely understand your feelings on the matter. It seems to be a general thing in Hollywood that for some reason certain roles need to be filled by big actors that also happen to be white. It is something that I guess at times will never change, although there are luckily also examples to be found that it can be done. Take the original Star Trek series for instance. The role of Sulu was a very strong and powerful character, and he has always been a fan favorite. Another good example more recently is Pacific Rim, which featured a strong Asian performance by Rinko Kikuchi. I loved her character in the film, and thought she was very strong. All in all though, I hope the future will change things for the better. Posts like these definitely help. Loved reading this: keep fighting the good fight 😊

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thank you 🙂 As you said the big actors often happen to be white, which ends up creating a cycle that is really hard for POC actors/actresses to break into 😦

      But it is really inspiring to see progress like Sulu and Pacific Rim, there’s also confirmation from Disney for the upcoming Mulan live action it will feature an all Chinese cast ^_^!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. This is a really great read, and you divide up each topic in a neat matter. I’m half Hispanic and half white, but I was adopted into a white family and raised in Los Angeles. There was always diversity, and I never saw a difference between myself and people of color; I had friends of all ethnic backgrounds. However, growing up I understand that I didn’t notice the quiet racism and discrimination that’s taken the place of loud and blatant discrimination for the very reason that I’m white. I think that’s why many people don’t understand what POC experience.

    In films, I started noticing the discrimination with 47 Ronin, starring Keanu Reeves. I recently saw advertising for The Great Wall and it makes me cringe; my mind cycled through some of what you said in your post.

    I think it would be amazing to bring more foreign films to the West’s mainstream audience, as it would be like Japan where we see ourselves on the big screen, as well as other ethnicities. However, we also want films made here to reflect our growing diversity and American-POC.

    Thank you for sharing your insight, and I look forward to future posts.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks :D! I’m in a similar position to you in that I’m half chinese but I look full white, to the point that people have actually asked me for my birth certificate to prove my mum is my mum. So I’ve been quite privileged in only noticing the quiet racism now that I’ve grown up, I was mostly protected from it when I was younger.
      I would love to see more films with greater diversity, even with the Avengers film, it’s only just becoming a bit more diverse with the main cast still being all white. But I have hope ! It’s so important for everyone in a society to feel and be represented

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you!! I just read an article today saying after all the controversy Disney has decided to do an all- Chinese cast. I heard rumours that Jennifer Lawrence was going to be Mulan and Sheng was going to be Zac Efron, I would never have watched any Disney film again if that happened!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Great read! I really enjoyed going through it. Unfortunately Johansson is a major ‘strong, sexy woman’ within the Hollywood scene, it’s just another way to get viewers viewing this film. I for one agree with everything you said. When I heard GITS was coming out I’m sure I ran laps around the house out of pure excitement! Of course that went quickly. This is Hollywood taking over, I mean come on, they make every action film into a frigging soppy romance these days! It’s a shame no one else caught on first. But in regards to the Japanese they won’t care – They love this sort of thing. A lot of manga/anime characters are based of Western people even if they originate from Japan (hence the big eyes and different colour hair). To them this is a dream come true! But if that characters ethnicity states they’re Japanese bunging in a white woman doesn’t make a whole load of sense! Adaptations from Japanese have never done well in Hollywood. People making them don’t understand it’s ins and outs, all they know is that it’s popular! (But even the Japanese don’t do it right. Look at the latest Attack on Titan live action they did. Most characters within that world (if any) are not Asian, only a white/Asian. And they had no Western actors!)) So every film industry in any country likes throwing racism around! I think the moral of the story is; Leave things alone and no one will get hurt! Great work!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much 🙂

      It’s really disappointing with ScarJo, and while there are many Asian actresses who are incredibly beautiful, Hollywood just always puts them into this stereotypical meek little box.

      I reckon if Hollywood wants to remake Japanese films/media they should really put in the effort to find advisors on it, both from Japan and American Japanese people. It would literally just take a little bit of work, and would make the film so much better.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Very well written! Thank you for speaking up for this important issue. I just hope that in the future Asians in Western countries will be better represented in Hollywood. I do think it has improved a little with shows like Fresh Off The Boat.

    Nonetheless, there is a lot of work that needs to be done.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I hope so too, I absolutely love Fresh Off the Boat, Ali Wong, one of the writers has a really funny comedy show on Netflix! Definitely, so much more work needs to be done, but it’s slowly getting there, and I can see in the future it’ll be so much better 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Interesting post. I find this really controversial but to me, as long they can get the character right, it could be okay. We don’t see much of Asian girls being the main character. Then again, like Blizzy Senpai said, her character is an Android. :/

    Liked by 1 person

    1. But you can’t deny the fact that this was a real opportunity for an Asian actress to be the lead. If you look through my comments to Blizzy, it’s not that there isn’t an Asian actress, there are heaps they could choose from, the producers, from the very beginning, wanted a white actress as it was more ‘marketable’ http://kotaku.com/ghost-in-the-shell-publisher-never-imagined-a-japanese-1771992584 Out of main cast of 6, 4 of them are white, not all of those characters in the original anime were androids either.

      If you look at the casting for the upcoming Death Note film, Kira is a Japanese man, they’re getting Nat Wolff to play him, and Shea Whigham is playing Soichiro, his name is literally SOICHIRO, and a white actor is playing that role. it’s clearly not just an issue for this film. What’s happening with the ‘Ghost in the Shell’ film represents continuous white washing that the Asian community has endured for years.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Exactly, what is a real issue in itself, and reflective of a large societal problem. Why is a white face more marketable than an Asian face? Mainly because society isn’t used to seeing Asian faces on products, the more this becomes the norm (by employing Asian actors/actresses/models/whatever), the more advances can be made for the Asian community 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

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