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’.
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.
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.
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 🙂