It was recently announced that the popular Japanese manga “Ghost in the Shell” would be adapted into a live-action film starring Scarlett Johansson. There has been a great deal of controversy surrounding the casting of Johansson, who is of Danish and Ashkenazi Jewish descent, as a Japanese woman.
Those in favor of the casting claim that Johansson is the best actress for the role and that an A-list star was necessary for the film to be green lighted. There are reports showing that Japanese social media is in less of an uproar over the casting decision than America is. Even Kodansha, the publisher of the manga, seems to be at ease with the choice with a representative stating that they never expected a Japanese woman to be cast in the main role.
All of this should make us okay with casting a white woman as an Asian, right?
First of all, it may be true that casting someone of Johansson’s fame and caliber may have been vital to getting this project approved. This, however, is a reflection of Hollywood’s lack of diversity and is not an excuse. The publisher’s statement should also not be taken as justification; it is not surprising that a publishing company would want “Ghost in the Shell” to reach worldwide audiences.
What Asians living in Diaspora understand better than those still in their home countries is how often we are marginalized by the media. To us, the casting of a white woman as an Asian is a reminder of just how much we are underrepresented. It is a mark of our minority status. It is a slap in the face, telling us that we are still not welcome here.
Asian-American actresses have expressed their disapproval, including Ming Na-Wen, star of Marvel’s “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” She sounded off an Twitter about Hollywood’s “whitewashing.” Though Paramount officially denied it, there are reports of the studio experimenting with CGI in order to make Johansson appear more Asian.
There are few enough roles for Asian actresses in the Western world as it is. Even parts without a specified ethnicity rarely go to Asians. When Asian actors are losing Asian roles to white actors it is an indicator of a very serious problem. This is about more than freedom of expression or choosing the best actor for the role. When white actors are cast as non-white characters whose ethnicity they bear no resemblance to, it carries the message the Asians simply aren’t good enough.
Is this the world we want to live in? Do we want to exist in a society where we are portrayed by white people, a society where our stories and names and cultures are no longer our own?