Ghost in the Shell: An Unwarranted Controversy(?)

DISCLAIMER: This is not a plea to continue whitewashing and we are in no way celebrating intolerance. This is not a piece to be used to further hateful rhetoric.

This week, the American live-action adaptation of Ghost in the Shell hits the big screen and lots of great vitriol has come out about the casting of Scarlett Johansson playing Major, instead of an Asian-American actress.

The word “WHITE-WASH” has been the film’s scarlet letter since the stars were announced.

While a lack of diversity is already problematic in Hollywood, one thing that begs the question when it comes to this controversy is that if any of this even warranted?

It’s not like the film itself even intended to replace the original film on all grounds.

Most of the cast is vasty diverse in fact, like a melting pot but set in a cyber punk dystopia, it’s just a shame they didn’t change the character names.

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One of the things that work best in mangas is that they inspire and entertain many people all over the world. Their stories, although complicated, appeal to a mass auidience and are ripe to be told from all over the world.

A dream of one of our writers is to see a live-action Akira film set in a futuristic Abu-Dhabi.

There’s no doubt that casting Scarlett Johansson (the world’s most profitable actress at the moment) as the Major for was to ensure high profits at the box office, but of the many things that it was set out to do, whitewashing wasn’t one of them. Even though the Major’s race is ambiguous, which adds a nice layer of mystery.

Sure, the idea that an American Ghost in the Shell adaptation was set to receive backlash from fans considering the impact of its original, but where exactly has this claim come from of all places? And better yet, was this even the first time this has happened with a remake of this stature?

Asian representation is important within Hollywood, without a doubt, but are we sure that how we see them on the screen will always be reaching out for the greater good?

Let’s talk about Rob Marshall’s Memoirs of a Geisha: a film which not only features Asian women playing extremely stereotyped roles but also, if it weren’t abundantly clear, has Chinese actresses playing the roles of Japanese people.


The latter may not sound like such a bad thing and even though some of us can find ourselves agreeing with Ken Watanabe’s sentiment about recognition of talent over the material, but would we rather have overly stereotypical depictions of these cultures in favor of genuine characterization?

Memoirs of a Geisha especially was always a case that so badly expresses the extent to which diversity would be represented in Hollywood.

It may be easy for certain audiences nowadays to eat up at how Asians get their time in the spotlight but Memoirs of a Geisha is a case where a supposed “diversity” does not inherently mean the greater good.

It’s also infuriating especially that Rob Marshall seems to care so little about the culture he wishes to depict in said scenario, and it doesn’t come down to casting Zhang Ziyi or Gong Li as a means of drawing box office gold.

Quite frankly, this evident lack of care is a problem akin to the said  “whitewashing” that Ghost in the Shell is being accused of.

Edge of Tomorrow represents an interesting conundrum.


When it came out, reviews were on the enthusiastic side.

Like Ghost in the ShellEdge of Tomorrow also came from a Japanese property: the light novel All You Need is Kill written by Hiroshi Sakurazaka.

How come a film starring Tom Cruise, who is about as American as Apple Pie, plays a character that was originally a young recruit named Keiji, yet no one blinks an eye?

Another thing worth noting, were people especially enraged at the idea of Oldboy, a Korean-language classic, being remade into an English-language film by Spike Lee?


Better yet, where was this sort of rage when Oldboy, which came from a Japanese manga, was being adapted into a Korean film?

Because isn’t this what all this backlash has been about, preserving the setting of the originals by only going for Asian representation?

Fun fact, Steven Spielberg was once in talks to remake it with Will Smith in the lead.

But since Will Smith is black and a box office star, there would most likely no outrage, unless they cast Wesley Snipes, who people would’ve boycotted. Although imagine a bearded and grey Snipes doing the hammer scene from Oldboy and wonder what could’ve been.

Thankfully, well at least for Ghost in the Shell, the talk of whitewashing has shifted to Adam Wingard’s Death Note adaptation.


The original Death Note films were absolutely terrible and barely appealed to anyone outside the fanbase, so why is whitewashing now the hot topic issue with these kind of films being made in the English language?

Who was it that said there should always be leading characters in manga adaptations that represent their Asian roots so bluntly?

Do we want to preserve their identity this much? To the point that a remake, made to be more accessible to viewers that have English as their own native tongue, should always have Asians in roles that may prove insignificant just for the preservation of tradition of the source?


Is it apparently impossible for a new take by a different country to preserve what matters most about how to tell a story from another source properly, by either bringing the light upon what made the original a standout or feeling comfortable on its own?

Is it impossible for a country to adapt another country’s source material and bring to light what made the original standout but still give a fresh take?

The answer is yes.

In 2013, Korean filmmaker Lee Sang-il remade the Oscar winning American cowboy classic, Unforgiven, and into the Japanese language.

They moved the story from the Old West to Meiji era and turned the cowboy into a samurai.  That to us is a genius move because it’s showing that this seemingly American story can transcend into unexpected worlds – just as Martin Scorsese proved through his remake of Infernal Affairs, the Oscar winning The Departed.

If something was ever left to be said, Ghost in the Shell already has a chance at scoring back a high profit or bombing badly but probably not for the reasons that director Rupert Sanders would have imagined.

If you are seeing Ghost in the Shell because you’re interested enough without letting this controversy get in your way, then it’s perfectly fine.

But if you’re either seeing this or boycotting it as a means of creating a statement, you won’t have anything to prove.

It doesn’t matter if you liked it or not if your reasoning for seeing it is the latter, it just shows you’re the only one who wants to feed into the ridiculous drama coming about.

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