The ghost in the shell: Why is Hollywood still whitewashing?
Hollywood has a problem. Despite making baby steps towards inclusivity – see Moonlight winning an Oscar – they still don’t seem to be able to stop whitewashing big-budget films.
It’s not as if this is a new thing. Hollywood’s been whitewashing since the golden age of cinema. See Yul Brynner as the King in The King and I (1951), John Wayne as Genghis Khan in The Conqueror (1956), and the truly frightful Mickey Rooney as Mr. Yunioshi in Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961). People have noticed and commented on this before, but in 2017 viewers have a voice and are ready to be heard.
Oblivious to the existing backlash against the casting of a white, blonde American in the Ghost in the Shell live-action movie, the marketing boffins over at DreamWorks conceived a clever social media ploy: they encouraged people to create their own tweet to do their marketing job for them.
Of course, this brilliant scheme backfired, with fans tweeting such choice hashtags as #IAmTotallyJapaneseYeah, #IAmWhite, and #IAmAppropriated. The marketing department in question reminded us distinctly of Bob Porter and Bob Slydell’s inspired motivational banner from Office Space. “Is this good for the STUDIO?”
Hollywood has been disconsidering East-Asian culture with great regularity recently, featuring casting decisions such as Emma Stone as a woman of Chinese-Hawaiian descent in Aloha, Matt Damon leading the Chinese epic The Great Wall, and the curious case of Tilda Swinton as The Ancient One in Dr. Strange.
Comedian Margaret Cho said in private correspondence to Swindon about the above – which has since been made public – “Asian Americans are fed up with not being given roles even if the part called for someone of Asian descent – and . . . the Ancient One role was being used as another example of ‘whitewashing’ . . . .”
Two other Asian-American comics, Jes Tom and Chewy May, produced a viral PSA video expressing their views about the Ghost in the Shell casting choice. This peaceful form of activism has received extensive commentary online and can be viewed below.
Speaking to Marie Claire for their March 2017 issue, white actress Scarlett Johansson said:
“I certainly would never presume to play another race of a person [sic]. Diversity is important in Hollywood, and I would never want to feel like I was playing a character that was offensive. Also, having a franchise with a female protagonist driving it is such a rare opportunity. Certainly, I feel the enormous pressure of that—the weight of such a big property on my shoulders.”