Early 2016, we were given a teaser of what was to come of the announced live action film adaption of Ghost in The Shell. Fast forward to later on that year, a full trailer of the film was released. While some fans praised the material, a few of us couldn’t help but notice the blatant erasing of the film’s Asian elements and characters, with it’s replacement of White faces. White-washing in films is something that has sadly become all too familiar, almost too familiar for me that its quite discomforting. Fast forward to this year in 2017, the release date for the film, and the topic has popped back up in recent discussions.
For those not familiar with Ghost in The Shell, the manga of the same name was written and created by Masamune Shirow. In 1995 an anime film adaption was released, which tells the story of Motoko Kusanagi. The setting takes place in the mid-twenty-first century in the fictional Japanese city of Niihama, Niihama Prefecture known as New Port City. The manga and the anime adaptations to follow the members of Public Security Section 9, a special-operations task-force made up of former military officers and police detectives. Political intrigue and counter-terrorism operations are standard fare for Section 9, but the various actions of corrupt officials, companies, and cyber-criminals in each scenario are unique and require the diverse skills of Section 9’s staff to prevent a series of incidents from escalating.
In this post-cyberpunk iteration of a possible future, computer technology has advanced to the point that many members of the public possess cyber-brains, technology that allows them to interface their biological brain with various networks. The level of cyberization varies from simple minimal interfaces to almost complete replacement of the brain with cybernetic parts, in cases of severe trauma. This can also be combined with various levels of prostheses, with a fully prosthetic body enabling a person to become a cyborg. The main character of Ghost in the Shell, Major Motoko Kusanagi, is such a cyborg, having had a terrible accident befall her as a child that ultimately required her to use a full-body prosthesis to house her cyber-brain.
Some fans have been combative over the issue of Scarlett Johansson being cast as Major. Stating it doesn’t matter who plays Major, because she is an artificial shell. However, it is very clear that Motoko is very much a Japanese woman and Japanese citizen. Before her accident, that was who she was, and her biological brain and identity is based off as such. The film has strayed very far from the original narrative. The Major in the manga and anime knows exactly who she is and how she became a cyborg. It is a very important plot point in the story— it is how the Major centers on her core identity that while her body is a machine, her mind and soul aren’t.
The story displays Japanese people, Japanese culture, the development and technological advancements with futuristic elements of Japan; while exploring human consciousness. The actors and actresses should reflect such, yet they do not. The story has been stripped of it’s original content, straying far from the narrative. Motoko Kusanagi has been stripped of her name and who she is as an Asian character. Very much of the main cast consists of White actors, while the Asian cast has been thrown into supporting roles.
Rupert Sanders, The director of the film came forward to address the issue.
“To me, you know, I cast very much from the gut and I think I was very lucky to be able to get an amazing international cast of people that I’ve always really wanted to work with,” he said. “Scarlett was one of those people, and to me there’s very few actresses who’ve had 20 years of experience, who have the cyberpunk aesthetic already baked in. You know, she comes from such edgy films from Lost in Translation to Under the Skin — she’s got an incredible body of work and the attitude and toughness of her really is to me The Major.”
Now here is what’s wrong with this picture. There are many Asian actors and actress that are just as qualified and have just as much acting experience. However, Sanders failed to take initiative to do his research, and only dove into his pull of white actors who were familiar to him— rather than showcase many talented Asian actors and actresses. Many felt that Rinko Kikuchi would have been the perfect choice to embody the role of Major. Who also has, oh would you look at that, going on 20 years of acting experience!
As a whole we need to dispose of this idea that the talent isn’t there, it is. The talent pool of PoC actors is endless. Asians deserve to be represented in main roles in movies. Not placed in stereotypical roles that display Asians speaking in broken English, reciting ridiculous fortune cookie one-liners while staying subservient to the white people. While Asian women are displayed as quiet, meek, and hyper-sexualized.
I like to think Rogue One is a clear example of a recent successful film that has a diverse main cast that consists of PoC characters.The film also showcases Asian casts members Donnie Yen and Jiang Wen, who portray strong and outspoken main characters who hold a powerful presence. Because guess what, Asians are also in space!
Representation matters. People of color need to be represented, and we will keep talking about, because it needs to be said.