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Scarlett Johansson’s Race and Ghost in the Shell

ghost_in_the_shell_motokoIf you’re my friend on Facebook you’ve seen me briefly whine about Scarlett Johansson’s role in the Americanized, live-action version of Ghost in the Shell (GitS). As I’ve said on there, I don’t care much about race qua race in most contexts, but within the GitS fictional world it matters a lot. Since both movies, the two series’ season and related movie, the recent mini-movie reboot, and (presumably) the manga, take place in Japan and heavily involve high-level government workings in a near-future Japan, the artistic pressure to match the race of the protagonists is present*.

Rupert Sanders, the director, could work the non-Japaneseness of Motoko Kusanagi, the main protagonist and Johansson’s role, into the plot. Kusanagi’s body is completely synthetic. Though the ethnicity of her cybernetic body has a Japanese appearance, she could conceivably have a Caucasian body since it’s not difficult to “change” bodies out. This doesn’t seem likely since this new film is going to be marketed to a more general audience than a GitS fanbase. The former demographic is not going to be concerned or even be aware of the discrepancy. Since the nature of human consciousness is a major theme, especially in the original film, Sanders could even work in some meta-counter-criticism of race by leveraging the a-ethnicity of the soul (however one may consider the nature of the soul to be).

But my main point in all this is that many Facebook commenters are calling the casting a “whitewash” of the source material. I wonder, though, if the people making this criticism would call the newest Annie film or Idris Elba’s possible casting as the new James Bond a “blackening” of the original, or if they consider a black Santa Claus a betrayal of a European tradition? Why would Johansson’s casting not be considered a win for diversity in a franchise that is traditionally very Asian?

* As far as I remember, all of the main, recurring characters in GitS except for Batou are Japanese. Batou is actually French, and presumably Caucasian. Might be interesting to track the casting of his character as well.


5 thoughts on “Scarlett Johansson’s Race and Ghost in the Shell”

    1. Jay Post author

      In the grand scheme of cinema, yeah I guess I care, but that’s not saying much. I don’t get worked up about movies.

      Reply

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