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Instagram Users Cry Foul at Images of Scarlett Johansson in the Ghost in the Shell Remake

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In case you were unaware, Paramount are currently working on a live remake of the iconic 1995 anime film - Ghost in the Shell. Based on the manga of same name, and set in a futuristic Tokyo, the film dealt with a world where cybernetic/human augmentation was not only possible, but widespread. People connect their brains directly to the internet, and swap out organs for cybernetic implants until all that remains of their humanity is their soul, or 'ghost'.

It's a pretty resonant idea in this day and age, considering the way the VR is developing, as well as 'body modding', with some people even attaching various articles of tech to their fleshy parts, for no better reason than to garner attention. As such, it stands to reason that Hollywood might have a crack at a live-action remake, and so it has turned out.

Even before you look at the issue framing this article, there are problems with this. First and foremost - this is an anime film they're playing with, and one so vast in scope and spectacle that doing it any kind of justice requires a gargantuan budget, and a way to assure ticket sales. Enter Scarlett Johansson, one of the only movie stars who still guarantees a big return. The problem with that? Well, she's kind of white.

Stories about Hollywood whitewashing are rife at the moment, both Ridley Scott and Alex Proyas have recently come under fire for making films about ancient Egpyt, and proceeding to stuff them full of white actors, and even Zoe Saldana attracted negative attention when she was recently cast as Nina Simone. Saldana is of Haitian and Lebanese descent, whereas Simone was prominently dark skinned. With Ghost in the Shell though, things are a bit different.

The original was set in a fictional Japanese city called Niihama, or 'New Port City', and Japanese international politics play a huge role in the story. More to the point though, Motoko Kusenagi (or 'The Major'), the character Johansson will be playing, is widely regarded as an icon for Asian women, despite being a drawing. Many considered the new film to be a great opportunity to showcase one of the many Asian and Asian American actresses working in Hollywood at the forefront of a big-budget undertaking.

A few days ago, the first image of Johansson as The Major emerged, and the backlash began. Some just bemoaned the silly hair, but on Instagram, a subset of users started using Photoshop to express their dissatisfaction in a different way - replacing her with Japanese actress Rinko Kikuchi. Kukichi rose to prominence after her harrowing performance as a schoolgirl in Babel, and got her first taste of Hollywood, high-concept fare in Pacific Rim. Even before Johansson was cast, people were hoping she would land the role.




Another image kept Johansson in place, but put a paint roller in her hand, slathering white paint over the poster for the original film. Interestingly enough, the vast majority of this criticism has come from the West, while on 2ch, Japans largest online forum, the reaction to the image was a lot more mixed. A lot of Japanese fans seem to just accept that if you relocate a Japanese story to America, a lot of characters are going to become white.

Elsewhere, a screenwriter named Max Landis posted a vlog defending the decision to cast her, citing the fact that there's currently a very narrow pool of actors and actresses that can front a risky venture like this in order to bring in the necessary monetary guarantees, almost all of whom are "distressingly white".

He has a point, but the trouble with his stance is that he's pointing to a wider problem without really suggesting a way out. The thing is, people actually don't care about actors anywhere near as much as they used to, which is why the pool is shrinking, and Hollywood's response is to desperately cling to the few left that still offer A-list returns, rather than finding a new way.

In this situation, the studio seem to be so scared of fumbling it that at one point they actually tested a kind of Asian CGI mask for some of the white actors. Yes, you read that right, CGI-enhanced Asian black-face. The real litmus test will be how this film ultimately performs, and the arbiters of that will be the trailers and the early critic responses, the things that people really pay attention to, the things that nearly killed a behemoth like Batman vs Superman in the cradle.

If the film bombs, it will result in a pretty major autopsy on the part of Paramount, and what they'll probably realise is that casting Scar Jo ends up having almost nothing to do with the film's failure, or its success. It's the whole approach that needs to be re-examined.




Callum is a film school graduate who is now making a name for himself as a journalist and content writer. His vices include flat whites and 90s hip-hop. Follow him @Songbird_Callum


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Instagram Users Cry Foul at Images of Scarlett Johansson in the Ghost in the Shell Remake Reviewed by Callum Davies on Tuesday, April 19, 2016 Rating: 5

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