Scarlett Johansson is the star in a live action version of the anime series “Ghost in the Shell.” Her character as the complicated and distinctly tough Major, a half-cyborg policewoman, ponders her identity as she hunts down a hacker able to change people’s identities. The role falls in line with Johansson’s usual action-centered roles and should easily lend itself to furthering her career.
There is, however, already dissent about another film featuring a non-Person of Color (POC) actor in a POC role. As of 2017, Hollywood has shown a spike in diversity, featuring films from different races, like “Lion” and “Moonlight.” Yet, Johansson’s role in “Ghost in the Shell” nearly undermines the progress they have made thus far with its mostly white cast.
Hollywood has suffered a lack of diversity since its inception, containing only a handful of films which feature POC leads, fewer that have gone on to mass popularization, and even fewer still that have gone on to win awards. The increase in POC actors who have gained recognition in the last year is supposed to be the beginning of change and the start of a door opening for actors of color. It signals a future of less cultural appropriation and whitewashing, but Johansson’s role as the lead in “Ghost in the Shell” expresses otherwise. Hollywood is reluctant to let go of old traditions, and this decision shows it.
Since Johansson was assigned to the lead role, it closed the door for an Asian—more specifically, Japanese—actress who could have played the role. This is major, as an Asian woman has not been represented on the big screen in a lead role since “Lucy Liu.” Just as Black people need to be represented for the sake of the kids growing up in America’s hostile culture, there are kids of Asian descent who need someone of Asian descent to play Major in order to show America can and will respect their culture.
Anime has such a huge following on top of that. It’s almost disrespectful to cast someone who is not part of the culture as the lead. It’s a robbery of an entire genre, and it was not necessary. It sheds a bad light on Hollywood, especially in this fragile time when society tethers on another period of monumental social change.
As expressed by countless POC, the erasure of culture will not be tolerated and POC have gotten this far because of their efforts. There is no way they will sit back and let this movie go forward unscathed.
“Gods of Egypt” faced the same problem, but “Ghost in the Shell” comes right after a big night which included the recognition of figures and movies like Viola Davis, Mahershala Ali, “Lion” and “The Salesman.”
It was an amazing step forward, but it would be erroneous to think that that one step would be enough. “Ghost in the Shell” will be a slap in the face after that one step, and POC will not take that seated.