[SPOILERS] The Twist In ‘Ghost In The Shell’ Somehow Makes The Whitewashing Even More Racist

Posted by March 31, 2017 Comment

ghost in the shellGhost in the Shell is likely to be a movie that will have an extremely contentious debate surrounding it. There has been a huge black (or in this case, white) mark against the movie from the beginning, and now that the final product is out the results are even worse than we imagined. However, to get into the issue of whitewashing in Ghost in the Shell we need to spoil a major twist in the plotline. If you’d like to remain unspoiled for this movie then please come back and take a look at this article at another time. For everyone else, let’s look at how a studio doubled down on a bad decision.

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Ghost in the Shell was originally a Japanese manga and anime that starred a cyborg named Motoko Kusanagi. Since this a Japanese story that takes place in Japan, Motoko is a Japanese woman. Major Motoko suffered a terrible accident as a child and had to eventually take on a full body prosthesis with her brain blended within the machine. The idea of a cyborg with a human brain does carry through to the new movie, but with two major changes that become apparent right away; Scarlett Johansson was cast to play Major Mira Killian. The outcry from fans and critics alike was loud and vocal as it appeared to be a blatant case of whitewashing. The movie tried to skirt around the issue by saying that this was a different character from the original Motoko so it didn’t count, but once we see the final product, it appears that the production company took all of the criticism and decided to lean into it.

Scarlett Johansson plays The Major in Ghost in the Shell from Paramount Pictures and DreamWorks Pictures in theaters March 31, 2017.

In the movie version, Major doesn’t know what her past is and halfway through the movie she decides to go and find out what happened to her. The pieces slowly come to together and we find out that Mira is Motoko. Motoko, in this version, was a runaway who was against cyberization along with a group of other runaways. The Hanka Robotics company kidnapped her and the other young people in her group to use them as lab rats for their artificial intelligence technology. In the movie, they came up with a plot that literally takes a Japanese woman and puts her in the body of a white woman. The whitewashing casting was bad enough, but instead of trying to figure out a way to justify it they instead just accept it and make it part of the story, instead.

Not only do they do this with Motoko, but also with our antagonist Hadley Cruz (or as we find out later, Hideo Kuze as played by Michael Pitt). The casting was baffling to begin with but the fact that the writers decided that this was the best way to address it is flabbergasting. This is setting aside the fact that the movie spends a large amount of time telling us that the Major and Hideo are “the next stage of evolution” and “perfect” which should make anyone with the faintest acknowledgement of racial injustice uncomfortable. The perfect person in these movies, the thing they say everyone is striving to be, is the mind of a Japanese woman put inside a white woman’s body.

If the movie was trying to do something new or different with the source material then perhaps the casting or terrible story idea could be explained, but the rest of the movie looks exactly like the source material. The few moments that are truly stunning are the ones when we get a look at the Japanese city complete with Geisha bots. It makes the moments with Johannson odd and the plotline only hinders it more. There is nothing more unoriginal than a wronged protagonist with what is basically amnesia. They wanted to explore the human angle but went about it in the most boring way possible.

ghost in the shellThe casting of Johansson and Pitt are symptoms of a larger problem within Hollywood. While the decision to take the roles is on both of them, but the fact that the studio offered them the job at all is the problem. The executives have little faith in giving lead roles to people of color, despite the fact that they need to appeal to a global market if they are going to make any money. In this case the studio not only decided to whitewash the characters, thus robbing an Asian actor and actress of the small roles available to them, but then decided to address it by taking the theoretical whitewashing and making it a plot in the movie.

They couldn’t have made it more tone deaf if they tried. For a movie with aspiration to explore what it means to be human they seem very keen to limit the type of person we see in leading roles on screen.

(Last Updated March 31, 2017 8:38 pm )

About Kaitlyn Booth

Kaitlyn is a film nerd, a comic nerd, an all around nerd that has a love for female superheroes and independent cinema. When she isn’t watching movies Kaitlyn loves fiction writing and watching political satire. Follow her on twitter @katiesmovies and @safaiagem on instagram. She’s also a co-host at The Nerd Dome Podcast. Listen to it at http://www.nerddomepodcast.com

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