“Whitewashing” is the term currently used to describe the Hollywood practice of casting white actors in non-white character roles. It is being used in a severe critique of actress Scarlett Johansson and the film in which she appears, “Ghost in the Shell,” which opened this past weekend.
The Media Action Network for Asian Americans (MANAA), a group that monitors the depiction and coverage of Asian Americans in the media, issued a statement condemning the casting of Johansson in the new movie.
The group’s statement accuses the film of whitewashing the character of Motoku Kusanagi, a role that Johansson plays in the film derived from a Japanese graphic novel of the same name as the movie’s title.
MANAA made it a point to pick apart Johansson’s recent interview on “Good Morning America” (GMA), an appearance in which the actress stated that she “would never attempt to play a person of a different race, obviously.”
MANAA responded with some strong words, writing that “she [Johansson] was lying.”
It appears that Paramount executives and public relations experts believed that a plot twist in “Ghost in the Shell” might blunt disapproval that the film could predictably face with Johansson in the lead rather than an Asian actress.
The studio most likely wanted to take advantage of the fact that Johansson took the top spot on the 2016 list for the highest grossing actor.
The original story takes place in a Tokyo of the future. In the movie version, the main character of Motoko has been renamed Mira Killian, a cyborg law enforcement agent.
As part of the plotline, Johansson’s character’s original physical body has been eliminated, and her consciousness has been implanted into an android body. However, the implanted consciousness is actually one of a female of Japanese descent. In other words, Johansson plays the role of a character who is white on the outside and Asian on the inside.
Possibly according to the studio’s instructions, Johansson indicated to Marie Claire and GMA that she would not attempt to play a person of another race.
Because her character is externally Caucasian, perhaps studio executives looked at the statement as technically correct. However, MANAA sees things differently and is focusing on the character’s inner ethnicity.
“Apparently, in Hollywood, Japanese people can’t play Japanese people anymore,” MANAA President Robert Chan said.
In an age of heightened political correctness, Americans of Asian descent certainly appear to have a bona fide issue with Hollywood and its casting practices. In 2016 MANAA objected to Tilda Swinton portraying the Tibetan Ancient One in the film “Doctor Strange.”
Additional examples include Elizabeth Banks portraying a villain in “Power Rangers,” a role originally played by a Japanese actress in the series upon which the movie is based, and non-Asian actors cast in the movies “Dragonball Evolution,” “Speed Racer,” and “The Great Wall.”
Interestingly, Johansson has some strong liberal credentials. She campaigned for Democratic candidate John Kerry in 2004 and Democratic candidate Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012. She even spoke at the Democratic National Convention in 2012 on President Obama’s behalf.
Additionally, in January 2017 she attended the celebrity filled lineup in Washington, D.C. at the women’s march, which included fellow participants Madonna and Ashley Judd, among others.
As far as Hollywood is concerned, Johansson may have been a bit too soft at the time on President Donald Trump when she said the following words:
“I didn’t vote for you. But I want to be able to support you,” the actress said.
“But first I ask that you support me,” she added, saying that she wanted her daughter to grow up with the same access to health resources that the president’s daughter Ivanka had.
More recently, in an appearance on the Lorraine Kelly show to promote her latest film, Johansson said, “It’s important to note the women’s march was not against Donald Trump.”
“It was simply a march for women to highlight the fact that when women stand for and with other women we are a very strong force to be reckoned with,” she added.
Johansson has let it be known that she may be a political candidate in the future.
“I’ve always been interested in local politics,” she told GMA.
She seemed to open the door even further, saying that “eventually, maybe if my daughter was older and I could totally focus myself on something like that, I think it could be interesting.”
With her stands on the issues, Johansson would presumably run as a Democrat, that is, if she is able to put these whitewashing accusations behind her.