Recently, many of Hollywood's most popular stars and production companies have come under fire for "whitewashing" the films they are involved with. Whitewashing is defined by Wikipedia as "a casting practice in the film industry of the United States in which white actors are cast in historically non-white character roles." One of the latest accusations involves actress Scarlett Johansson and her upcoming role as the traditionally Japanese "cybernetic human" named Major Motoko Kusanagi in the soon-to-be-released DreamWorks/Paramount film Ghost in the Shell.
Ghost in the Shell is based on the Japanese manga of the same name, which exists in a universe of futuristic cyber-terrorism. Major Kusanagi leads a group of anti-terrorist soldiers called Public Security Section 9. In the upcoming film, Scarlett Johansson portrays the traditional protagonist, only now she is referred to simply as "The Major," due to Johansson's Scandinavian heritage.
In light of this change, both Johansson and production companies DreamWorks and Paramount Pictures have been accused of whitewashing a traditionally Asian story. In a recent interview with Marie Claire that was later published by CBR, Johansson responded to the accusations, stating, “I certainly would never presume to play another race of a person. Diversity is important in Hollywood, and I would never want to feel like I was playing a character that was offensive.”
Later, Johansson explained that she is really quite honored (and even a bit nervous) to star in the lead role of a film that features a strong female protagonist. "Having a franchise with a female protagonist driving it is such a rare opportunity," Johansson explained, "Certainly, I feel the enormous pressure of that—the weight of such a big property on my shoulders.”
Despite the recent criticisms, not everyone is angry with the casting choice. Following a recent visit to the set, Mamoru Oshii, a leading developer on several of Ghost in the Shell's earlier animated features, offered his praise for the decision. “Scarlett Johansson playing Motoko from beginning to end has gone above and beyond my expectations for the role,” he said. “I’m sure this will be the most gorgeous film in the series so far.”
In addition to Scarlett Johansson in the lead, the film will also star Michael Pitt as Kuze and Pilou Asbæk as Beat. Ghost in the Shell is currently scheduled for an American theatrical release on March 31, 2017.