Movies, Pop Culture

Give me a reason Asian characters shouldn’t be played by Asian actors, Max

I'm calling BS on the "Ghost in the Shell" screenwriter's defense of why the main character is being whitewashed.

In our latest installment of “Whitewashing in Hollywood,” there are apparently no A-list Asian actresses that could play the lead role in the live action movie of the Japanese anime, “Ghost in the Shell.”

At least, that’s what screenwriter Max Landis thinks. In a YouTube video he posted to explain the decision to cast Scarlett Johansson as the Japanese character Major Kusanagi – a decision that has rightly been called out as whitewashing an Asian character (again) – Landis claims that the problem is with the “broken system” of Hollywood that marginalizes minorities and doesn’t give them the ability to get movies made by big studios. Apparently, we no longer have the big-name Asian actors of the 1990s, like Jackie Chan and Jet Li. “We don’t even have Lucy Liu any more,” Landis says.

[bctt tweet=”Apparently, we no longer have the big-name Asian actors of the 1990s.” username=”wearethetempest”]

There’s a lot wrong with this argument, but let’s start with the most glaring part: we don’t have Lucy Liu anymore? What’s that supposed to mean? She’s not dead – in fact, she’s the star of the very popular CBS show “Elementary.” So unless Landis would like to expand on that point, I’m calling BS.

But let’s pretend, for argument’s sake, that Lucy Liu doesn’t exist. There are, in fact, many Asian actresses that could be cast for the lead role in “Ghost in the Shell.” I know this because I Googled “Asian actresses” and got a list that includes Karen Fukuhara, who is in the upcoming “Suicide Squad” movie, Claudia Kim, who was in “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” and Jamie Chung, who has been in more things than we have space to list. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that this kind of research is well within the reach of companies like Paramount and DreamWorks.

[bctt tweet=”Yeah, that’s some great logic right there. I’m calling BS, Max.” username=”wearethetempest”]

Oh, but they don’t have the “screen power” to get a movie made, Landis claims. Once again, BS. As Ben Child points out in this Guardian article, some of the biggest movies of the year have starred little-known actors, the most obvious example being “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” Daisy Ridley and John Boyega were basically unheard of before that movie, and it did pretty well. Some of that was, undoubtedly, Star Wars hype, but “Ghost in the Shell” also has its fandom – and it’s that very fandom that is not happy with the whitewashing of the main character.

[bctt tweet=”Oh, but they don’t have the ‘screen power’ to get a movie made, Landis claims.” username=”wearethetempest”]

Things get worse though – yes, it’s hard to believe, but it’s true. Apparently, Paramount and DreamWorks experimented with CGI technology to make Scarlett Johansson look more Asian. So to recap, according to the screenwriter of the film, it makes more sense for a studio to cast a white woman to play an Asian character – and yes, manga and anime characters are Japanese – angering the people who would want to go see the movie in the first place, and then invest who knows how many thousands of dollars on technology to make her look more Asian, than it would to actually cast an Asian woman to play the character in the first place. 

Yeah, that’s some great logic right there. I’m calling BS, Max.

  • Nadia Eldemerdash

    Nadia Eldemerdash is a communications specialist by day, her writing focuses on migration and identity. By night, she blogs about media and creativity at Favorite things include junk food, packing luggage, and the idea of exercise.