Whitewashing in Hollywood
Story By: Ashley Choi and Fiona Cho Editor: Paul Kim Web Designer: Li June Choi
The controversial casting of the famous Scarlett Johansson, as Major Motoko Kusanagi - a Japanese woman - in adaptation of the classic, Ghost in the Shell, has drawn accusations of whitewashing in which white actors are casted in historically non-white roles. Johansson, who is half Danish and half Polish, is clearly a white actress, unfit for the role of an Asian character.
Proving that history repeats itself, the roots of this issue goes back all the way to a 1953 advertisement starring an Italian man as a Native American. The Conqueror (1956), proclaimed one of the worst movies ever, also portrays John Wayne, a white actor, as a Mongolian leader. The American film industry is already hostile to non-white actors. Other examples of this issue include Asian based movies in particular. The Last Airbender with a rating of 4.2%, was released with most of the cast being Caucasian, and Dragonball Evolution, rated with 2.7%, starred white actor Justin Chatwin as Goku, the main character. The pattern shown here is all too clear--movies with the wrong cast never seem to pass 5% for its rating.
Asian actors, in particular, seem to face high discrimination among the public. Edward Zo, a rising actor, has been rejected for the main role as Light Yagami from the anime Death Note. Warner Bros instead casted white actor Nat Wolff, because they weren’t looking for an Asian actor for the Asian character. A survey conducted in the University of Southern California, found that in 2013, Asians made up only 4.4% of all speaking roles in top-grossing Hollywood films.
DreamWorks, responsible for the production of Ghost in the Shell, wants the media to believe that Johansson was the right choice, as they claim that a star like her will show great commitment to the movie. At the same time, however, her role completely removes the core themes of the original story. The movie reflects on Japan’s unique, cultural relationship with the growth of technology, making it a Japanese story, not a universal one. Whiteness, for all intents, has been America’s default portrayal of itself since its founding, and the idea does not seem to show glimpses of changing.
It’s disappointing that DreamWorks is wasting a perfect chance to help talented Asian-American actors receive recognition. There are very few opportunities for these actors to shine in Hollywood, and Ghost in the Shell would be a perfect platform.