In case you were wondering if the live action Ghost in the Shell film could get any more baffling, Associated Press has revealed that the Japanese actress Kaori Momoi is playing the mother of Scarlett Johansson’s Major.
It’s brought up so casually in the article that the validity of the statement is questionable, but if it turns out to be true it’s yet another confusing casting decision that does little to allay the concerns that Johansson is actually playing the part of a Japanese woman whose consciousness is now, inexplicably, residing in a white body.
Just a week ago the film’s producer told Buzzfeed that they have taken an “international approach” to the film and moved away from it being a Japanese story. This led many to believe that Johansson’s Major was a new character then, entirely removed from the originally Asian Motoko Kusanagi.
So the fact that we’re back here discussing whether or not Johansson’s character is actually Asian is frustrating, to say the least. If Johansson’s character is Asian under all that wiring, they have to explain why, out of all bodies, she had to be put in a white one, considering 94.9% of all lead characters in films are played by white people. If they attempt to say Major is biracial Japanese with a white father, then we have another Emma Stone in Aloha on our hands. And if the Major is actually a white woman in a white body and she’s just adopted by Momoi’s character, then it’s yet another white savior tale where a white person is raised up by Asians to be the best there is.
If anything, this casting further solidifies what many have been talking about for the past few months: this film, and Hollywood as a whole, seems determined to ignore that Asian Americans actually exist. Momoi has nothing but praise for the film, but the article notes she was already a superstar in Japan before acting overseas. The other Asian castmates in the film, Rila Fukushima and Takeshi Kitano, were born in Japan and have successful careers there. And Chin Han built up a resume in his country of Singapore before coming here.
The AP article title unintentionally reads like it was written by the Onion: “Asian Actors Too Busy to Fret Over Hollywood ‘White-Washing’.” Of course Asian actors are busy. They have thriving industries in their own countries where they’re actually cast in lead roles. An article about how Ghost in the Shell’s Japanese publisher is happy with Johansson or videos showing that people in Japan don’t care about whitewashing does absolutely nothing to erase the fact that Asian American actors struggle to get jobs in their own country. Until Hollywood starts to actually listen to their concerns instead of looking for justification from overseas Asians, whitewashed films like Ghost in the Shell will continue to be criticized.