Last week, DreamWorks and Paramount Pictures released a teaser image of Scarlett Johansson as Motoko Kusanagi from their upcoming live-action movie adaption of the 1995 Japanese anime and manga classic, “Ghost in the Shell” (攻殻機動隊 Kōkaku Kidōtai, literally “Mobile Armored Riot Police”).
It was said that the studios will be using visual effects on the actress to make her appear more Asian.
Since then, Twitter has been filled with outrage from both fans of the anime series, and people who are just plain mad about whitewashing an Asian character. Just in case you didn’t know, whitewashing is a form of casting practice in the Hollywood film industry in which white actors are cast in historically non-white character roles.
Whitewashing is no new concept, mind you.
Iconic Asian characters such as the Japanese interpreter (played by Marlon Brando) from “The Teahouse Of The August Moon” in 1956, I.Y Yunioshi (played by Mickey Rooney) from “Breakfast At Tiffany’s” in 1961, and Billy Kwan (played by Linda Hunt) from “The Year of Living Dangerously” in 1983 are all classic examples of whitewashing.
Just last year, Emma Stone played Allison Ng, a Chinese-Hawaiian girl, in the adaption for Cameron Crowe’s critically acclaimed novel “Aloha”.
Speaking at a Committee of 100 conference panel in Los Angeles, TV actress Constance Wu, famed for her role as Jessica Huang in “Fresh Off The Boat”, stressed that using visual effects to make someone look more Asian is “heinous”.
“Altering a white actor’s features to appear more Asian reduces our race and our ethnicity down to mere physical appearance. And as we all know, our ethnicity, our races, and our culture are so much deeper than how we friggin’ look,” said Wu.
Other panellists also include Ming-Na Wen who stars in “Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D”. According to BuzzFeed, Wen urged that the audience to speak out about the racism that’s still prevalent in Hollywood because whitewashing will just continue if they (white filmmakers) become comfortable.
Apparently, the main reason why Hollywood filmmakers wouldn’t cast an Asian actor is because “there aren’t many famous Asian actors out there” that can boost the box office. According to NY Times, “Ghost In The Shell” screenwriter Max Landis used the same reason to justify Scarlett Johansson’s casting for the role of Kusanagi.
“There are no A-list female Asian celebrities right now on an international level,” he said via YouTube. He even added that viewers “do not understand how the industry works”.
Did anyone tell Landis that “Dragonball: Evolution” and “Avatar: The Last Air Bender” were box office flops? This proves that white actors do not guarantee a success in the box office department.
Another recent whitewashing controversy is Marvel’s decision to cast Tilda Swinton as The Ancient One, who in the original “Doctor Strange” comics, is Tibetan. The film’s co-writer C. Robert Cargill explained in a video interview on YouTube that the casting decision was made to avoid political conflict with the Chinese government because of the complicated issue between Tibet and China.
“The Ancient One was a racist stereotype who comes from a region of the world that is in a very weird political place. He originates from Tibet, so if you acknowledge that Tibet is a place and that he’s Tibetan, you risk alienating one billion people (in China) who think that that’s bulls**t,” he said in the interview.
In the end, it’s all about the money, eh?
We really do hope to see more Asian actors and actresses on the big screen but it may take longer than we expect.
What are your thoughts about whitewashing in Hollywood? Do you really think that Asian actors won’t make it big in Hollywood’s film industry? Let us know what you think in the comment box below!
Meanwhile, find out what the Japanese think about whitewashing in the video below: