Scarlett Johansson was confirmed today to play the lead in DreamWorks movie adaptation of Ghost in the Shell, the iconic anime franchise. The news is making a major splash in Hollywood, further cementing Johansson as one of the most powerful female actresses in the business. But the casting has also drawn criticism for whitewashing an important piece of Japanese culture.
Both reddit and Twitter are filled with voices upset by Johansson being chosen to play Motoko Kusanagi, leader of a Japanese unit that fights cybercrime. The move has been compared to Hollywood's treatment of Hachi: A Dog's Tale (staring Richard Gere) and the long-stalled Akira.
In response to the complaints of whitewashing some have screamed hypocrisy by pointing out the enthusiasm at the prospect of Idris Elba staring as James Bond. The difference, though, is that the Bond series is long established in American cinema. People originally complained about a blonde 007, but that didn't change the legacy of the series. Neither would bringing on a black 007. The strongest cultural ties in the series are with Great Britain, where Elba is from. Casting an American as Bond would be the most egregious offense.
But casting a white actress in Ghost in the Shell in its first exposure to mainstream America runs the risk of erasing its Japanese heritage. We're talking about a classic in the anime genre, and when Americans see ScarJo as the lead they may just see another action flick instead of appreciating its history.
At the very least we hope the rest of the cast has more diversity. We don't need another Exodus on our hands.