When Ghost in the Shell was announced as a feature film with Scarlett Johansson in the lead role, fans were rightly outraged. How could the lead character, a Japanese woman named Motoko Kusanagi, be so blatantly substituted by a blonde, white woman? It was whitewashing at its very worst. But producer Steven Paul implored skeptical fans to keep an open mind: "They’re going to be very, very happy with it when they see what we’ve actually done with it, and I don’t think anybody’s going to be disappointed."
Now that we’ve had a chance to look at the first official trailer though, we’re still at a loss as to why this casting decision was made. Don’t get us wrong, it appears that the Ghost filmmakers nailed the signature blend of traditional Japanese iconography and futuristic cyberpunk. But that fact only amplifies the egregiousness of casting Johansson (and frankly, a slew of other white actors). The appropriation is so blatant, it's as jarring as it is offensive. And the question remains: Could all of this have been accomplished with a Japanese woman in the lead role? Of course it could have, and it should have been.
Hopefully, sometime within the future, this will be a quaint relic of a bygone time. But as long as Hollywood producers continue to do this, it is our responsibility to call them over the carpet for it. Because this has been going on for decades, way before Scarlett Johansson was even born. Take a look: here’s a brief history of non-Asian actors playing Asian roles.