Scarlett Johansson, a white woman, has a new movie coming out this Friday in which she portrays a cyborg who should probably be played by a Japanese woman.
Motoko Kusanagi, Ghost In The Shell’s protagonist, is widely considered by the manga and anime’s fans to be a canonically Japanese woman. In the upcoming live action adaptation of the series, however, Motoko is now “Mira” and, you know, white. This is the sort of casting decision that many people would (accurately) recognize as whitewashing. In a recent interview with Good Morning America, though, Johansson was insistent that her playing a traditionally Japanese character was somehow not whitewashing.
“I think this character is living a very unique experience in that she has a human brain in an entirely machinate body,” Johansson said. “I would never attempt to play a person of a different race, obviously. Hopefully, any question that comes up of my casting will be answered by audiences when they see the film.”
Johansson is scratching at a something like a correct idea when she points out that her character, being a cyborg, is uniquely positioned to complicate the way that audiences will make sense of her race. But you have to remember that the source material for this movie is expressly Japanese—so much so that nearly everything about the film, aside from its white leading actors (we see you, too, Pilou Asbæk), is explicitly coded as Japanese.
ScarJo may not want to admit that she’s playing a role that should have gone to an Asian actress and hey, that’s her business. But arguing that Ghost In The Shell isn’t whitewashed is just silly.