When fans of Ghost In The Shell first learned that Scarlett Johansson (a white woman) had been cast as Major Motoko Kusanagi (a Japanese cyborg), an audible groan swept over the internet as everyone realized that Paramount was going to whitewash the hell out of a beloved franchise.
Rather than acknowledge people’s concerns about on-screen representation and consider that the whitewashing might put Ghost In The Shell’s box office in financial danger, Paramount (and Johansson) insisted that people reserve their judgments until they saw the movie. Here’s the thing though—barely anybody went to go see it (as they warned the studio), the film raking in $18.6 million against an estimated $100 million plus budget. Boss Baby opened at no. 1 at the box office with $49 million in ticket sales.
And now, at least one Paramount executive has admitted that the (very literal) whitewashing is at least partially to blame.
In an interview with the CBC, Paramount’s head of domestic distribution, Kyle Davies, said that during the development process, the studio tried to walk the fine line between appealing to hardcore anime fans and a more mainstream audience. As Ghost In The Shell’s lackluster sales demonstrate, though, things didn’t work.
“We had hopes for better results domestically,” Davies said. “I think the conversation regarding casting impacted the reviews.”
Davis goes on to argue that Paramount really did try to “honor the source material,” but as anyone who’s actually seen the original Ghost In The Shell will tell you, that’s not true. What Paramount did was take a beloved Japanese franchise, drain it of its philosophical essence, slap a bunch of white faces on it, and hope that audiences would mindlessly eat it up because it’s still technically called “Ghost In The Shell.”
Moral of the story for Hollywood: When virtually everyone is telling you that your movie is a bad, bad idea, listen to them! Or, you know, throw millions of dollars down the drain.