Ever since news dropped that Scarlett Johansson would be portraying the main character, Major Kusanagi, in a live-action version of the iconic Japanese movie and television series Ghost in the Shell, shit hit the fan very quickly for a very good reason. That reason? The erasure of Asian culture from an Asian story and the general implication that only whiteness is appropriate for telling a "universal" story, among other things.
Well, Scarlett Johansson has finally deigned to address the issue herself!
In an interview with Marie Claire, Johansson said:
I certainly would never presume to play another race of a person. Diversity is important in Hollywood, and I would never want to feel like I was playing a character that was offensive. Also, having a franchise with a female protagonist driving it is such a rare opportunity. Certainly, I feel the enormous pressure of that—the weight of such a big property on my shoulders.
Hmm. OK, so she would never presume to play another race of a person, but…she does know she’s playing a Japanese character? And that the filmmakers considered using CGI to make her look more Asian? It's a smart move for her to try and pivot the conversation toward gender by addressing the importance of having a female protagonist—and that’s a great point! You know what would have been even better, though? Using this great opportunity to showcase some of the talented Asian women who have worked incredibly hard in the film industry.
It just feels like once again, a white woman is cowering behind the facade of female empowerment in order to skirt the issue of race, as if those two have nothing to do with one another. I get that Major Motoko Kusanagi (who only goes by “Major” in the film so as to resolve the dissonance between having a Japanese name portrayed by a white actress) is a machine. But the character is still Japanese and Johansson’s casting is still a perfect example of whitewashing, no matter what she says.