The controversy surrounding the casting of Scarlett Johansson in a role of Major Motoko Kusanagi in the Ghost in the Shell adaptation wasn’t exactly a surprise. In an industry where marketability is king, it would be quite the gamble on any studio’s part to shoot for a relatively unknown actress for the lead in an expensive, action-packed undertaking. Of course, there was plenty of justifications that could be made for the decision.
In addition to the whole money thing, it was argued by some that Johansson’s character wouldn’t need to be strictly Japanese, as she is a cyborg that can be made to look like any race. Some even argued that the characters in anime don’t look Japanese, opening themselves to be cast as any race (read: white). I won’t go into detail as to why that’s a faulty argument, but the short version is that that perception is shaped by one’s own understanding of “the default skin color,” and to many white Americans, the default skin color is white. For more on that idea, Kotaku put up a great piece a good six-plus years ago that delves into that whole thing (CLICK HERE TO SEE THAT PIECE).
Now, I should take this moment to say that I am not trying to guilt trip anyone by saying all this. Apart from the controversy, I think Johansson is an inspired choice for the role, and look forward to seeing her take on the popular manga character. Regardless, this is a move that's a part of a continuing trend in the business. But let's move on to the topic at hand.
In the time since she was attached to the role, Johansson has remained a bit mum on the whole thing. Who could blame her? With controversies like this, there’s often very little point in talking, as someone is bound to twist your words and use them against you. However, in a recent issue of Marie Claire, the actress finally broke her silence on the controversy, and from her perspective, she seemed intent on tackling her own marginalized group.
Here’s what Johansson had to say (via Screen Rant):
“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.”
It’s easy to see where she’s coming from. While she’s made a decent living off playing the badass Black Widow in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, that's only a supporting character in those films, and the fact is there are comparatively few action roles with women in the lead. Plus, with the character being an android, it does give it a bit more creative freedom in casting, for better or worse. While we understand the cries against it, this isn’t quite the same thing as Emma Stone’s character in Aloha.
What do you think of Johansson’s comments? Should she have taken on the role of Major Kusanagi? Let us know what you think down below!
Ghost in the Shell hits theaters on March 31, 2017.