– by Joseph Jammer Medina

It’s no secret that Hollywood has a bit of a diversity problem. Hollywood studios are always itching to make their hefty investments a guarantee, and since it’s mostly white actors that give some sort of box office guarantee, when it comes to foreign adaptations, they tend to skew white. Of course, that just leads into one vicious cycle. People of color are never given a shot to lead a film, and as such, they’ll never even considered for big budget roles since the industry is so risk-averse. 

This is likely the mindset they had when they cast actress Scarlett Johansson in the role of Major Motoko Kusanagi (who, as far as we know, is only being called “Major” for the film) in the GHOST IN THE SHELL adaptation. Without a doubt, Johansson is an amazing actress capable of taking on the role, but it’s more than a little bit irksome to a lot of people that the studio didn’t bite the bullet and hire a Japanese actress for the part. After all, GHOST IN THE SHELL is based on a manga series of the same name, and as the source material originates from Japan — and as the character has a Japanese name — many feel it would be logical for them to cast a Japanese actress. 

Obviously, the threat of losing business to an audience that doesn’t want to go to the movies to see a no-name actress won out, but that only scratches the surface of the real problem. A recent report from ScreenCrush stated that not only did the studio hire a white actress, but they took steps to make her look more Asian. That’s right, we’re talking a modern “yellow-face.” 

Here’s a direct quote from ScreenCrush:

“According to multiple independent sources close to the project, Paramount and DreamWorks commissioned visual effects tests that would’ve altered Scarlett Johansson in post-production to ‘shift her ethnicity’ and make the Caucasian actress appear more Asian in the film.

It’s the latest, and most extreme, case of ‘beauty work,’ the new trend in Hollywood to discreetly use visual effects to tweak an actor’s appearance, making them thinner, younger or stronger. The GHOST IN THE SHELL tests were conducted by Lola VFX, the same company that aged up (and down) Brad Pitt in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and is considered the industry leader in so-called beauty work. Though the tests were requested by the production team, once they were developed and reviewed, the idea was rejected ‘immediately,’ says an insider.”

Paramount had the following to say regarding this report:

“A test was done related to a specific scene for a background actor which was ultimately discarded. Absolutely no visual effects tests were conducted on Scarlett’s character and we have no future plans to do so.”

Since the report was published, Thomas Nittmann, VFX producer and managing partner at Lola FX has refuted the claim in an email response to the outlet, stating, “Lola was not / has not been contracted to do VFX work on the film GHOST IN THE SHELL.”

As of this writing, ScreenCrush stands by their claim, though none of this makes it any more clear what the actual truth is. If nothing else, this latest outcry from the internet is proof that audiences are starting to get fed up with the “whitewashing” trend in Hollywood. Sure, a studio needs to cover its bases to make a profit, but somewhere down the line, someone needs to take a risk to give these non-white actors a shot to make it big, otherwise it’ll never happen.

Ultimately, this won’t affect GHOST IN THE SHELL. The film is going forward as planned. But hopefully this will be seen by studio execs as a call for change. Maybe they’ll realize how much of the populace they’re missing out on by not giving due representation. Perhaps future similar adaptations will be more appropriately cast.

What do you think? Do you believe Paramount actually did these tests on Johansson, or do you think it was a rumor that emerged out of frustration? Finally, do you think it’s important that a film like GHOST IN THE SHELL be cast with more racially-appropriate characters, or does seeing a notable actress on screen make a huge difference in getting you to a theater? Let us know in the comments down below!

GHOST IN THE SHELL hits U.S. theaters on March 31, 2017.

Don’t forget to share this post on your Facebook wall and with your Twitter followers!

SOURCE: ScreenCrush, RocketJump

Joseph Jammer Medina is an author, podcaster, and editor-in-chief of LRM. A graduate of Chapman University's Dodge College of Film and Television, Jammer's always had a craving for stories. From movies, television, and web content to books, anime, and manga, he's always been something of a story junkie.