Asian American Media Group Accuses Scarlett Johansson of ‘Lying’ About ‘Ghost in the Shell’ Whitewashing Controversy

Ghost in the Shell teasers
Courtesy of Paramount

The Media Action Network for Asian Americans (MANAA) has blasted the casting choice of Scarlett Johansson in “Ghost in the Shell” just ahead of the film’s opening weekend.

In a statement released Friday, the group condemned the movie’s “whitewashing” of Johansson’s character Motoku Kusanagi who first appeared in the Japanese manga of the same name.

The organization also criticized Johansson’s recent interview on “Good Morning America,” in which the actress said she “would never attempt to play a person of a different race, obviously.” MANAA responded by writing that “she was lying.”

Additionally, the group denounced the casting of Michael Pitt in the role of Kuze in the film, which MANAA said “is revealed to have originally been named Hideo, meaning he too was Japanese.”

“Apparently, in Hollywood, Japanese people can’t play Japanese people anymore,” MANAA President Robert Chan said. “There’s no reason why either Motoku or Hideo could not have been portrayed by Japanese or Asian actors instead of Scarlett Johansson and Michael Pitt. We don’t even get to see what they looked like in their original human identities — a further white-wash.”

Last year, MANAA vocalized their opposition to the casting of Tilda Swinton in “Doctor Strange.” In the film, Swinton played “The Ancient One,” who in the original comic book is portrayed as a Tibetan male.

“Hollywood continues to make the same excuses, that there aren’t big enough Asian/Asian American names to open a blockbuster film,” added Founding President of MANAA, Guy Aoki. “Yet it has not developed a farm system where such actors get even third billing in most pictures. Without a conscientious effort, how will anyone ever break through and become familiar enough with audiences so producers will confidently allow them to topline a film?  When will we ever break that glass ceiling?”

The organization later indicated consequences of the casting on the film’s profit, citing films based on anime and mangas that featured non-Asian actors including “Dragonball Evolution,” “Speed Racer” and Matt Damon’s “The Great Wall.” Aoki finished by point out that “Ghost in the Shell” is looking at a moderate opening for its budget, and should trail behind “Beauty and the Beast” and possibly “Boss Baby” in its opening weekend.

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  1. Max Rittmeister says:

    What a bunch of idiots Whitewashing occurs ONLY when a white person plays a person of a different race. In this case, if they had put a ton of makeup on Scarlett Johannson to make her look Japanese. But she plays a Caucasian character (actually, no race at all but that’s beyond the point). Whether or not the character was originally Japanese is completely irrelevant. There is absolutely nothing wrong to change the setting of a story, including the ethnicity of characters. Sergio Leones magnificent 7 was based on a Samurai movie by Akiro Kurosawa, which in turn used Shakespears McBeth to make another Samurai movie. It’s called culture. Cultural appropriation is not a thing. Can we please stop with this idiotic discussion.

    • john says:

      Betting this is one of the same guys who got mad when they tried making black spiderman.

    • Koko says:

      Excuse me sir, you may tell me cultural appropriation is not thing when you actually have a culture to be appropriated.

      • osirisphantom says:

        You are an idiot. Every race and human ethnicity has a culture. Every culture has aspects borrowed from and every culture borrows aspects from others. Its how culture survives even after civilizations fall. Using “cultural appropriation” to get people to either feel guilty or stop borrowing/sharing aspects of their or others culture is completely petty and irrational.

        And to say or hint that white people have no culture is completely racist.

  2. nakedpnkmolerat says:

    Absolutely outrageous that a white person was chosen to play the lead role. Just as outrageous as Japan’s once leading actor (now deceased) Toshiro Mifune playing Macbeth in Akira Kurosawa’s Throne Of Blood and Kurosawa’s casting of another of Japan’s leading actors, Tatsuya Nakadai in Ran (King Lear).

  3. Michael says:

    Which is why it was ok to cast Jacky Chan as a French character in Around the World in Eighty Days and Lucy Liu as a previously white character in Charlie’s Angels?

  4. Maru says:

    I like original anime series. SJ is NOT playing a Japanese PERSON’s role. Her role doesn’t even have a gender and no ethnic at all!

    And No it is not Motoku it is MotokO! WTF?

    GHOST in the shell is what’s important not the colour of the skin of the shell!
    IF you ever watch the film (anime or this Hollywood version) then you won’t apply whitewash issue to GIS! It is a complex story not black-and-white.

  5. Sousou says:

    This article keeps calling the Major’s name “Motoku”. Please, her name is Motoko, not Motoku.

  6. MrBabylonandon says:

    I gotta admit … Hollywood has NEVER had a love for East Asians … especially East Asian women. Bollywood trained stars are finally making some inroads – but you don’t get anything out of Korea, the Philippines, and very little out of Japan and only for B-movie roles. People write movies thinking of a particular actress for a role – that actress is NEVER Asian. When you do see someone, they are usually only in villain or very secondary roles.

    Its not just movies, either.

    Korea has an amazing music industry … very rarely does ANY of the stars or groups from over there get an invite to perform on shows like SNL and The Tonight Show, or get included in the major music awards shows. I was stunned when Colbert had the Japanese girl heavy metal group BABY METAL on a few months back. That’s the kind of thing that builds an interest – exposure.

    There are all kinds of performers in places like Thailand and the Philippines who never see the light of day or get an invite on some popular talk show to get exposure. It would be good if Hollywood tried to expand their awareness and diversity in the manner they are always demanding of everyone else.

  7. philnolan3d says:

    I’m in Japan right now and nobody here cares about the casting of Johansson. Particularly because the character isn’t Japanese but they wouldn’t even care if the character was Japanese.

    • Maru says:

      I am from Japan and no we don’t care about the casting of SJ. Everyone is giving shit about the casting of Togusa though,,,, btw it was played by an ASIAN actor from Singapore. People say he wasn’t the fit for the character! So why on earth people in the west only cares of the colour of the skin? It’s ridiculous.

  8. PennAgain says:

    Anyone who thinks Matt Damon was the “star” of The Great Wall hasn’t seen the movie. I can’t say it better than Maggie Lee in her Variety review (and neither could most other smart critics):

    “Those who ranted against the project as another case of Hollywood “whitewashing” in which Matt Damon saves China from dragons may have to bite their tongue, for his character, a mercenary soldier who stumbles into an elite corps fighting mythical beasts, spends the course of the film being humbled, out-smarted, and re-educated in Chinese virtues of bravery, selflessness, discipline, and invention.”

    It was a major role, yes, but he was by no means the star any more than Gollum was the star of the Ring Trilogy. In fact, I could see his role being played by any other non-Chinese actor – if they had the technology to replace a role with a different actor in every country the movie is playing in! Those who could NOT be replaced were the true stars: Lin Gengxin, Junkai Wang, the commanderplayed by Jing Tian who teaches the American discipline, respect and loyalty without letting her female hormones get the least bit excited about him (hooray!) while having passion enough for a Chinese star, and one of my favorites and the first one I recognized by name: Hong Kong superstar Andy Lau, ageing handsomely, speaking impeccable English, and playing the brilliant strategist – another role essential to the film as Damon’s is not (had they not planned for international distribution, which is why Damon’s role was there in the first place).

  9. Anno says:

    Hi Mark. I like your observations. I wanted to know about the cast before seeing this movie. You are also very nice to the MANAA. The lead actor looks good for anime fans in Asian countries, but you made it clear to me why US actors would be disappointed. Now that media production is dispersed in various Asian countries, it must be even harder to get roles than before. Hopefully those support groups will be more supportive even if it’s not for super stardom.

  10. Ghost in the Shell fan and avid movie goer says:

    A minor spoiler here, the major has a westernized appearance for some plot reason, first her brain was illegally removed from her organic body after she was kidnapped to be a test subject for cyborg body experiments, second the company that made the body used a westernized appearance to not only cover up the fact her brain was stolen but also to re-enforce the implanted memories that made the major believe she was the child of migrant that were killed by terrorists during there trip to japan this is what motivated the major to join section 9.

  11. What says:

    “We don’t even get to see what they looked like in their original human identities”

    Did they even watch the movie?

  12. zolarkingofmoney says:

    While I’m sympathetic to the issue, it’s not like Asian actors playing leads in great movies does not ever happen. Hundreds of great films come out it China, Japan and S Korea each year. How many of those countries give leads to white actors over their own box office stars? None. Big budget popcorn movies demand casting a star with a track record. Nobody is gonna spend 100 million bucks on any film without recognizable star names attached. Only because ‘Lucy’ did huge bank as well as SJ playing Black Widow did she even have a shot as this part. Yes, everyone should get a shot to act, but maybe not at the top of the food chain and not without a track record. That’s just wishful thinking. Also: within ten years this problem will be gone. Might be smart for ALL actors to start learning Cantonese.

    • fimichat says:

      What’s the White population percentage in China or Japan compared to America? Asians make up 6% of the American population. Foreigners in China make up .006% of the population, but Matt Damon got a leading role. In addition companies rent white men as figure heads in China… Secondly, Asians have the third largest spending power in America. Your comments seem to show that you think America is a country in which Asians do not belong, essentially they are still foreigners. This would be the exact view they are complaining about

  13. SPark says:

    I’ve simply stopped watching Hollywood films altogether, as Asian males are cast as villains or fools 95% of the time. Why bother, when depictions of Asians will be demeaning, and the non-demeaning roles all go to Caucasians?

  14. Xerxes says:

    They need to just shut the hell up.

    WE ARE HUMAN BEINGS.

    If they want more Asian actors and actresses to star in big budget films, they need to find those who are superior actors and actresses.

    Claiming that someone should be the star of a film or films solely because of their race….is RACIST.

    GET OVER IT!

    FIND SOME OSCAR-WINNING ACTORS WHO ARE SO GOOD THAT THEY DRAW MASSIVE AUDIENCES TO THEIR FILMS!

    THAT IS THE SOLUTION TO THE PROBLEM!

    Stop crying about it already.

    You all are a bunch of 2-year-olds.

    This is the 21st-century.

    • fimichat says:

      Two year olds don’t fight for recognition. That’s the job of a grown up. Two year old throw temper tantrums and tell people to shut up. Neither can two year olds empathise with the situation of another. Two year olds are quite self-centered.

    • skyebright8 says:

      Rinko Kuchiki is an oscar nominated actress

  15. Jeff says:

    The Media Action Network for Asian Americans (MANAA) is right !!! They should continue with their work and publicly shame Hollywood. This cultural imperialism and ignorance is a disgrace. If Hollywood makes the same mistake on “Akira”, they’ll be in trouble. I can’t even imagine what “Akira” might look like with an all-WASP cast…

    • IanGreyson says:

      ok so lets demand that all movies from china-japan-korea have a white lead or an african lead. how well do you think this will go with SJW

      • philnolan3d says:

        But the source material in GitS doesn’t have an Asian lead.

      • fimichat says:

        Strawman argument. No one is asking for all films to have Asian leads, just those in which the source material already has an Asian lead. You have argued against something no one is asking for.

  16. Namuga Annet says:

    This movie ghost in the shell made me fall in deep love with scarlet Johnson so guys don’t hate her she’s close to perfection nothing in this world can make me hate her …. I love scarlet best actor everrrrr😍😍😍

  17. random2187 says:

    Both Hideo and Motoko’s minds were transplanted into new bodies/shells. Did you not watch the goddamn movie?

  18. Angry Asian Man says:

    This is why I don’t go to the movies anymore and stream everything.

  19. loco73 says:

    This is the most moronic statement I’ve read in a while. I’ve just seen the movie, and if some of these people bothered to do the same they would understand why both her and Kusai look the way they do.

    While the movie preserved elements from the 1995 animé version, as well as elements from the manga, it does tell it’s own story. It it back pretty decent movie but I found that Scarlett Johanssen is excellent as Major.

    Does everything these days have to be about someone always being offended and insulted? My lord …oftentimes as a movie fan you end up exhausted by a particular “controversy” surrounding a movie before it even opens.

  20. Acher4 says:

    Sorry, but have you actually seen the movie? The “whitewashing” is not only a plot of the movie but one of the evil characters deliberate moves.
    This article just continues parroting false ideas and thoughts.
    There is a problem with whitewashing in Hollywood, but this movie is not part of the same problem.
    By all means, you should have actually helped a female centric blockbuster and fight the sexist that also exist in Hollywood blockbuster movies.

  21. Tristan says:

    So dumb…ScarJo is right, she didn’t play an Asian woman. Now, the writers may have changed the character from Asian to White, but that’s pure conjecture anyway since in the source material the character’s original race is never seen. Saying names like Hideo and Kusanagi are only appropriate for one race of people is very racist and MANAA should be ashamed of propagating that kind of race elitism.

  22. Griff says:

    Welcome to the democratic elitist play ground.
    Where every body gets a fair shot. lol…
    Not really that is just a well conceived propaganda.
    This is the making of the one percent Hollywood style.
    Just sit back and let the elite explain why all the roles go to
    a hand full of people. Even taking voice overs for animated
    films.
    And they preach inclusion.

  23. hashlive says:

    Be great if you guys wrote an article on Japanese talent agencies and why nobody from Hollywood will ever sign those outrageous deals. For MANAA to attack an actress in the meantime, when they know damn well what I’m talking about, is rather gross.

  24. Rudy Mario says:

    Ha, ha ha.
    Too funny from all sides and angles.

  25. Cleber Horta says:

    “is revealed to have originally been named Hideo, meaning he too was Japanese.”

    In Evangelion (another famous anime series) there’s a character called ASUKA, born in Germany.

    Name means nothing in Anime/Manga, stop this bullshit!

  26. Mark says:

    Great way to make your (legitimate) point, attack a VERY popular actress, with loads of fan…brilliant.

    • Ken says:

      Mark there are a lot popular actors falling flat on their face and her political have also pissed a lot of people off.They are worried about this movie because of the rap it has gotten already.

    • Jane says:

      So, Mark, a very popular actress with tons of fans is immune to criticism? Actually, given all the political stances she takes, would think SJ would want to discuss controversial issues.

      • Mark says:

        My guess is SJ fans would likely be very sympathetic to this organizations point of view, right up until they called their favourite actor a liar. SJ isn’t immune to criticism, never said she was, but you’re not going to attract a lot of to your side, by making them angry.

        I guess the goal is to shame actors into not taking these types or roles, which is sad, since this movie wouldn’t have been made without a star of SJ’s prominence.

        Hollywood’s treatment of Asian actors is abysmal; there should be a handful of Asian actresses who have the celebrity of SJ or JLaw, etc. But insulting actors isn’t going to bring about this desired outcome.

  27. Chris says:

    There is a reason.. studios give 100mln$ for this movie and they want to return the investment. No Japanese actress has that kind of star power.. Leave Scarlett alone!

    • Ken says:

      These type movies don’t need star power as it can survive itself. Just as Ironman and Avengers were popular long before SJ got there. Frieda Pinto was an unknown until Slumdog Millionaire and Megan Fox was an unknown until transformers.Rupert Sanders could have carried GITS with any decent actress that was Japanese.

      • philnolan3d says:

        The difference between this and Iron Man is that most Americans have heard of Iron Man. While only a small portion have ever heard of GitS before now.

    • RW says:

      You don’t see how that becomes a cycle, Chris? If studios don’t cast Japanese actresses, how will they ever have “that kind of star power”?

      • fimichat says:

        You are right. They don’t have to. That’s why people are making them aware they should because it is a moral and human-rights issue. That’s why we are using our spending power to show them they will lose a demographic that includes both Asians and hardcore non-Asian Anime fans. White slave masters in the various colonies didn’t have to release their slaves either. They did it when it became evident it was both legally unfeasible, financially harmful and morally wrong.

      • Yolernd says:

        Why should they have to? Studios, art etc don’t owe anyone anything. Instead of complaining, write a film with a Japanese lead. Make a short. Prove there’s an audience. Be the change.

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