so, why was she white again?

or maybe the question should be why was Ghost in the Shell (GitS), the recent live action adaptation starring Scarlett Johansson, is set in an Asian locale since three of the main characters were Caucasians speaking English?  Ever since there was an initial blow back on the movie for whitewashing I sort of blew off the controversy.  I loved the original anime, and if they made a good live action movie starring Scarlett Johansson I wasn’t going to complain. After all, simply casting a white woman instead of an Asian one for the lead shouldn’t be enough to essentially hit a film with a racism charge.

The problem with GitS, and what makes the whitewashing so obvious that it becomes impossible to ignore, is how the rest of the film was essentially left in place. This was not a story that was appropriated, where its core elements were lifted and fit together with a different culture to create a legitimately new and self-standing work. This was putting white people into prominent roles because appeal to an audience solely through the whiteness.

To draw a comparison, look at Scorsese’s move The Departed. It was a reworking of the Hong Kong film Infernal Affairs that starred Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Martin Sheen, among others. What GitS did would be like Scorsese filming a remake of Infernal Affairs set in Hong Kong, starring Asian actors and actresses in all of the side roles, using Asian motifs and cultural touch stones, and then still casting DiCaprio and Damon as the leads because, well, white guys.

What’s confusing is that this should have been an easy fix. If you want to cast a bunch of white people in the leads, set it in New York or LA or even London or Paris. Just pick a city in the west and go with it. Maybe they were worried about turning off fans of the original anime if they changed too much of the story, or maybe they just wanted to keep the Asian motif and didn’t think of how shallowly it used it. I don’t know. But it was a reflection of the general laziness in the script and execution that plagued the entirety of the film. It’s an incredibly slick movie. It looks incredible. But the writing was weak, the dialog clumsy, and it ended up not doing justice to the source material or to the actresses and actors.

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