When casting for Japanese Manga adaptation, Ghost in the Shell, first got underway, many people raised eyebrows at the chatter of Scarlett Johansson playing the lead. It set off a fervor of claims that Hollywood, once again, missed an opportunity to lead with diversity instead of falling back to whitewashing.
After rumors (that have since been refuted by Paramount) that the films actors had been digitally enhanced to “look more Asain,” actors like Constance Wu (Fresh Off the Boat) and Ming-Na Wen (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.) condemned such behavior. Several people of prominence came to the film’s defense, including the original Manga’s publisher, the film’s producer, Steven Paul, and fellow Hollywood screenwriter and director Max Landis.
Screen Rant was in attendance at the Ghost in the Shell special press event in Tokyo where director Rupert Sanders doubled down on his decision to cast Scarlett Johansson in the lead role. Despite the flood of backlash the initial news received, Sanders touted Johansson’s 20+ years in the industry and her “cyberpunk aesthetic” as driving forces for her to play Major Kusanagi. He added:
“To me, I cast very much from the gut and I think I was very lucky to be able to get an amazing international cast of people that I’ve always really wanted to work with… I stand by my decision — she’s the best actress of her generation. I was flattered and honored that she would be in this film. I think, certainly people who were around the original anime, have been vehemently in support of her because she’s incredible and there are very few like her.”
In another interview at the event, Sanders also revealed that the actress’ specific body of work was a large influence in putting her up as the front runner for the lead role. Of those roles, he said:
“She’s been a mind without a body, and a body without a mind… That’s really what drew me to her as The Major. She seemed to just inhabit that world so well. She did an incredible job of nuancing the human evolving through the machine, and in a way I think why it’s very relative to a large audience.”
If Sanders’ reasoning proves anything, it’s that there’s a stark division between the business of Hollywood and the actors who make the wheels turn. While the director’s comments about Johansson’s global marketability opening up the film to a much wider audience is exactly what the studio wants, it fails to recognize the missed opportunity to skyrocket a Japanese actress to stardom.
With the film very near completion, all those involved, including from the source material, seem quite pleased with Johansson’s work and the film as a whole. The newest trailer puts her action skills and the heavy CGI nature of the film on full display.