Ghost in the Shell: The White-Wash Complex
The night of the living white-wash is upon us once again, triggered by the recent release of the latest Ghost in the Shell trailer. The consistent controversy of Scarlett Johansson portraying the anime's protagonist, Motoko Kusanagi, must have Rupert Sanders navigating a minefield of razor dildos, whilst onlookers gawk and jeer, as if their watching Harrison Ford read haiku poetry at a limerick convention. However, is 'white-washing' merely a mole hill that's been conceived into a mountain?
Let me pose the concept of Yellow-washing; imagine if Jackie Chan was cast to play Captain America in Marvel's Avengers. On paper, he'd be a good fit for the role; he's acted in many action films, preforms his own stunts, speaks relatively good English, and now, he even owns an Oscar. Yet, such casting would be deemed preposterous, and presumably met with belligerent consensus, even by contemporary crowds. His age and race doesn't exactly meet the existing profile of the home-grown Cap'; he'd be more suited to play an old Tibetan monk in Doctor Strange...
…except Tilda Swinton has that role already.
(although they do justify her character in the film, The Ancient One was predominantly a Chinese sorcerer in the original comics (change is good, Chinese people aren't))
So why isn't this met with the same social stigma that a yellow-washed role would presumptively pose? I'd like to attribute this double-standard to the hyper-normalisation of the white-saviour narrative in mainstream Hollywood cinema. Used enough to be classified as a sub-genre, this narrative trope involves the white protagonist acting as a messianic model, who rescues diverse racial minorities from their predicaments in supposedly true stories. The subversive racial implications of this popular narrative are often undercut by the film's plot and theme, and subliminally, it lends credence towards the minority's inability to solve their own problems. They need help, preferably from Team America. Such tropes subsidize hyper-segregation instead of advocating diverse, racial interactions. Ever since the classical Hollywood era, the white-saviour narrative has pseudo-naturally implemented itself into the star system. Thus, in many big-screen adaptations, one is inherently accustomed to the coerced incorporation of the white protagonist, blind sided to the racial, geographical, and historical inaccuracies the cast represents. Hence, white actors always make money whereas diversity doesn't.
To maintain such a outdated, traditional viewpoint, especially in a globalised world where the level of racial, political and social awareness is constantly increasing, would undoubtedly be a negligent and self-diminishing thing to do. To hold onto such ancient tropes, would be like holding onto Gandalf's pubes as you hang off a hot-air balloon. You may as well advocate the replacement of all Asian actors with Mickey Rooney impersonators.
Therefore, when a Paramount producer or Rupert Sanders, defend their negligent casting choices for Ghost in the Shell, tell them their time would be better spent shaving dolphins,
as Jackie Chan would've been a sick Captain America.
Keanu Reefer and the other 46 Ronin