When Scarlett Johansson was announced as the lead for the live-action version of the popular Japanese manga The Ghost In The Shell last year, we were not happy — and we weren’t alone. Margaret Cho started #whitewashedOUT hashtag to discuss the problems with casting white actors to play Asian characters (a discussion that continued with Tilda Swinton’s casting Doctor Strange); Asian actresses including Constance Wu and Ming-Na Wen spoke out in interviews and on panels; and fans of the original manga and anti-racism advocates criticized the decision heavily on social media.
Director Rupert Sanders and producer Steven Paul (both white, obvs) defended their decision. Sanders said that ScarJo was chosen for her innate “cyberpunk ethic” that no other actresses have (hey, Sanders: even if that's true, costumes exist). Paul said that the casting was okay because “There's Japanese in it. There's Chinese in it. There's English in it. There's Americans in it” (OK, but the lead roles are almost all played by white actors). But ScarJo has stayed silent.
In a recent interview with Marie Claire, Johansson finally talked about her role in Ghost in the Shell, saying that “diversity is important” but that she took the role because it’s important to have female leads in franchises.
Many headlines are framing this as choosing feminism over race:
And while Johansson didn’t use those exact words, that’s exactly what she’s saying:
"I certainly would never presume to play another race of a person. Diversity is important in Hollywood, and I would never want to feel like I was playing a character that was offensive. Also, having a franchise with a female protagonist driving it is such a rare opportunity. Certainly, I feel the enormous pressure of that — the weight of such a big property on my shoulders."
OK, let’s break this down.
"I certainly would never presume to play another race of a person." But you did.
“Diversity is important in Hollywood." Yes. That means roles for Asian characters should go to Asian actors.
“..and I would never want to feel like I was playing a character that was offensive.“ Uh, but you are.
“Also, having a franchise with a female protagonist driving it is such a rare opportunity.” The Hunger Games, Divergent, Twilight....what do these have in common? Oh yeah, they’re all film franchises led by white women. Do you know what doesn't exist? Film franchises led by Asian actresses. Hell, we there aren't enough any movies of any kind starring any actresses of color.
“Certainly, I feel the enormous pressure of that—the weight of such a big property on my shoulders." Sure, Jan.
Incidentally, the next quote in the Marie Claire excerpt is about how ScarJo is the highest-grossing actress of all time. Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm.
Hey, Scarlett: If your feminism means that you, as a white woman, feel entitled to profit off an opportunity that should have gone to an Asian woman, you seriously need to work on your feminism.
And that’s true for everyone (including us!): if your feminism puts white women over women of color, you need to work on your feminism.
In the words of Flavia Dzodan, My feminism will be intersectional or it will be bullshit.
Maybe read some Kimberlé Crenshaw, or some Audre Lorde, k? Here are a few quotes to get you started:
Or hell, just look at Twitter:
Top photo: Ghost in the Shell
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