Paramount Executive Blames Whitewashing Controversy For ‘Ghost In The Shell’ Flop

Posted Thursday, April 6th, 2017 10:00 am GMT -4 by

Ghost in the Shell face banner

A number of things could keep an audience from seeing a movie during its opening weekend. For instance, the trailers might not have been as effective as they could have been since they gave away the whole plot. Or maybe the CGI clearly looked subpar. Or the production was simply shrouded in controversy for one reason or another. And yes, while controversy may create cash in some situations, that’s just not how it played out for ‘Ghost in the Shell’.

While speaking to CBC News earlier this week, Paramount Pictures executive Kyle Davies cited the controversy surrounding Scarlett Johansson’s casting as The Major in Rupert Sanders’ live-action adaptation of the seminal sci-fi anime directed by Mamoru Oshii as the reason that the big budget blockbuster didn’t deliver at the box office during its opening weekend. Davies shared that the studio was expecting higher numbers domestically and that the early reviews didn’t help the production in any way:

“We had hopes for better results domestically. I think the conversation regarding casting impacted the reviews. You’ve got a movie that is very important to the fanboys since it’s based on a Japanese anime movie. So you’re always trying to thread that needle between honoring the source material and make a movie for a mass audience. That’s challenging, but clearly the reviews didn’t help.” 

I mean, is it really that surprising? Sure, ScarJo is a fine actress and she has proven time and time again that she can handle big budget action movies. She wasn’t even that bad in ‘Ghost in the Shell’. Yeah, I’ll say it again. The shortcomings of this movie do not hinge entirely on Johansson’s performance as The Major. However, when the movie responds to conversations about a white actress playing an Asian character with a completely ridiculous plot reason for this to happen, then how could you not expect there to be a backlash that results in lower box office numbers? After all, the Motion Picture Association of America notes that Asian-identifying moviegoers clocked in as having the highest annual cinema attendance per capita in 2016. When you add in those fanboys with a vested interest in the franchise that Davies mentioned, then that’s a whole lot of people to let down when your movie says that a being that’s the best of human and the best of robotics happens to be a white body with an Asian mind. This is wrong on so many levels and we definitely don’t have time for the conversation about how Western beauty standards has caused some epic problems for the way that people of color (in this case, specifically Asians) view themselves and are viewed by society, so just know that this isn’t the best message for Sanders’ film to be sending after it was already in some hot water. I mean, if you’re really interested, just start looking into the popularity of skin-whitening lotions in Asia and you’ll only start to scratch the surface.

With any luck, ‘Ghost in the Shell’ (along with the reactions to ‘The Great Wall’, ‘Iron Fist’, and ‘Death Note’) will be the wake-up call that Hollywood needs to finally start casting Asians in prominent roles, especially ones based on actual Asian characters. But based on how this industry has handled Asians in the past, it might be a pretty big ask. So while this whole thing continues to unfold between studios losing money and audiences demanding proper representation in their media, leave your thoughts on why this film is flopping domestically in the comments below. Also, check out this video (which I imagine could be harsher now that ‘Ghost in the Shell’ has actually been released) that does a pretty good job of explaining why whitewashing Asian characters is so frustrating:

’Ghost in the Shell’ starring Scarlett Johansson, Pilou Asbæk, Michael Pitt, Takeshi Kitano, Juliette Binoche, Kaori Momoi, Danusia Samal, Yutaka Izumihara, Tuwanda Manyimo, and Chin Han is in theaters now.

horizontal lineDespite being a “professional writer”, Ben likes run-on sentences far too much. For more of his attempts at being funny and the occasional insightful thought, follow him on Twitter and Instagram

  • Or more likely, it will be the signal to avoid Asian-themed movies entirely, since they’re apparently losing propositions. Great job, SJWs! I love anime-themed films, and this will ensure we get fewer of them. Idiots.

  • Indiguk

    Or maybe the larger public have turned their backs on Scar because of her unwanted political rhetoric. She simply cannot halt her cyber bullying of Ivanka Trump and it has effected her popularity. This is why I and so many of my friends refused to see this movie. We simply want to see actors do their jobs. If you want to give a political lecture every day, become a politician. Its a dangerous place for any actor that believes they are infallible because they have a few hit movies under your belt. At least 50% of your viewing public are at risk. No business in the world would take such a risk.

  • Corndog

    The major always looked Caucasian to me in the original anime, and i had aleways assumed that her body type was supposed to be just that. Did they ever explicitly state in the movie that the major’s body was supposed to be aesthetically Asian? I don’t recall; haven’t seen it for a few years.

    Google image search the major. She never looked Asian. I don’t see what the fuss is about.

  • althotos

    I’m Asian. I’m also in my late 50s. Been watching sci-fi movies since I was 5. I’m not a big fan of anime. Never knew what “Ghost in the Shell” was about until this movie. Now I understand the meaning of that phrase. By the way, I enjoyed the movie. Can’t wait to add it to my humongous DVD collection.