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.