The live action film adaptation of Japanese anime Ghost in the Shell has been shrouded with controversy ever since Scarlett Johansson was cast as the lead. The issues of whitewashing and erasure of Asian representation have been the forefront of conversation. In a recent interview with Motherboard, Ghost in the Shell director Rupert Sanders called the whitewashing controversy concerning the film a “moot point”:
“I did three weeks of press in Paris, Korea, and Japan, there wasn’t one question about this so-called controversy. The controversy only seems to be coming from America. We all are liberal minded people, but we didn’t feel this was a controversy without people seeing the film and knowing the story. It was a moot point.”
This is a common argument used by those defending the casting of Johansson. “People in Japan aren’t offended, so why are you?” This argument, in addition to being a sweeping generalization, is veiled in ignorance. It gives the implication that the opinions of Asian Americans are less valid than those in Asian countries (because we’re not as Asian as those Asians in Asia, apparently). There is a reason Asian Americans (and other diaspora Asians) are louder about whitewashing – that is, simply, we are inherently more affected by it.
Whitewashing of Asians does not have as much of an impact on those in homogeneous Asian countries because they see themselves represented in their own media all the time. Japan’s industry is dominated by Japanese actors who will continue to find work. Meanwhile, Asian Americans are a marginalized group. We rarely get to see ourselves represented, especially in Hollywood, which is why whitewashing causes a much more visceral reaction for us. Asian actors in Hollywood rarely get roles in general and now we have to continually see ourselves erased specifically from stories taken directly from Asian culture.
So, Sanders’ argument is, as he would say, a “moot point.” I’ve seen this argument of “The real Asians over there don’t care so your opinion doesn’t matter” made countless times, and I’ve also seen the variant argument of Asians already having movies “in their countries”. When the trailer for Netflix’s Death Note was released, many spoke up against its blatant whitewashing of characters and story. The movie’s defenders shot back with arguments like, “There’s already a Japanese live action adaptation of Death Note. Why are you complaining? Why can’t Americans be introduced to this story?”
It’s almost funny because this dynamic in itself is representative of the Asian American experience. The Asian part of us doesn’t fit in with Americans. As children, we get ridiculed for the food our parents pack us for lunch. We get teased for our eye shapes. We’re preemptively mocked for age-old stereotypes. At the same time, many of us also don’t fit in in our own culture because of the American part of us. Some of us don’t even fit in within our own families. Where is it we belong?
Hollywood’s continued dismissal and ignorance of Asian Americans is truly tired. I don’t even have to get into the arguments about “business strategy” and supposed non-investability of Asian talent (I’m going to have to see a SWOT analysis on this claim). It’s convenient to take elements of our cultures and creations, but when it comes to us, we’re disposable. It can get discouraging but all we can do is speak up and make our voices heard. We exist and we will continue to make our presence known.
An Asian American