Editorial 20: Scarlett Johansson as Major Kusanagi

I have made no bones about my standing on white washing. Getting angry over the skin color of fictional characters is about as pointless as gun control; it solves nothing and it will only make your life worse. People who do not exist have no agency or bodily form in the real world. Why would you waste your life getting into arguments of color for characters in entertainment? That is like calling television homophobic because some disposable characters that happened to be gay were killed off. I complain about the Walking Dead being mostly trash, but it is not this thing of world-ending importance.

When looking at a film that takes a story from another medium, those in charge of production must adapt said work for the screen. This includes making costumes, drawing concept art, building sets, and casting actors that reflect elements of the story. What does not matter (most of the time) is the color of a character’s skin unless it is pertinent to the narrative. As long as the production gets the character and story right, who cares about the actor’s race, or gender for that matter? Rey being a woman and Finn being black in Force Awakens was not on my mind because I liked them as people.

Romeo and Juliet was about Italians, but Baz Luhrmann’s adaptation was set in Los Angeles. The new Battlestar Galactica featured gender-swapped characters that were better in comparison to the older characters. Everyone in Troy was Anglo-Saxon, but they captured the essence of Homer’s story about war. The many personas of Bob Dylan being played by diverse actors in I’m Not There worked because they represented the singer’s stages of creativity. Exodus had white characters, but it told the complete story of Moses. Last but not least, Gods of Egypt was about deities personified as humans, living among mortals, on a flat Earth, with the Sun dragged by Ra on a boat…

The case of Scarlett Johansson playing Major Kusanagi is no different, but it is of special consideration. Ghost in the Shell, the movie, show, and OVAs, are adaptations of Masamune Shirow’s manga from the early 90s. In fact, most anime is based on manga. Over the years, Major has undergone a swath of changes with many incarnations spread across the series. First she had black hair, then purple, and then blue. She was also short and stocky, tall and slender, and borderline illegal in Arise. What never changed was her character.

She is a combination of cold realism and philosophical introspection with enough heart to remind her of the good in people and the world. She is devoted to her job as leader of Section 9 and functions with the efficiency only a cyborg could produce. Confronted with hard questions, she often considers the broader implications in terms of spirituality, politics, and technology. When it comes to her team, her family, she makes time to have fun and enjoy their company.

The fact Major is Japanese means nothing. You do not think about her hair, build, and skin because you like her regardless. To that end, Johansson taking up the mantel for the live action adaptation is just another incarnation. The only thing that matters is if she can get the personality right. Based on her ability as an actress, I think she has what it takes. Furthermore, while the new Ghost in the Shell will by default deviate from the source material as an adaptation, nothing will (hopefully) change the fact it is same story we all know and love. If they made Harry Potter with black actors, it would still be Harry Potter. This live action version is simply a different take on the character and world.

Calm down, everyone.


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