Campaigners angered at the paucity of roles for east Asian actors in Hollywood have launched a petition calling for Scarlett Johansson to be dismissed from the forthcoming US remake of classic anime Ghost in the Shell. The campaign on Thepetitionsite.com, which has picked up more than 15,000 signatures, calls for studio DreamWorks to replace her with an actor of Asian origin, and accuses Hollywood of “whitewashing”.
“The original film is set in Japan, and the major cast members are Japanese,” reads the petition. “So why would the American remake star a white actress? The industry is already unfriendly to Asian actors without roles in major films being changed to exclude them. “DreamWorks could be using this film to help provide opportunities for Asian-American actors in a market with few opportunities for them to shine. Please sign the petition asking them to reconsider casting Scarlett Johansson in Ghost in the Shell and select actors who are truer to the cast of the original film!”
Petition organiser Julie Rodriguez also cites a recent survey that suggests that in 2013 Asian characters made up only 4.4 per cent of speaking roles in top-grossing Hollywood films. Johansson looks likely to play a character based on the cyborg detective, Major Motoko Kusanagi, a key figure in the original 1995 Ghost in the Shell film and the comic book series on which it is based. The US actor, whose star has risen following standout turns in Lucy and Marvel Studios’ Avengers series of superhero films, was reportedly offered $10m (Dh36 million) to take the role. It is not yet clear how far DreamWorks plans to alter the original, Japanese-set storyline of Ghost in the Shell, although Johansson’s inclusion hints that the action could be transferred to North America.
Hollywood has been criticised in the past for casting white actors in east Asian roles, with M Night Shyamalan’s misfiring 2010 film The Last Airbender a notable recent example. The dubious tradition runs all the way back to 1956 epic The Conqueror, in which John Wayne starred as a suspiciously Midwestern accented Genghis Khan, and 1961’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s, with a bucktoothed Mickey Rooney as the shamefully offensive Japanese caricature, IY Yunioshi. More recently, Ridley Scott’s biblical epic Exodus: Gods and Kings was accused of whitewashing following the decision to cast famous white actors such as Christian Bale and Joel Edgerton in the lead roles, despite depicting events taking place in the Middle East and North Africa.