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Ghost in the Shell may have more problems than just a low rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Alongside allegations of “whitewashing,” fans are concerned that the live action trailer’s kiss scene was significantly downplayed in the actual movie.
The controversy began after Moviepilot’s David Opie (warning, NSFW) opened a discussion on the trailer’s kiss. In the movie, Scarlett Johansson’s Major is alone with a female prostitute, and the two intimately touch one another in a scene that leads to a kiss. However, the kiss abruptly ends, in what Whimn calls a “blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment” that quickly diverges back to the main storyline. Now, fans are upset, feeling that the trailer engaged in a bait-and-switch tactic known as “queerbaiting,” in which a scene or character appears queer, but the narrative doesn’t actually develop their sexuality.
After the original trailer’s release, viewers speculated that Major would receive a major lesbian sex scene or side plot. But Opie suggests that the moment revolves “more around curiosity over [Major and the prostitute’s] physical differences rather than any genuine chemistry between the two.” This contrasts highly with the original manga, in which Motoko Kusanagi engages in lesbian sex as part of an “e-sex” prostitution side gig, as well as with the Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex anime TV series, which features Kusanagi in bed with the two women half-naked. Either way, the scene diverges greatly from the original franchise, which embraced Major as queer-coded.
Some critics are arguing that the scene isn’t meant to actually honor the original manga and TV series, but rather, is a way to grab attention for an LGBTQ-inclusive moment. If so, then it’s scrapping a major part of Motoko Kusanagi’s characterization for the thrill of the scene, as opposed to rounding out Major’s personality as a queer woman.
“It feels slapped into the narrative, haphazardly and without precursor, and is steadfastly never mentioned again,” Whimn’s Hannah-Rose Yee says. “It seems to be there purely for the tongue-wagging headlines: ‘Scarlett Johansson Kisses Model In Ghost in the Shell’— rather than for inclusiveness, diversity or representation.”
Of course, Ghost in the Shell has been plagued with ongoing criticism that the movie was “whitewashed,” or that people of color’s roles were replaced with white actors. Since the original franchise was created in Japan and takes place in the country, the controversy has raised a serious conversation about whether Johansson’s role is thrusting white actors back into the center of Asian storytelling and cinema.
(Disclosure: Contributing writer Ana Valens contributes to Now Loading, a gaming website owned by Moviepilot.)
Ana Valens is a reporter specializing in online queer communities, marginalized identities, and adult content creation. She is Daily Dot's Trans/Sex columnist. Her work has appeared at Vice, Vox, Truthout, Bitch Media, Kill Screen, Rolling Stone, and the Toast. She lives in Brooklyn, New York, and spends her free time developing queer adult games.