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The live-action Ghost in the Shell movie was controversial from the start, when Johansson was cast as the cyborg cop Major Motoko Kusanagi. Although the major’s race is ambiguous in the anime series, she’s widely regarded to be a Japanese character, and many fans characterized Johansson’s casting as whitewashing. It didn’t help that the studio reportedly did screentests for CGI to make a white actor (not Johansson) “appear more Asian.”
In a new interview with Marie Claire, Johansson said, “I certainly would never presume to play another race of a person.”
Diversity is important in Hollywood, and I would never want to feel like I was playing a character that was offensive. Also, having a franchise with a female protagonist driving it is such a rare opportunity. Certainly, I feel the enormous pressure of that—the weight of such a big property on my shoulders.
This is basically the kind of comment we expected, since Johansson was never going to criticize her own movie. However, the “diversity is important” statement rings a little hollow from the highest-grossing actress in Hollywood history, an individual who can surely afford to turn down roles and who has coincidentally worked exclusively with white directors.
The “female protagonist” comment is also a little odd since Ghost in the Shell was always going to have a female lead, and it’s no longer groundbreaking to see a white woman lead an action franchise. In the same interview, Johansson speaks about the struggle for women to receive equal pay and respect for their work. But one of the arguments against Johansson’s casting was that Ghost in the Shell was a rare opportunity to launch the career of an Asian-American actress. It’s hard to imagine women achieving equality in Hollywood when women of color are so often excluded from lead roles.
Gavia Baker-Whitelaw is a staff writer at the Daily Dot, covering geek culture and fandom. Specializing in sci-fi movies and superheroes, she also appears as a film and TV critic on BBC radio. Elsewhere, she co-hosts the pop culture podcast Overinvested. Follow her on Twitter: @Hello_Tailor