Ghost in the Shell opened this weekend–and bombed gloriously. The universal panning has been delicious, and I tweeted this:
me about gits bombing rn: pic.twitter.com/VjlihZ7CXc
— Minna Hong (@asiangrrlMN) April 2, 2017
Before you say it, no it’s not very mature of me, but I’m not feeling very mature about this issue right now. I have lots to say, so you better grab a can of your favorite beverage and buckle up because you’re in for a long ride.
Even though I’m feeling gleeful about the miserable failure of GitS, it’s tempered with the knowledge that Hollywood probably won’t learn the right lesson from it. Chances are, they’ll blame the fact that it’s a female-led action movie* and not because they didn’t grasp the core of the source material in the first place. It reminds me of the Marvel VP of Sales who blamed diversity for the slump in sales of their products rather than over-saturation or the watering down of their talent. The response of Hollywood to the bombing of these high-profile whitewashed movies is to double down on their idiocy, which I will talk about later.
One thing that has come up time and time again in the roundtables/thinkpieces discussing the failure of GitS is the phrase, “Whitewashing aside”. I want to address this from two different angles, starting with the straightforward one of putting the whitewashing aside. Now, full disclosure, I haven’t seen the movie and will not see the movie. I have seen the trailer, which, whitewashing aside, left me cold. While stylistic and slick, there was no heart to it. It’s all action with no core, and whitewashing aside, I still wouldn’t have wanted to seen this version of GitS. The anime movie was notable for its grappling with tough issues such as what it means to be human and how much personal agency should be sacrificed for expediency. Yes, there’s action in it, but that wasn’t the main point of the anime. I knew from the minute it was announced that the live action movie was not going to be able to capture the essence of the anime if it wasn’t directed by and starring Japanese people.
Side note: “It’s an international story” is a trash excuse for replacing Asian actors with white ones because it’s saying that an explicitly Asian story isn’t international, that in order to be international, it has to be white. Otherwise, why not just keep the Asian characters? I would much rather they come out and say, “We don’t think people want to watch movies with Asian actors in it” because at least that would be fucking honest. That’s really the bottom line, and if I were a white person in 2017, I would be insulted by this assumption. It’s funny how conservatives like to decry ‘liberal Hollywood’ because Hollywood is deeply conservative in so many ways.
Side note deux: ScarJo tried to defend herself by saying there were so few franchises with female protagonists, she had to take the role. In the same breath, she said she diversity was important and she didn’t want to play a role anyone found offensive.
ScarJo. Sweetie. Honey. Can we talk? I don’t usually like to take actors to task for the roles they choose, but I just want to point out the problems with your sentiments. One, you have offended people with choosing this role, so whether you want to play such a role or not is meaningless. In fact, it’s enraging because you said this AFTER people have explicitly told you why they felt you being Major Motoko was offensive. Two, saying diversity is important is one thing; actually doing something to promote diversity is another. What I’m saying is that words are cheap, actions speak more loudly than words, and that you can talk the talk, but you’re not walking the walk. Three, you trying to make some feminist statement about this is doubly-offensive because you are creating an artificial divide between being a woman and being Asian. Those of us who are both do not appreciate it.
I’m being restrained because the problem is not with the actor. If it wasn’t ScarJo, it would be Tilda Swinton or Charlize Theron or Emma Stone.** It would NOT have been Rinko Kikuchi, though it should have been. If there ever was a role made for an actor, it’s this role and this actor. GitS thought so, too, except they were too punk-ass cowardly to hire the real deal, so they settled for a pale copy. I RT’ed this tweet on this very subject:
“Hey can I copy your homework?”
“Yeah but don’t make it too obvious” pic.twitter.com/juBURC5Kp6
— Nancy Wang Yuen (@nancywyuen) January 1, 2017
Anyhoo, it’s not the individual actors who are the problem. The problem is with the system that doesn’t think Asian people can carry an American movie. Netflix who is already on my shit list with Iron Fist*** is coming out with Death Note, another live action adaptation of a manga series, and it’s starring non-Asian actors in all the lead roles. Even the Shinigami (spirit) who retains the original name of Ryuk is voiced by Williem Dafoe. The saddest thing is that one of the producers is a Taiwanese-born film producer, which shows that the problems with Hollywood is more than a lack of diversity. One of the arguments for Death Note is that it’s being set in Seattle and is an American adaptation, but news flash, there are Asian people in Seattle. In fact, it’s the largest minority group in Seattle. One of the lead actors in Death Note is black, and there are less black people in Seattle than there are Asians. I know there’s a history of
adapting appropriating Asian movies for the pleasure of Western audiences, but this on the heels of all the others feels like a last straw. I am seriously contemplating cancelling my Netflix account and letting them know why.
Back to GitS and the problem with the movie, putting whitewashing aside. Let’s talk about the ending, again with the knowledge that I haven’t seen the movie.
It turns out that she was Asian the whole time! That’s the twist that isn’t in the manga/anime, obviously. I could accept it, barely, if it actually had a meaningful message about erasure, but that’s not what people who have seen it have gotten from the twist ending. When I read about it, it seems as if the directors tacked it on as a way of explaining away the whitewashing or trying to appease those who were pissed off about the whitewashing without actually addressing it. See! She was Asian, but she isn’t any longer! That explains everything, right?
Hell to the fuck no.
Just put in a Japanese actor! Specifically, Rinko Kikuchi, and keep the goddamn original ending. Oh my god. I’m getting pissed all over again thinking about it. Which leads me to the second point about the phrase, whitewashing aside.
Why? Why are we putting the whitewashing aside? It bothers me that the question of whitewashing Asians out of their own goddamn movies is framed as a controversy or something that is almost trivial. It’s hard for me to explain exactly why that phrase bothers me, but it’s because I don’t want to put the whitewashing aside as it’s important to me. it’s not unreasonable for me to say that the minute Scarlett Johansson was announced as Major–she even lost her fucking name–I lost any interest I had in the live action GitS, and a slow-burning rage has build up inside me since then. I’ve heard several people ask why so mad about a cartoon? First of all, it’s not just a cartoon, and I don’t appreciate that dismissive tone. Secondly, and I’ve said this countless times before, representation in pop culture matters, and when we Asians have so few opportunities to have representation in American culture, it’s grating to have the few that we do taken away from us. I know I’m a broken record, but if there were several Japanese American depictions of Major Motoko in American cinema, then one by ScarJo wouldn’t rankle. Because there isn’t, the fact that Hollywood is so cavalier about giving out plum Asian roles to non-Asian people is enraging.
Side note trois: I know there are more important things. Believe me, I’m well aware of that fact because people say that any time representation in popular culture is brought up. It doesn’t mean that this isn’t worth highlighting the problems of Hollywood, and it doesn’t mean we should just accept that whitewashing will never go away. I will admit that I’ve almost given up on this issue because it seems like no matter how many times Hollywood fails with these kinds of movies, they never learn the right lesson from them.
Bottom line. It’s fucking 2017, and I think Americans can handle having Asian people play Asian characters. The only thing I’m heartened by is that Asians (and allies) are not staying silent about this bullshit any longer. Each and every time it happens, we’re raising our voices and saying, “Do not fucking take our stories from us.” Will it matter in the end? I don’t know. What I do know is that GitS is a flop, and that’s enough to make me smile. Final word for Hollywood:
don’t mess with asian bitches pic.twitter.com/2A47tAl6Oh
— Minna Hong (@asiangrrlMN) April 2, 2017
*Sexism, instead of racism. Yay?
**All three have taken roles that should have gone to Asian people. Me, still bitter? FUCKING HELL YEAH.
***Another post for another day.