Monday, April 18, 2016

More Whitewashing, More Facepalming

When the week started I wasn't certain what Monday's blog post would be, but then Hollywood did a one-two gut punch to all Asians, and suddenly I have something to talk about. I suppose it's no wonder that movie theaters have largely lost me as an audience. It's a good year if I see more than two movies in the theater.

I do, however, watch a fair bit of streaming media out of Asia, both live action and animated.

I wrote before about how it's easier for an Asian American to go to Asia and become a successful performer outside of their birth country, because their birth country won't accept them and their dreams. Asians are not "believable" in certain roles. And apparently, even the roles Asians can play, can easily be supplanted by white people and Hollywood still thinks this is a good idea.

There is no facepalm strong enough for this.

So, the two things this week are the Doctor Strange trailer, featuring a very white Tilda Swinton playing an elderly Tibetan man, and the first released image of Scarlett Johansson as "the Major" in Ghost in the Shell.

Even though the Doctor Strange punch came first, it didn't hit me that hard since I wasn't paying much attention to the movie in the first place. Or at least it hadn't until I saw this screenshot of all the non-Asian dudes pretending to be Asian:

Really? They couldn't cast a single Asian for that shot?

What bothers me more is seeing Scarlett Johansson as the Major, probably because its an adaptation of a beloved manga and anime; something that Hollywood has a terrible record at doing. And if you want to understand why Ghost in the Shell, despite its cyberpunk trappings, is not a simple cut and paste into western culture, you need to read this excellent set of tweets by Jon Tsuei. Keep hitting Read More until you get to the bottom of his main line of thought.

The part that bothers me the most (being Asian, but not Japanese) is that the studio is clearly intending to keep the look of the series, but while white-ing it up.

The fact that Scarlett Johansson is in a black wig that makes her look like Makoto Kusanagi, means that they want her to look like an iconic Japanese character. I'm not sure they're actually keeping the Kusanagi name (as most outlets I can find seem to refer to her character as "the Major"), but if they want a performer to look like Kusanagi they should damn well make her Japanese.

I know things change in adaptations. I'm not a diehard that needs everything to be exactly the same as the original, and I suspect that if they made her character Major Liz Gregory, set the story in New York, and gave Johansson her natural hair, there would have been much less eye-rolling. It wouldn't be the Ghost in the Shell anyone grew up with, but it could ask the same questions about the nature of intelligence while retaining its near future trappings. Yes, fans would complain about a Japanese story being set in the US, but at least it wouldn't look like whitewashing.

The Japanese novel All You Need is Kill was adapted into Edge of Tomorrow. People expected that Keiji Kiriya would be turned into a white character, and he was, but there was no attempt to make Tom Cruise look a Japanese man, and the movie went down well liked by fans. It was a good adapatation. I can be disappointed about the loss of an Asian role, but I can stomach that. Cruise's character, William Cage, wasn't trying to be Keiji Kiriya.

Right now, I am hoping that the live action major isn't keeping the Makoto Kusanagi name. The fact that yellowface sfx was even experimented with is terrible.

If this was what we had gotten, a Japanese woman, playing Makoto Kusanagi, I would damn well run out and see that movie, because that right there... That is Makoto.