“Ghost In The Shell” And “Whitewashing”

Once again, a Hollywood film has political correctness furies attacking its casting. This time, it’s the sci-fi “Ghost in the Shell,” starring Scarlett Johansson.

The sad fact is, movie makers can’t win. If a black actor isn’t cast to play a white character in the source material, Hollywood is engaging in bias by eschewing “non-traditional casting,” which is necessary to remedy de facto segregation and prejudice in movies. If Charlton Heston is cast as a Mexican, as in “Touch of Evil,” it’s “whitewashing”—prejudicial and racist casting of whites to play non-whites. Of course, when Morgan Freeman, an African American, is cast to play a dark skinned Semitic character in “Ben Hur,” nobody calls that “blackwashing,” for there is no such thing as blackwashing. Casting Denzel Washington as a white character from “The Pelican Brief”: great! Who doesn’t like Denzel? Casting Denzel as the white hero of “The Magnificent Seven” in the remake, when the white hero was non-traditionally cast with the sort-of Eurasian Yul Brenner in the original, was also great, because—who doesn’t like Denzel?  Casting  Andy Garcia, a Cuban-American, as member of the Italian Corleone family in “Godfather III” was also fine and dandy, but not the casting of sort-of Eurasion Brenner as the King of Siam in “The King and I,” (even though he won the Tony and the Academy Award for an iconic performance)—, especially with all those great Thai musical comedy stars available. So that was–what, “sort-of-whitewashing”?

All right: how about a musical conceived with the novel conceit of having the Founding Fathers played by young black and Hispanic performers? Is that non-traditional casting? Minority-washing? Is it racist to stay with the original (brilliant) concept and tell white actors they can’t audition to be Hamilton, Jefferson, and Aaron Burr? Of course it’s not racist. After all, those actors are white. Screw ’em.

Are you seeing a theme here? Neither am I. What matters in casting a play, film or writing an adaptation is whether the final result works: How well do the actors play their roles? Is it entertaining? Does it make money?

Now the casting of  Johansson as an originally Japanese character in a Japanese manga comic and animated film is being attacked as racist. Whitewashing, you know. No, in fact the words applicable here are “adaptations,” “movies,” “cultural cross-pollination” and “commerce.”  In this case, not always, but in this case, the accusation of “whitewashing” is pure race-baiting.

More than forty years ago, the real life German prison camp escape engineered by captured WWII British fliers was made into the film “The Great Escape.” Brits were annoyed as production got underway, however, by the presence of heroic American prisoners in the cast, the characters played by U.S. stars James Garner and Steve McQueen. This was, British critics and veterans said, an outrage: Americans had nothing to do with the real escape. The answer by the producers contained three segments:

1. We own the film rights, and can do whatever we think will make the best movie.

2. The film is fictionalized, and makes no representations to the contrary.

3. Garner and McQueen will ensure that the film makes a profit in the U.S, plus they are both great and entertaining young stars.

Good justifications all. “The Great Escape,” as we now know,  is a classic, still honored the real event, and made lots of money. Somehow, British self-esteem recovered.

The Brits also didn’t complain when Japan’s great film auteur director, Akira Kurasawa, made an all-Japanese cast adaptation of “King Lear,” which is about a Celtic king. Wasn’t this–what, “yellow-washing”? Don’t be silly: all good stories can be told in myriad ways, in many cultural contexts. “Ghost in the Shell” is a science fiction fantasy. It is not about real people, and the characters were  Japanese because the author and intended audience were Japanese—you know, like the original “King Lear” was in Elizabethan English.

“Ghost in the Shell” director Rupert Sanders cast Johansson as the cyborg assassin named Motoko Kusanagi in the original and renamed the character “Mira Killian.” It is the “Who doesn’t like Denzel?” non-traditional casting principle, except the even more understandable “Who doesn’t like Scarlet, especially when she looks naked for much of the movie?” variation. The perambulations of critics trying to find something racist about the most obvious box office casting choice imaginable border on hilarious. At some point, actress Johansson decided it was more lucrative and fun being the next female action movie star than starring in solemn costume drama bombs like “The Girl With The Pearl Earring” and “The Other Boleyn Girl.” Since then, she has been rising as a bankable star in blockbusters like “The Avenger” films and “Lucy.” Quick: name another hot (I mean, of course, popular and bankable) female action star?

I’m waiting…

Writes Matt Golberg in a laugh riot called “Ghost in the Shell is Racist In Surprising Ways””  (another whitewashing screed, equally lame, is here):

[T]he opportunity that could have come to a Japanese actress like Rinko Kikuchi or Tao Okamoto instead went to Johansson, arguably the safer bet financially, but inconsistent with how studios approach other blockbuster films.

 Rinko Kikuchi and  Tao Okamoto!  I love them! They are both household names in Alexandria, Virginia, let me tell you! I never miss anything they are in!

Who the hell are Rinko Kikuchi and  Tao Okamoto?  Goldberg then cites the casting of the immortal Jack Huston as Ben Hur in the re-make last year as “how studios approach other blockbuster films” by casting lesser known stars. Here, let me fix that for you, Matt: it’s “how studios approach other blockbuster films when they make idiotic casting decisions that lead to the films bombing.” Jack Huston replacing Charlton Heston! What a great idea, giving Jack that “opportunity”!

“Ben Hur” lost between 65 and 120 million dollars, depending on who’s counting.

They should have cast Rinko Kikuchi or Tao Okamoto…

There is nothing, absolutely nothing, unethical about adapting a story from another country and placing it someplace else. (This post isn’t about “cultural appropriation,” but it could be). There is nothing unethical in the slightest about changing the gender, race, ethnicity or anything else about a fictional character. (Jack Reacher, a huge juggernaut of a man in the popular action novels, has now been played twice, entertainingly, by Tom Cruise. “Shrimp-washing”?) There is certainly nothing unethical about tailoring a project for a star to maximize the marketability of the final movie.

There is something unethical about calling artists racists just because they don’t do what you want them to do, or because they aren’t willing to risk millions to  advance your ideological agenda.  Make your own damn movie.

As for disappointed Japanese fans of “Ghost of the Shell,” nothing  says they have to see Scarlett, and they still have the original.

You know…like “King Lear.”

52 Comments

Filed under Around the World, Arts & Entertainment, Business & Commercial, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Gender and Sex, Journalism & Media, Literature, Popular Culture

52 responses to ““Ghost In The Shell” And “Whitewashing”

  1. fattymoon

    All true.

  2. I wonder if there were similar complaints about the casting choices in the Ring or One Missed Call.

  3. Warren

    Couldn’t agree more. (Also, shrimp-washing is brilliant.)

  4. I’ve long thought that advertising for “updated” opera and theater productions should have to carry little symbols to alert ticket buyers regarding what sort of monkeying was done to the original work. Whitewashing could easily be disclosed by a little Tom Sawyer figure holding a paint roller.

  5. Chris

    Jack:

    The sad fact is, movie makers can’t win. If a black actor isn’t cast to play a white character in the source material, Hollywood is engaging in bias by eschewing “non-traditional casting,” which is necessary to remedy de facto segregation and prejudice in movies.

    I’ve never encountered this argument.

    There was a notable case of outrage recently over a traditionally white superhero not being cast as Asian…but there were reasons for that. I blogged about it here:

    http://chrisreviewstheworld.blogspot.com/2017/03/brief-thoughts-on-why-iron-fist-should.html

    Who the hell are Rinko Kikuchi and Tao Okamoto?

    Isn’t this evidence for the counter-argument?

    Doesn’t the fact that you can’t recognize the names of two fairly accomplished Asian actresses working in American film and television (Kikuchi has been nominated for an Oscar, Okamoto has had prominent roles in two different summer comic book blockbusters and two critically acclaimed shows, Hannibal and The Man in The High Castle) show that Asian actresses are under-recognized?

    Your comparisons to Hamilton are irrelevant; white actors are not discriminated against in Hollywood. Minority actors are. This is well documented.

    You are correct that all things being equal, there is nothing wrong with racebending in casting. But all things are currently not equal. One movie with a white lead playing a traditionally Asian character is not a problem. The problem is the trend. And until that trend is slowed, and Asians begin to approach a proportion in Hollywood closer to their actual representation in American society, I don’t think continuing the trend is ethical.

    • If a white actor is not cast because the actor is white, then that white actor has been discriminated against, by definition. Black actors are not discriminated against; there are fewer roles for black actors, requiring a conscious effort at non-traditional casting. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. There’s also nothing wrong with NOT casting non-traditionally.

      No, the fact that I can’t recognize those actresses means that I am less likely to see a movie starring them than Scarlett J, and that’s all it means. There are literally hundreds of actresses with similar credentials. I’m pretty pop-culture literate, more than the average film-goer, and I still can’t picture either of them.

      I’ve dealt with the affirmative action/non-traditional casting/ gender-swapping, race-swapping/ ethnic issues in theater for decades. The arguments are the same. And the only relevant consideration is still the final product.

      You’re arguing for quotas among characters and actors. Which is ridiculous. Casting a male black star today means casting one of three actors: Jackson, Denzel, and Freeman. How does casting them help the under-representation of black actors? Why not make the same complaint that a lesser known minority actor should be cast instead? Well, for one thing, the same considerations apply. Stars sell tickets.

      It’s not up to film makers to force feed performers to the public. This is classic results based social justice. If Asian performers are not box office draws, that’s not bias, that’s not unethical, that’s called choice. And it’s no mystery: what radiates as presence in one culture doesn’t necessarily work in other cultures. Tough. The same is true of singers.

      • Chris

        If a white actor is not cast because the actor is white, then that white actor has been discriminated against, by definition. Black actors are not discriminated against;

        I’m confused. Are you saying white actors are sometimes not cast because the actor is white, but black actors are never not cast because they are black? That would be…untrue.

        No, the fact that I can’t recognize those actresses means that I am less likely to see a movie starring them than Scarlett J, and that’s all it means.

        …Yes, because Asian actresses are less likely to be hired in movies.

        There are literally hundreds of actresses with similar credentials. I’m pretty pop-culture literate, more than the average film-goer, and I still can’t picture either of them.

        I know. That’s more evidence for my position.

        I’ve dealt with the affirmative action/non-traditional casting/ gender-swapping, race-swapping/ ethnic issues in theater for decades. The arguments are the same. And the only relevant consideration is still the final product.

        Except that sometimes, as in the Iron Fist case, the final product likely would have been better had they cast an Asian actor. Lewis Tan was considered for the role, only to lose out to Finn Jones, who has been panned by critics. Tan showed up as a minor character in one episode, and stole the show.

        Of course, that’s hindsight, but it shows that taking the risk of trying to be more diverse can be worth it. I’d also be surprised if Jones did better in auditions than Tan did; sometimes white actors are chosen even when they are not the best person for the role.

        You’re arguing for quotas among characters and actors.

        I’m very clearly not. I said I would like to see Asian actors “begin to approach a proportion in Hollywood closer to their actual representation in American society.” That’s not a quota. I don’t believe there should be any set, required percentage of minorities in Hollywood. I just recognize that there are very few now, and think there should be more.

        Casting a male black star today means casting one of three actors: Jackson, Denzel, and Freeman.

        …How are you not seeing that this is a problem?

        It’s not up to film makers to force feed performers to the public.

        That’s not what I’m asking for. I’m asking for directors to recognize when minority actors might actually be the best for the role, in situations where they are superior to the safer white actor who isn’t as good.

        If Asian performers are not box office draws, that’s not bias, that’s not unethical, that’s called choice. And it’s no mystery: what radiates as presence in one culture doesn’t necessarily work in other cultures. Tough. The same is true of singers.

        I’m not sure what you’re saying here. Are you saying Asian actors don’t “radiate presence” in American culture? How is that not a bias?

        • If a white actor is not cast because the actor is white, then that white actor has been discriminated against, by definition. Black actors are not discriminated against;

          I’m confused. Are you saying white actors are sometimes not cast because the actor is white, but black actors are never not cast because they are black? That would be…untrue.

          How did that sentence make any statement about black actors at all? I’m saying discrimination is discrimination. That’s a problem for you?

          No, the fact that I can’t recognize those actresses means that I am less likely to see a movie starring them than Scarlett J, and that’s all it means.

          …Yes, because Asian actresses are less likely to be hired in movies.

          No, because those actors haven’t been sufficiently successful, for any number of reasons.

          There are literally hundreds of actresses with similar credentials. I’m pretty pop-culture literate, more than the average film-goer, and I still can’t picture either of them.

          I know. That’s more evidence for my position.

          How? They don’t stand out. If an Asian actress stands out—Sandra Oh, for example, she gets known, You have it backwards.

          I’ve dealt with the affirmative action/non-traditional casting/ gender-swapping, race-swapping/ ethnic issues in theater for decades. The arguments are the same. And the only relevant consideration is still the final product.

          Except that sometimes, as in the Iron Fist case, the final product likely would have been better had they cast an Asian actor. Lewis Tan was considered for the role, only to lose out to Finn Jones, who has been panned by critics. Tan showed up as a minor character in one episode, and stole the show.

          So? Casting isn’t perfect. I haven’t seen Iron Fist yet. I’ll assume you’re right. Although it’s impossible to disprove “likely would have been better.”

          Of course, that’s hindsight, but it shows that taking the risk of trying to be more diverse can be worth it. I’d also be surprised if Jones did better in auditions than Tan did; sometimes white actors are chosen even when they are not the best person for the role.

          Also true. That doesn’t mean Johannson wasn’t, though.

          You’re arguing for quotas among characters and actors.

          I’m very clearly not. I said I would like to see Asian actors “begin to approach a proportion in Hollywood closer to their actual representation in American society.” That’s not a quota. I don’t believe there should be any set, required percentage of minorities in Hollywood. I just recognize that there are very few now, and think there should be more.

          There should be more if there are more qualified talented Asians than casting would reflect on a merit basis. In DC, there were two Asian theater troupes. Both went under quickly. There aren’t many Asian roles, and aren’t many Asian Actors, and despite a large Cambodian, Vietnam, Korea, Thai demographic, not a lot of Asians in the seats, either. My theater company had one Asian-American actor in a leading role in 20 years, over a hundred shows. Out of maybe three auditioners. And when I cast her, I didn’t realize she was Eurasian.

          Casting a male black star today means casting one of three actors: Jackson, Denzel, and Freeman.

          …How are you not seeing that this is a problem?

          Why is it a “problem”? You can’t manufacture stars. You think producers wouldn’t want 10 Denzels? (I forgot Will Smith. Eddie Murphy should be in the group, but isn’t)

          It’s not up to film makers to force feed performers to the public.

          That’s not what I’m asking for. I’m asking for directors to recognize when minority actors might actually be the best for the role, in situations where they are superior to the safer white actor who isn’t as good.

          I see no evidence that this isn’t the case. Why was James Earl Jones cast to play J.D. Salenger? Why was Lou Gossett Jr. cast in a role written for a white actor in “An Officer and A Gentleman”? It happens. If the approach is “let’s NOt cast qualified white actors so we can give teh part to a black actor,” that’s back to the top. That’s discrimination.

          If Asian performers are not box office draws, that’s not bias, that’s not unethical, that’s called choice. And it’s no mystery: what radiates as presence in one culture doesn’t necessarily work in other cultures. Tough. The same is true of singers.

          I’m not sure what you’re saying here. Are you saying Asian actors don’t “radiate presence” in American culture? How is that not a bias?

          Presence is presence. Cultures differ. Ideas of beauty differ. John Wayne wouldn’t have been a star in France.

          • Chris

            Jack:

            How did that sentence make any statement about black actors at all?

            Well now I’m even more confused. These are the two sentences of yours I was replying to:

            If a white actor is not cast because the actor is white, then that white actor has been discriminated against, by definition. Black actors are not discriminated against;

            Are you asking how the sentence “Black actors are not discriminated against” makes a statement about black actors?

            It really seemed like you were saying white actors are sometimes discriminated against in casting but black actors are not. Since I know that can’t be what you meant, what did you mean?

            I’m saying discrimination is discrimination. That’s a problem for you?

            No, my problem is that you said black actors are not discriminated against, which is not true.

            No, because those actors haven’t been sufficiently successful, for any number of reasons.

            This is embarrassingly naive, Jack, and evidence of a bubble. Asian actors are not given the same opportunities as white actors. You said you don’t work with very many Asian actors–I strongly recommend you talk to the ones you do know and get their opinion on this. I guarantee a majority of them will have stories of discrimination in the acting world. I suspect this bias is probably even stronger in Hollywood than in theater.

            There should be more if there are more qualified talented Asians than casting would reflect on a merit basis.

            Again, naive. It looks to you like merit and talent are the only determining factors when casting roles, because that’s how you think, and because you are white. This is not the case for many, many actors of color.

            Why is it a “problem”? You can’t manufacture stars. You think producers wouldn’t want 10 Denzels? (I forgot Will Smith. Eddie Murphy should be in the group, but isn’t)

            Except that Hollywood tries to manufacture white stars all the time. Ryan Reynolds is a good example of a white actor who Hollywood kept giving major opportunities too despite a record of failure. This has paid off with Deadpool. Hollywood does not give the same type of boost to minority actors with that type of record.

            • I have to be carefull that I don’t give your confirmation bias room to roam. What I wrote was,

              If a white actor is not cast because the actor is white, then that white actor has been discriminated against, by definition.

              Presumably that’s clear. Therefore: This role is a white character, but we are not going to cast this actor because he is white. We want a black actor.

              “Black actors are not discriminated against…”

              It should have been a new paragraph. Once, clearly, black performers were horrible discriminated against. The statement refers to NOW. I reject the “disparate impact” logic: is there any evidence that black performers are not being hired because they are black performers? No….because, “there are fewer roles for black actors, requiring a conscious effort at non-traditional casting. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. There’s also nothing wrong with NOT casting non-traditionally.”

              In a majority white market (54%) with a less than 20% black market, obviously most projects will be aimed a white audiences. That’s business, not prejudice. In 2014, about 75% of US film actors on screen were white, about 13% were black. That’s not out of line. Whole genres wipe out opportunities for black actors. It takes historical inaccuracy to change that: how many black gunfighters were there in the period of “The Magnificent Seven”? Should “Hacksaw Ridge” have included black GIs where there weren’t any? Is historical accuracy racist?

              That’s the point. And no, Hollywood has no ethical obligation to cast in any way that involves considerations other than quality if the product and box office receipts. It is the same kind of issue as the 30’s movie codes that required films to convey moral values. Yes, it is good if films convey moral values, but it’s no duty. It’s good if filmss choose to maximize roles for a stressed performing demographic. But it’s not unethical if they just try to make good movies.

              • Chris

                If a white actor is not cast because the actor is white, then that white actor has been discriminated against, by definition.

                Presumably that’s clear. Therefore: This role is a white character, but we are not going to cast this actor because he is white. We want a black actor.

                So then you would agree that if a role is a black character, but a black actor is not cast because is black, that would be discrimination.

                Do you think this does not happen?

                In 2014, about 75% of US film actors on screen were white, about 13% were black. That’s not out of line.

                Where’d you get this, Jack? If this is accurate, I’d say blacks seem to be represented fairly well, though I’d also want a break down of how many are in leading roles vs. supporting. Whites seem overrepresented, as we make up 63% of the population–so who’s getting underrepresented here?

                That’s the point. And no, Hollywood has no ethical obligation to cast in any way that involves considerations other than quality if the product and box office receipts.

                I think diversity is one factor to consider when considering quality. It isn’t the end-all-be-all, but it is a factor. My favorite X-Men movie is “First Class.” It has a diverse cast, but every female and POC character at the end of that movie is dead, evil, or mind-wiped. For a movie that attempted to make parallels with the Civil Rights movement and which has as a major theme striving for equal treatment, this is a huge, glaring flaw. It’s still a great movie, but it would be better if it did not have this flaw.

                • If you say white people are 63% and agree that Black are 13%, I’d love to know what makes up the other 24%.

                  I think you’ve mixed up your references, if you assume “White Hispanics” and “Black Hispanics” are a different race (Hispanics), then 1) Someone tell George Zimmerman quick, because a lot of you seem to think he’s white. and 2) You’ve overstated Black America significantly. If however you think that White Hispanics are White and Black Hispanics are Black, we’re back to 74/13.

                  • Chris

                    Sorry, I should have said non-Hispanic whites are 63%–the total number of whites is 73%.

                    It is very likely Hispanic/Latino will be considered a race on the next census. This will more closely match how Hispanics and Latinos tend to see themselves, as well as how most of American society sees them.

                    The Zimmerman reference is petty and unnecessary.

            • “Except that sometimes, as in the Iron Fist case, the final product likely would have been better had they cast an Asian actor. Lewis Tan was considered for the role, only to lose out to Finn Jones, who has been panned by critics. Tan showed up as a minor character in one episode, and stole the show.”

              Those people are wrong. We’ve had this discussion, and you’ve even said the obvious counter argument has merit: The story of the Iron Fist is one who went to a Tibetan monastery as an outsider, rose to eminence and came back home to fight crime. There is a myriad of minority casting they could have done to that and still tell that story… He could have been African, or Hispanic, or Indigenous, for instance… Hell, he could have been a three-armed gender queer furry midget that sexually identifies as an egg beater and it would still be less story breaking than casting an Asian, from a story telling perspective, the only ethnicity the Iron Fist COULDN’T be is Asian.

              “An Asian Kung Fu master comes to America and beats up a crime ring.” Huh, the only thing that would make that more diverse would be like… A black co-star, right? Maybe Jackie Chan and Eddie Murphy? Why does this sound so familiar?

              But here we are, again. And again, the ONLY reason people are talking about THIS character in particular is that he knows Kung Fu and has a giant dragon tattoo. Obviously that character should be Asian, right? There’s no stereotyping there, right? You explain it to me Chris, now that we have more than 140 characters, what made you and your friends so deeply offended by this casting that doesn’t rely on a base “Asian culture, so Asians only” mentality? “Asians are underrepresented” be damned, why THIS character?

              “I’m very clearly not. I said I would like to see Asian actors “begin to approach a proportion in Hollywood closer to their actual representation in American society.” That’s not a quota. I don’t believe there should be any set, required percentage of minorities in Hollywood. I just recognize that there are very few now, and think there should be more.”

              “[B]egin to approach a proportion in Hollywood closer to their actual representation in American society” IS actually a quota, obscuring the quota in vagueness doesn’t change that. How many more? What’s the goal? When do you feel that the problem would be mitigated so as to be off your radar? You called these questions ‘unhelpful’ before. No, they’re just fantasy-smashing. Those questions are the difference between the raw nerve whining of a child forever wanting ‘more’ and an actual actionable statement. If in the process of having your argument grow up they become untenable, than maybe that’s the clue that you need to re-evaluate them.

              • Chris

                Those people are wrong. We’ve had this discussion, and you’ve even said the obvious counter argument has merit: The story of the Iron Fist is one who went to a Tibetan monastery as an outsider, rose to eminence and came back home to fight crime. There is a myriad of minority casting they could have done to that and still tell that story… He could have been African, or Hispanic, or Indigenous, for instance… Hell, he could have been a three-armed gender queer furry midget that sexually identifies as an egg beater and it would still be less story breaking than casting an Asian, from a story telling perspective, the only ethnicity the Iron Fist COULDN’T be is Asian.

                I addressed this with you on Twitter. There is no reason an Asian-American could not be seen as an “outsider” to K’un-Lun, a fictional place that no actual Asians are from. None at all. And since Asian-Americans often feel like outsiders both at home in America and in their families’ native countries, making Danny Asian could have enhanced the theme and made Danny’s outsider status a powerful metaphor the second-generation minority experience in America, just as Luke Cage and Jessica Jones used metaphors for black experiences and women’s experiences.

                Furthermore, the show didn’t do anything with the idea of Danny being an outsider to K’un-Lun anyway, since the show spent almost no time there; he was more of an outsider once he came back to America.

                But here we are, again. And again, the ONLY reason people are talking about THIS character in particular is that he knows Kung Fu and has a giant dragon tattoo. Obviously that character should be Asian, right? There’s no stereotyping there, right? You explain it to me Chris, now that we have more than 140 characters, what made you and your friends so deeply offended by this casting that doesn’t rely on a base “Asian culture, so Asians only” mentality? “Asians are underrepresented” be damned, why THIS character?

                Again, I addressed this with you. You are only remembering the parts of this argument you want to.

                It is more than just “he knows Kung Fu and has a giant dragon tattoo.” Everything about the character’s backstory, supporting cast, villains, and mythology is Asian-inspired. The character is steeped in Asian character. Everything about the Iron Fist is Asian except for the actual Iron Fist. There is a trend in the media of infusing stories with Asian culture while never putting Asian characters at the center of those stories. Look at Firefly, one of my favorite shows. Everyone speaks Mandarin. Costumes, sets, and concepts are based on Asian culture. And there isn’t a single Asian character with a speaking role in 13 episodes and a movie. I love this show dearly, but that’s messed up.

                (To Whedon’s credit, I think he later realized how messed up this was–probably at the urging of his sister-in-law and frequent collaborative partner, Maurissa Tanchereon, who has a song on the commentary track of Dr. Horrible called “Nobody’s Asian in the Movies.” After that, there were major Asian characters on Dollhouse, Agents of Shield, and even Avengers: Age of Ultron. I think he realized he blew an opportunity to have more Asian representation, and is now trying to make up for that.)

                “[B]egin to approach a proportion in Hollywood closer to their actual representation in American society” IS actually a quota, obscuring the quota in vagueness doesn’t change that.

                No, it isn’t.

                How many more? What’s the goal? When do you feel that the problem would be mitigated so as to be off your radar?

                I don’t know. You’re asking me to tell you what perfect equality looks like. That isn’t feasible. So let’s strive for more equality, and you tell me when we have too much.

                Do you think Asians are overrepresented in the media now? If not, then what is the problem with advocating for more representation?

                • “There is no reason an Asian-American could not be seen as an “outsider” to K’un-Lun, a fictional place that no actual Asians are from. None at all. And since Asian-Americans often feel like outsiders both at home in America and in their families’ native countries, making Danny Asian could have enhanced the theme and made Danny’s outsider status a powerful metaphor the second-generation minority experience in America, just as Luke Cage and Jessica Jones used metaphors for black experiences and women’s experiences.”

                  There’s no reason for any of Netflix’s Iron Fist to resemble Marvels Iron Fist except for the story. Look, you nailed Luke Cage on the head, a lot of the source material talks explicitly about Luke’s racial experience, so I could see legitimate objections to changing Luke’s character. This is also, by the way, my objection to Roland Deschaine being played by Idris Alba, Roland is white, and one of his companions is a wheelchair bound black woman with multiple personality disorder, one of those personalities being a flaming racist. She calls Roland “Honkey” for half a book. There’s no good way to gloss over that, because that character arc is important to the story. So now Roland is black, and I hope to hell that they don’t make Detta Walker white for no reason other than to continue the racial tension, but in reverse. All the dynamics would be wrong. But what else do they have? Detta’s arc is compressed down to just overcoming her infirmaty? Detta takes her racism out on Eddie? Jake? Oy? It doesn’t make sense.

                  At some point, you change so much that it becomes unrecognisable except for the logos… You’ve basically written a new peice of work… And that might be the right way to do it. You think that a story about an Asian person caught between worlds that spends his spare time fighting crime would make a good picture? It absolutely could. And that seems a whole lot more reasonable than bitching on Twitter because a white guy played a white character who was written as explicitly white.

                  “It is more than just “he knows Kung Fu and has a giant dragon tattoo.” Everything about the character’s backstory, supporting cast, villains, and mythology is Asian-inspired. The character is steeped in Asian character. Everything about the Iron Fist is Asian except for the actual Iron Fist. There is a trend in the media of infusing stories with Asian culture while never putting Asian characters at the center of those stories.”

                  So you really ducked around my question here:

                  You explain it to me Chris, what made you and your friends so deeply offended by this casting that doesn’t rely on a base “Asian culture, so Asians only” mentality? “Asians are underrepresented” be damned, why THIS character?

                  You just reinforced that. “It’s more than Kung Fu and Dragons, it’s all these other Asian cultural markers.” So what? Look Chris, we didn’t draw lines on the Easrth, separating all cultures into little stereotypical boxes from which we cannot escape. I have a second degree blackbelt in Taekwondo that I’m sure a whole lot of Korean Americans do not have. Who cares? There’s Asian people wearing italian suits, and eating hamburgers.

                  • Chris

                    You explain it to me Chris, what made you and your friends so deeply offended by this casting that doesn’t rely on a base “Asian culture, so Asians only” mentality? “Asians are underrepresented” be damned, why THIS character?

                    I wasn’t “deeply offended.” I think it was a missed opportunity, and I think the original story of Iron Fist is problematic.

                    You’re not understanding this because you don’t look at things in a structural way–you miss the forest for the trees. As I said, the problem is the trend. “THIS character,” by itself, does not matter. It does not matter if a single character happens to be white, goes to Asia and becomes better at Asian cultural (not stereotypical–you’re using that word wrong) things than all the Asians he knows. If that happened every now and then, no one would complain, because there would be nothing to complain about.

                    But it happens all the time. Meanwhile, Asian leads are very rare.

                    The fact that a problematic trend exists puts added pressure on each individual thing to break that trend. If every single writer for the New York Times was white, that would be seen as a problem; no one white writer would be the problem, but we would still expect the hiring department to make more of an effort to find non-white talent, wouldn’t we?

      • “Casting a male black star today means casting one of three actors: Jackson, Denzel, and Freeman. How does casting them help the under-representation of black actors?”

        See. When Chris had originally suggested the names of two Asian actresses I’d never heard of, I thought it was particularly jarring. “Let’s not trade Scarlett Johnason for Lucy Liu, who at least has the star power to bring butts to seats, let’s replace her with someone who hasn’t got much draw of her own.” Which hit me when I first read it as emminently stupid, and still does, but in looking at it again, at least he’s ideologically consistent.

        It’s consistent in that he’s looking to build depth in the bench of female Asian leads. That’s about it. He’s not particularly concerned with the success of the movie, and by extent the actresses, so it’s incredibly short sighted, but once you wrap your head around the fact that he would see almost ANY minority no-name casting as a good thing, and anything else ranging from neutral to deeply problematic, following the colour pallette of melanin distribution, all these other positions start to make sense.

        • (Luck Liu… Jesus. Lucy.)

        • I almost forgot about Lucy, who was the first top rank Asian actress to have US success since Nancy Kwan of “Flower Drum Song” fame. But Lucy, alas, is well past her ingenue days: she’s 48. Sandra Oh is legitimate name and talent, and I love her, but she’s a character actress.

        • Chris

          See. When Chris had originally suggested the names of two Asian actresses I’d never heard of…

          Please read better. I didn’t do that. The suggestions came from people quoted in Jack’s initial article.

          Since the rest of your conclusions about me are based on that false premise, I don’t think I need to address them.

  6. Neil Dorr

    Jack,

    “I’m waiting…”

    Cynthia Rothrock (my childhood favorite)
    Zoe Saldana
    Angelina Jolie
    Rhona Mitra
    Pam Grier
    Milla Jovovich
    Linda Hamilton
    Michelle Rodriguez
    Cari-Ann Moss
    Uma Thurman
    Michelle Yeoh

    And, of course, the Queen of them all: Sigourney Weaver.

    • Isaac

      None are both film-carrying stars AND currently relevant as such, which I thought was assumed. Need all-new list.

      • Pennagain

        I don’t know about the others on Neil’s list but I do follow Michelle Yeoh who has taken another road. Since starring or featuring in major roles in 23 films since “Crouching Tiger,” lately, the Chinese-Malay actor has taken on recurring roles in American television, such as in Season Two of “Marco Polo”, and the latest being Federation Captain Georgiou of the Shenzhou in the series “Star Trek Discovery”. I wouldn’t be surprised if the lead role in the right script came along for her in Hollywood one of these days. Like the irreplaceable Jackie Chan (wearing down these days but still a box office draw), Yeoh will be ready when it comes at whatever age she happens to be.

        • Isaac

          She’s great. There really aren’t that many “movie stars” and even fewer “action stars” especially today. You could probably count them on one hand, and The Rock is the only guy who you couldn’t argue about.

    • Spartan

      Jennifer Lawrence leaps to mind too. Emma Stone, Charlize Theron, Natalie Portman, Anne Hathaway, Amy Adams, Keira Knightley, Megan Fox …

      The problem is coming up with Asian actresses. Asian actresses tend to be cast in “best friend” or comic relief roles. Hollywood sucks.

      • But Jennifer, Emma, Charlize, Anne, Amy and Keira, not to mention Scarlett, plus Jessica Chastain, Bryce Dallas Howard, Elle Fanning, and more, don’t suck.

        (I’m sorry, but I think Natalie DOES suck. Most over-hyped actress in my lifetime.)

        • Spartan

          I think these reactions to casting have to do more about the fact that Hollywood likes its young, blondish, beauties. As Elizabeth discussed below, this is a business — not about giving the right job to the right actress to create great art. Hollywood sucks because I couldn’t come up with an Asian-American, Latina, or Black person to be on my list. Presumably I could with a lot of research, but that list would be short. So, I get it that Hollywood wants to make money and that actresses have to be model-beautiful (but not men, see, e.g., Philip Seymour Hoffman), but the larger message is that only willowy blondish creatures are beautiful — unless you look like Megan Fox. (I mean, I think everyone has to admit that Megan Fox is stunning, dark hair and all.) That sucks and sends the message to millions of people that their particular hair, skin color, body type, etc. is NOT beautiful. So, why can’t Hollywood start hiring some still beautiful women (because actresses apparently are required to be beautiful) who look a little different? That would be a welcome change — and, if that happened, perhaps we wouldn’t see as much sensitivity about the rewriting of roles to fit the Hollywood mold.

          • I think in general you are right, but some actresses have broken that mold. Cate Blanchette; Ellen Barkin; I never thought Streep was conventionally gorgeous. Holly Hunter. Sissy Spacek.

            • Spartan

              You just named a bunch of blondes … and Holly Hunter. I think they are pretty — all of them are stunning, even if they aren’t girl next door attractive.

              • I agree that they are normal human being gorgeous. For Hollywood, they are trolls. Anyone can be a blonde—Holly Hunter has been. Are any of those natural blondes other than Streep?

                • Spartan

                  Cate Blanchette is — I think. And Sissy is a redhead, which is just as good as red. Whether they are natural or not is irrelevant — I don’t think I’ve ever seen Ellen Barkin with dark hair. Actresses need to dye their hair blonde for roles.

  7. Neil Dorr

    You also forgot to mention Morgan Freeman in Shawshank Redemption and, more recently, Aubrey Plaza played a male character in the television series “Legion.” (what makes it AMAZING is that her stipulation for doing so was that they not change any of the dialogue).

    For the record, I agree that there’s nothing unethical about non-traditional/whitewash casting but, as Chris mentioned, it often has less to do with “who’s the best” and more to do with “who’s safe.”

  8. Mrs. Q

    I always kind of laugh when people ask Hollywood – of all places, with it’s Babylonian like culture of murder, magic, and mayhem – to affirm anything moral or ethical. Please porn industry, show scenes of mixed race gang bangs & that will be a good enough substitute for open race relations. Please action, drama, romance, and comedy films, show me a white pimp or an Asian mobster, or a feminist Nazi & all will be ok. As long as depictions of awful criminals, monsters, and post apocalyptic droids are diverse, Hollywood is doing its job to make the world a better place…

    Yeah right!

    • Chris

      Huh. Typically, the calls for diversity I see are requests for more representation among heroes, not pimps and mobsters.

      If you think that doesn’t have an impact, you’re wrong.

  9. Wayne

    Well Andy Garcia played a Spaniard in “The Disappearance of Garcia Lorca” which he did a fine job in which the Spanish didn’t seem to have any complaints about. I’m going to see “The Ghost in the Shell” to get a look at Scarlett Johansson and to spite PC Matt Goldberg.

    • Pennagain

      If you like stunning visuals and an unusual story (and Ms. Johansson, by all means), you’ll like most of it, Wayne. It may not be around very long. But just in case you’re a fan of manga (I don’t know why I bothered putting that in italics) be warned that the film achieves an entirely different type of satisfacton. As a cousin of mine said not so long ago: “It has nothing to do with treaties; if you knew how addicted millions of American males are to manga, you’d know we can never go to war with Japan again. you won’t get the same feeling of alternate universe/adult comic book imagination you get from the paper version or even the animation/live action movies. Some media don’t translate well which is why the film’s last quarter doesn’t keep up with the gloriously high technology of its beginning. Could be why classic children’s stories should stay between covers too, as must good fantasy fiction*. Visualizing or activating something that never existed before that is already dreamed of in the reader’s mind is rarely successful, unless it is transmogrified into something entirely different — how Disney or Spielberg or Industrial Light & Magic sees it in their imaginations. The same with the listener’s mind, for that matter, a main reason for series that never translated well, if at all, from radio to television.

      Would the film have done better with an Asian actor? No, say the Japanese creators. In The Hollywood Reporter, Sam Yoshiba, director of the international business division at Kodansha, the right holder to the GITS franchise, declared: “Looking at her career so far, I think Scarlett Johansson is well cast. She has the cyberpunk feel. And we never imagined it would be a Japanese actress in the first place. This is a chance for a Japanese property to be seen around the world.” It does sound like a business proposition, doesn’t it? But that doesn’t make it any less of a positive reality.

      At any rate, there is not only plenty of evidence of Motoko’s Shell being initially conceived as Caucasian-oid (is there such a word?), but the Japanese right holders were comfortable with the casting from the get-go, and signed the contract with full knowledge of what to expect. Part of that feeling, I think, stems from the subversive ideas (taken much more taken for granted in the imaginations of other cultures than in the US) of people being able to switch appearance, race, gender… as they see fit.

      *Some will argue that all fiction is fantasy, but therein lies the distinction of fantasy from science fiction, that which extrapolates from the known or the possible, and whose progress stays within logical bounds under the author’s conceptual control. The problem with that — as you will know if you can remember back more than say 50 years, that yesterday’s SF&F isn’t all that exciting due to its fantasies as well as its science having become today’s technology. And today’s catastrophes. People are less interested … sometimes downright unhappy … about looking into the future these days. Especially when they are regular readers of ethics blogs?

      • Chris

        Why would the Japanese creators have a problem with the casting? They live in Japan. Their media is saturated with Japanese people. This is obviously not the case in America, which is why Asian-Americans are the ones critiquing this move, not people in Japan.

        This point seems too obvious to need to mention, and yet it keeps getting missed.

  10. Zanshin

    And there’s The Karate Kid (2010 film) wich stars Jaden Smith and which is situated in China.

  11. dragin_dragon

    ““Ben Hur” lost between 65 and 120 million dollars, depending on who’s counting.

    They should have cast Rinko Kikuchi or Tao Okamoto…”

    Thank you, Jack. I laughed so hard my wife was worried I’d broken something.

    • Isaac

      Ben Hur was as much a bad idea as the Ghostbusters remake, only without the made-up controversy to try to get people to pay for it out of some sense of duty or whatever. If they try to remake Back to the Future I will…well I guess I’ll complain about it.

  12. E2 (nee Elizabeth I)

    Look, you jerks. I know something about this. There are literally thousands of wonderful actors out there looking for work. But, absent a great agent or a casting-couch blow job (both sexes) they don’t get cast.

    It –movie or TV –has little to do with acting brilliance. It is all about money. Period. Any movie or TV series might be notably better if cast with a relatively unknown but wonderful actor. But will it sell? Will it make money?

    The ultimate decision is money. Art be damned. Other wonderful actors be damned.

    It is not ‘art” and you are foolish if you think so. They want ticket sales, award nominations, residuals. This is not art: “It’s just business.”

    This is a surprise? The very base of the democratic system in America is now based on the same concept — it and the Mafia — consider it “just business.”

  13. Rob Palmer

    If someone tried to defend casting Luke Cage as a white dude I think they would be justifiably ridiculed. Luke Cage is specifically the blaxsploitation super hero, making him white misses the point of the character. If you couldn’t find a good black actor to play him, then you don’t make that movie.

    So context matters. The thing about Matoko Kusanagi is she is a literal brain in a robot body; the robot body can look like anyone she wants. The character can and has switched bodies many times in all the various instances of the show, though her recognizable default is Japanese. Being Japanese isn’t really the point of the character, its about cyberpunk exploration of post-humanism, AI sentience, questions about consciousness, etc.

    Again, it’s context, which the race-complainers always ignore.

    Anyway, I was pretty excited to watch the Ken Watanabe samurai remake of the classic Clint Eastwood film Unforgiven (too bad it kind of sucked). Cultural adaptations work both ways.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s