Do Movies Need to Respect Character Ethnicities?

Ghost in the Shell came out of one of the most profound and innovative ideas for a media franchise. Set in a futuristic Japan, the Japanese cyborg...
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    There are many reasons one could criticize film production or the film industry in general in the United States. One might criticize a movie for its poor musical score, shoddy screenwriting, or just an overall bad performance from actors or the production crew. But perhaps more objective than any other criticism of film, at least in the United States, is the incorporation of whitewashing: the use of white actors in place of ethnically diverse races of people.

    The most recent case of this comes from the live-action movie adaptation of the Japanese media franchise Ghost in the Shell. Although the setting of the franchise takes place in Japan, with lead character Motoko Kusanagi falling under Japanese heritage, the team behind the production of this adaptation have cast Scarlett Johansson, a white actress, into the leading role of Kusanagi.

    In response to the released still image for Ghost in the Shell, which contained the first look at the movie adaptation, fans of the series and fans of movies in general cried out to end whitewashing in films. Many fans went on to call specifically for Japanese actress Rinko Kikuchi to play the part of Motoko Kusanagi, which would undoubtedly be more appropriate and respectful to the vision and core themes behind Ghost in the Shell.

    Though some argue that Kusanagi being a cyborg in the futuristic setting of Ghost in the Shell means that casting for ethnicity isn't all that important, the main issue here is about Hollywood misrepresenting work of art that is not true to the heart of the franchise or to its fans. This isn't close to being the first time, however, and you can bet that it won't be the last.

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    These types of practices began early on in the history of film, with directors and actors jumping at the opportunity to exaggerate behaviors and stereotypes of other populations for comedic value. Over time, however, that form of blatant racism decreased in frequency and any attempt at it is usually met with condemnation or, at the very least, harsh criticism and scrutiny. It is still argued that Hollywood has not done enough to address the issue of racism in movies, though, and the practice of whitewashing is still prevalent despite the progress made over the years.

    This misrepresentation can be seen in movies like Spawn (1997) where D.B. Sweeney was cast in place of an African-American Terry Fitzgerald; Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (2010) where Jake Gyllenhaal plays the lead character who is intended to be Persian; and The Lone Ranger (2013) where Johnny Depp is cast as a Native American. There are many examples of this in the film industry and it poses a serious question: why?

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    Film directors and producers have made the argument that people get used to seeing these actors on-screen, or that there is more profit in a cast that has a white majority. In any case, many have brought up why it must end, as it enforces unrealistic standards and cuts out opportunities for talented actors and actresses who are not white. The Hunger Games did just that when the casting call began looking for an actress who fit "a Caucasian appearance" although author Suzanne Collins never specified that Katniss Everdeen, the main character, was white or necessarily looked white.

    Film directors and casting directors need to be cognizant of who they cast and the implication it has on the artistic vision. Characters shouldn't go from being African-American in a comic or a novel to being white in the movie adaptation, solely for the sake of profits or because the role "called for a white actor". Film directors create art in the form of movies and in respect to other artists like themselves, they need to stay true to the artist's vision intended by the creator.

    Fortunately for that artistic vision, a petition was created that targets DreamWorks Studios and their defacing of the Ghost in the Shell franchise and it has already amassed over 90,000 signatures. Though the petition itself might not be enough to end the practice in film, it may just be enough to prevent the damage that this will do to the Ghost in the Shell franchise, as well as more series and franchises in the future.

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    Jacob Frye, boonk, SharpGhost and 3 others like this.

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  1. Kaution
    That may be due to the location you are in or the promotional advertisements that are offered in your area, although this could tie into the fact of the review above, in which your area of living has ethnic altering in promotions and movie making.
    1. ZoE GoDD
      yea its called America, smmfh
      Kaution likes this.
  2. Keeley Hazell
    Most movies are good regardless IMO, the ones listed here I never even heard of.. besides maybe Prince of Persia.
  3. Kaution
    This is very true and the Black Oscars proved this, although I believe that any movie that Emma Stone or Scarlett Johansson makes is amazing whether the intended character is black or white.
  4. 3xTiNcT
    Well it would probably look better if they respected the characters ethnicity but most movies are still good that don't.
  5. boonk
    The majors are not concerned with historical accuracy. The entertainment business only cares about results, which equals money.
    Our brothers in the North country are only doing what they should be doing... Subconsciously, when their offspring see people who look like them doing great things, its empowering!
      Frost Cube likes this.
  6. NumberedSalmon
    Ironic how we have to accept an African-English Hermione Granger on the stages of London because the racial casting means nothing, and it all comes down to skill. Yet when it happens the other way, everyone shows an uproar and brand it "whitewashing". Screw it, Young Han Solo should be played by a Chinese man, because only acting talent matters, and not physical aesthetics like the past 100 years of film have suggested.
      Lech Bear and Bluevex like this.
  7. ZoE GoDD
    white people telling everyone to stop complaining about ethnicities, but yet to noticed that they haven't really been in this position. when it did happen it Annie, Starwars, and Spider-Man (Miles Morales Movie) white people took to every social media site to state their opinions.... do us all a favor white people, STOP TELLING US TO CHILL WHEN YALL TAKING CREDIT FOR OTHER PEOPLES THINGS!!!
    1. NumberedSalmon
      Stop being an absolute and ignorant idiot by using colloquialism such as y'all and telling all white people to chill, you're just funding our hilarious stereotypes of you.
      Zone-Tan likes this.
    2. ZoE GoDD
      Lmao in black thats how I talk. smh,
      i Mugetsu likes this.
  8. ZacOnCrac
    Personally I get annoyed that movie studios are considering ethnicities in an extreme way. This also moves alongside with the 'gender imbalance' everyone believes.
    Undoubtedly everyone has noticed the lead actors of the new Star Wars, and how they are categorized into the so called minorities of society (being the 'black' African American and the female). While it is a good thing to counter-act all of the alleged discrimination by implementing a range of new ideas into movies, forcing it down the audiences throats isn't the right way to go about it.

    Just the transition of going from white male dominance on film to the polar opposite is something hard for many people to do. Moderation fam.
    Sorry for being slightly off topic, but dammit, I can already see a black, Mexican, female, Super Saiyan being born out of this and while that's completely fine, if it doesn't make sense it shouldn't be there.
      Feyfolken likes this.
    1. Feyfolken
      I'm assuming you just tend to see past race and instead, take a character's role and act based on how they perform? In that case, you have a very rare perspective and I admire it. I really don't give any thought to who's playing in what role, unless I've seen them before. In Scarlett Johansson's case, I've seen her way too many times to see her in a role like Kusanagi. Though I would prefer that they respect the artistic vision of the creator of Ghost in the Shell by casting Japanese actors and actresses, I don't really mind either way so long as their cast isn't one that's overused, overrated, and unfitting for the role, such as Scarlet Johansson.
  9. TheItalianLad
    Why do people have to complain about every little thing. Who cares if the actors are white, if the movie is good just leave it at that.

    The best actors in the world are white anyway so that is most likely why.
      Zone-Tan likes this.
    1. NumberedSalmon
      Lmao you went 0-100 so fast.
    2. TheItalianLad
      NumberedSalmon haha you made me laugh. I mean that most of the best/most popular actors are white. Doesn't mean blacks or asians can't be good, they just haven't hit the big screens yet.
    3. Feyfolken
      I don't know about that. Hollywood is over-saturated with white actors and actresses. Two big problems stem from that: when there's an artistic vision at risk when there's poor casting (Ghost in the Shell) and when there should be accurate historical portrayals. Big-name producers and directors solely rely on a short list of "top actors" because they know that they make money.

      On the other hand, I'll outright refuse to see a movie because it has the same actor I've seen a dozen times. Liam Neeson is a great example. He got huge after "Taken" and then you saw him in two action movies a year. Samuel L. Jackson is also seen in so many movies nowadays and for the wrong reasons.

      Cloud Atlas and Star Wars: TFA set some good examples, though. Cloud Atlas brought on really talented ethnic actors/actresses (Keith David, Doona Bae, David Gyasi) in leading roles, not for the sake of being diverse but because it made sense and man, that was a really good film.

      Ideally, I'd like for people to just stop caring about ethnicity in film. There are a handful of rules that should be followed: respect for artistic vision, respect to historical accuracy, and respect to actors and fans. DreamWorks should already know this and they should be helping to dispel whitewashing in films, but instead, they're helping to perpetuate it by putting Scarlett Johansson in the role she is in.
      i Mugetsu likes this.
  10. Arxhive
    No. There's a massive double standard. I see nothing wrong with casting big-ticket actors to reach wider audiences. While a Japanese actor would be lore-friendly, I see no difference with this and the endless stream of remade films casting black actors in historically/canonically white roles in the name of diversity.