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Maybe one of the most hotly debated movies right now is the adaptation of Ghost in the Shell. The film made headlines when it announced that Scarlett Johansson would be playing the lead role of Major Kusanagi, a cyborg who leads a task force to fight criminals and is Japanese in the original manga. Johansson's character has been retooled as simply The Major, but it still left lots of fans feeling rightfully burned and angry over what they saw as Hollywood whitewashing. Throw in the supposed testing of technology to make the actress "appear more Asian" and the producers had a real fire to put out. Steven Paul is one of those producers, and he defends their casting choice by claiming that the story of Ghost is the Shell is an international one, and that fans will be happy with the finished product.
The team behind Ghost in the Shell have remained relatively quiet about the controversy and backlash, but producer Steven Paul has recently opened up about the film. Paul spoke with BuzzFeed to discuss fan concerns, and insisted that people would be happy with the finished project. In his mind, Ghost in the Shell was not entirely focused on Japan.
There [are] all sorts of people and nationalities in the world in Ghost in the Shell. We're utilizing people from all over the world...There's Japanese in it. There's Chinese in it. There's English in it. There's Americans in it. I don't think it was just a Japanese story. Ghost in the Shell was a very international story, and it wasn't just focused on Japanese; it was supposed to be an entire world. That's why I say the international approach is, I think, the right approach to it.
Looking at the entire cast and not just Johansson, the international view has been reflected so far. The movie also stars Takeshi Kitano, Rila Fukushima, Yutaka Izumihara, Kaori Momoi, as well as Pilou Asbæk, Michael Pitt, and Juliette Binoche. Does this make Johansson's casting more forgivable? Johansson is the highest grossing actress in the world, so it's easy to see the appeal in casting her in a relatively unknown property to general moviegoers. Whether or not this makes it okay to cast the lead role with a white actor will probably be debated for some time.
I have no familiarity with the Ghost in the Shell manga, so I can't confidently say if Paul is right or wrong about it being an international story, but his logic feels more like a response than a reason. Even if the story does concern all corners of the globe, why does that mean the main character can't be Asian? The decision to hire Scarlett Johansson seems to be based on the quality of footage no one has seen yet. And even if Ghost in the Shell is a great movie that expertly adapts the source material, does that still count if the lead character is white washed? It's a question we won't know the answer to until the movie comes out, and even then it might still be unforgivable to some audience members.