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When it was announced that Ghost in the Shell was being made into a live-action film, fans celebrated. When it was announced that Scarlett Johansson was going to play the lead, the response was significantly less enthusiastic. The fact that a white person had been cast in a film that was originally Japanese led to a significant backlash. Now the actress at the center of the controversy has spoken out. Johansson says that she would never try to play her character as somebody of a different race and that her character will work in the film because the Major is a character without any identity at all. In her words...
I think this character is living a very unique experience, in that she is human brain in an entirely machinate body. She's essentially identityless. I thought to myself ... I can play this character. I would never attempt to play a person of a different race, obviously. Any question of my casting will hopefully be answered by, you know, by audiences when they see the film.
It seems clear from Scarlett Johansson's comments to Good Morning America that the fact that her character at least looks like a white person, while the rest of the film is still set in futuristic Japan, will be explained in some way in the movie. She says she viewed the character as completely without identity, she's a brain inside a machine, not a person of a particular race.
Of course, from the trailers that we've seen it appears clear that the question of identity, and just who the Major really is, looks to be a central question that the new film will deal with. The character looks to be caught between two sides, one who claims that turning her into a mechanical person saved her life, and another that claims that those same people stole her life from her. It's entirely possible that the racial question will somehow fit into this part of the plot, it will be interesting to see how it is handled.
Ultimately, the question seems to be, was this version of Ghost in the Shell created in such a way that casting Scarlett Johansson, or somebody like her, was a necessary part of the story, or did they simply contrive something in the script that justified her casting? It's a nuanced difference and one that won't necessarily even be clear from our side of the movie screen.
All questions will be answered when Ghost in the Shell debuts this Friday. While it's unlikely that all issues regarding casting will be solved by the final film, we're certainly curious to watch and see what this new version of Ghost in the Shell has to say.