Classic anime series Cowboy Bebop is getting the live-action treatment at Netflix, which will bring some beloved characters to the small screen in a new way but also raised some concerns that Asian series lead Spike Siegel would be played by a white actor, similarly to when Scarlett Johansson played a character originally written as Asian for Ghost in the Machine. Javier Grillo-Marxuach, who is co-writer on Netflix's Cowboy Bebop, explained the casting for Spike and took a shot at Johansson's Ghost in the Shell in the process, saying:
Spike Spiegel has to be Asian. Like, you can’t Scarlett Johansson this shit. We are making a show that takes place in a future that is multicultural, that is extraordinarily integrated and where those things are the norm.
Javier Grillo-Marxuach's comments to io9 indicate that the live-action Cowboy Bebop was never going to whitewash the lead role, although fans already knew that they didn't have to worry about a non-Asian actor landing the role. John Cho, known for projects like the Star Trek films, Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle, and Searching, landed the role of Spike Spiegel and even showed off his hair for the role, which is just about as close to Spike's anime hair as is physically possible in real life.
John Cho has revealed that he doesn't like being the first Asian-American to headline a thriller film due to such roles often going to other actors. Scarlett Johansson was making headlines for taking the role in Ghost in the Machine well before the movie premiered in March 2017.
The uproar was loud enough that various people attached to the movie had to come out and address the controversy ahead of the premiere. The movie's producer defended Ghost in the Shell's "international approach" to the adaptation, and director Rupert Sanders argued that Scarlett Johansson is the best actress of her generation and stood by his decision to cast her.
Scarlett Johansson herself suggested that any question of her casting would be answered when audiences saw the film, although the film's box office performance indicates that not as many people looked for that answer as desired. While Cowboy Bebop's Netflix release means that box office isn't a factor, the show is avoiding any whitewashing controversy altogether by embracing the anime character and casting John Cho.
Unfortunately, short of Netflix putting together a trailer from existing footage, viewers likely won't get to see John Cho as Spike Spiegel any time too soon. Cho suffered an injury that put production on hold for nine months, and that was before film and television productions across the industry had to halt.
Still, some content was filmed before production had to stop, and Netflix's adaptation of the team of bounty hunters on the run from their past hunting down some of the most dangerous criminals in the solar system is on the way. The question is simply of when. If you need a Cowboy Bebop fix during the wait for John Cho's debut as Spike Spiegel, you can find the full run of the anime series streaming on Hulu now. For other options now and in the not-too-distant future, check out our 2020 summer premiere schedule!