Maybe one day a white actor cast in a role that’s intended to be played by a person of color will acknowledge the consequences of whitewashing on communities underrepresented on screen. But today is not that day, and Scarlett Johansson is not the actor.
Speaking with Marie Claire for the magazine’s March issue, Johansson addresses the controversy surrounding her casting in “Ghost in the Shell,” the film adaptation of Masamune Shirow’s wildly popular Japanese comic. In the original source material and various other iterations, Johansson’s character, a human-cyborg hybrid soldier named Major Kusanagi, has been traditionally portrayed as an Asian woman.
“I certainly would never presume to play another race of a person. Diversity is important in Hollywood, and I would never want to feel like I was playing a character that was offensive,” she said. “Also, having a franchise with a female protagonist driving it is such a rare opportunity. Certainly, I feel the enormous pressure of that — the weight of such a big property on my shoulders.”
Yes, it is well worth noting that very few actresses in Hollywood get the chance to helm a blockbuster action franchise. But pivoting away from the issue of whitewashing by celebrating her own casting as a win for gender parity in the entertainment industry is a classic case of white feminism. Here, Johansson is prioritizing a brand of feminism that largely benefits white women, as opposed to the many capable Asian actresses working today, and uses it to divert attention away from the valid criticisms of the Asian community about the film.
An email exchange between Margaret Cho and Tilda Swinton over the British actress’ role as The Ancient One in Marvel’s “Doctor Strange” elicited a similar conversation about power dynamics in Hollywood last year. Swinton tried to appeal to Cho as a fellow feminist and defend her casting ― The Ancient One is a Tibetan sorcerer in the comics ― but ended up disregarding the very crux of the issue: race.
Johansson went on to explain in the interview that even with her title as the highest-grossing actress in the game, she’s struggled in this industry as well, working hard to be paid the same as her male counterparts.
“I’ve had to fight for everything that I have. It’s such a fickle and political industry,” she said. “Some people felt I should talk about my personal struggle in order to shed a spotlight on the greater issue. Maybe I’m being presumptuous, but I assumed it was obvious that women in all positions struggle for equality.”
While speaking up on gender inequality in Hollywood is a valid cause, we just wish Johansson would spend more time highlighting the struggle of actresses of color who aren’t afforded the same opportunities as her. Ugh, is it too late to drop “in the Shell” and turn this thing into a much-needed “Ghost World” sequel?