What Ghost in the Shell’s box office bomb should prove to Hollywood

The numbers are in, and the people have spoken: We’d like to see more diversity please! And we’re definitely not asking for a friend.

Ghost in the Shell made $18.7 million on its opening weekend, far below it’s modest $30 million expected range for U.S. moviegoers. Even considering overseas sales, this is a paltry showing for a movie that spent $150 million to produce. And you don’t have to be a stereotypical Asian mathlete to understand why.

Even those that say they “see no color” can admit that white-washing had a significant impact on ticket sales, as Paramount themselves have admitted to.

To be fair, it’s not just Asians. African-Americans have seen it with the Oscars…while other people of color such as Latino-Americans and Native-Americans have seen their share of racial discrimination in Tinsel-town.

I also won’t get into the intricacies of the debate surrounding Japanese culture, anime, and the Ghost in the Shell history. Because there’s enough articles out there for that. But just for the record, no, anime drawings aren’t necessarily trying to be white…that’s just how Japanese people view themselves. This Kotaku article sums it up better than I can.

I would like to speak specifically about the main issue of the severe lack of roles offered to Asian-Americans, and the bigger issue of Asian representation in Hollywood. The biggest problem that many seem to miss, besides the long, ugly history of Asian stereotypes in the film industry, is my belief that there’s a continued narrative among producers that Asians aren’t relatable because Asians aren’t viewed as your typical “American”.

I believe this because almost every TV show/movie reinforces Asian (and POC) stereotypes at every turn. Take a look at these tropes and see if these don’t look familiar to you:

All Asians know martial arts

Asian Dragon Lady

The Asian nerd

The submissive Asian

Think about the last time you saw movie with an Asian person that didn’t carry a trope in this matter? It’s few and far between, and I could probably count the number of them on one hand.

Why can’t Asians simply play a lead role in a Rom-com? Or as a superhero? What would that even look like? Well, thanks to the internet we have some idea, and it looks freaking amazing.

Because even American Apple Pie has a little browness to it.

Let’s break this down a little-with every movie or show that has a casting controversy behind it, there appears to be fair arguments on both sides:

  • Ghost in the shell-she’s a robot (not necessarily Japanese).
  • Doctor Strange-they didn’t want to cast a stereotypical asian.
  • Great Wall-it’s a fictional fantasy, not a historical.
  • Last Airbender-well, there’s really no argument for that bullshit.

Whether it’s a whitewashing, the white savior trope, or a broader westernization of eastern originals, the issue largely centers around the main issue, which is:

Why is it that white actors land a vast majority of lead roles, even if the description is a little ambiguous as far as race? And why is white always the default “American”, or for that matter, human being?

I am an Asian-American, Filipino to be exact, yet I am just as American as John Wayne. But if you were to only look at Hollywood movies/TV shows, you would never be able to understand that concept, that Asians=Americans. That’s because of the Hollywood typecasting people of color issue I referred to earlier.

Aziz Ansari illustrates this construct beautifully on his show, Master of None, where as an aspiring actor, his character can only land roles that are specifically catered for an “Indian person”, rather than an American. They force him to speak with an accent, and all sorts of travesties that are not unlike how actual Hollywood works.

In another episode, he brilliantly points out the fallacy that he and another Indian actor can’t both be stars of the show he’s auditioning for. Why? Because “then we’d have a comedy about Indians.” replies the casting director.

By the way, if you haven’t seen Master of None on Netflix, I would highly recommend you do so now. After reading this article that is.

The worst defense I hear for the casting of Ghost in the Shell is that she’s a robot, therefore, she has no race at all. Is Scarlett Johanssen not a race? Or is it the fact that in our minds, white=default race?

But, but….there aren’t any Asian movie stars!

There are 17 million Asian-Americans in the US (6% of the population), yet the film industry casts 1% of its roles to asian people(and this is LA!). So it begs the question: Why is the default lead role, especially American, mostly always given to a caucasian person?

The typical answer for this was because Hollywood needs A-list actors to sell their movies, and a star like Scarlett Johanssen is the vehicle to make that happen.

After the failure of Ghost in the Shell, Iron First, and so many others, now is the time to question whether or not that age old adage is true. Asian-Americans make up a significant portion of movie-goers, and people are more “woke” to the cause. Most movie-goers simply want more diversity. But don’t believe me, believe those data guys that, you know, study this for a living.

There’s more than enough roles to go around. I am not advocating for less white actors, I love me some Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone (LaLa Land, despite its flaws, was brilliant imo). I don’t blame the actors at all, rather, the producers responsible for casting the roles.

And those producers need to wake up to the fact that America is changing, and so should the diversity of its casting.

That’s why it is so imperatively important that when given the small chance of opportunity to cast an Asian or Asian-American in a prominent role: such as Ghost in the Shell, The Last Airbender, Great Wall, or even Iron Fist, they absolutely should be given a chance. For the record-Iron Fist didn’t NEED an Asian-American in the role….but you know what? That would’ve been damn cool. While it would’ve reinforced an Asian martial artist stereotype, it would’ve broke new ground for Asian-Americans as viable Superhero stories (hey, we’ll take what we can get…progress).

We need to unseed this idea that white=American, and that Asian=outsiders. After all, Hollywood’s purpose is to creates works of art that reflects the reality that encompasses them.

So now it’s time for them to understand that their traditional views no longer reflect the realities of the modern world.