Stop whitewashing Asian stories
By Alexis Cruz Staff Writer
From Matt Damon’s mission to save China, to the literal removal of the Japanese identity in Scarlett Johansson’s “Ghost in the Shell” live-action remake, 2017 has been the year of the white savior in a predominately Asian world and I’m tired of it.
Speaking of “Ghost in the Shell,” the hyped up live-action remake has finally hit the box office and has proved to be worse than the backlash it has faced since production.
The film first came under attack when Johansson was announced as the lead, Motoko Kusanagi (renamed Mira Killian). Fans of the series called for an Asian actress and argued that the source material fit the Japanese experience rather than a universal one. Though this only proved to be an issue in casting, it was only the beginning for the erasure of Asian identity in this film.
There was also word that Paramount and Dreamworks wanted to use visual effects to alter Johansson’s features to appear more Asian in post-production. In response, the production company claimed to have only tested effects on background actors rather than the leads, but why attempt to make your actors look Asian when you can just hire Asian actors?
Surprisingly, Johansson’s whiteness became a rather important plot point — or twist — for the film. Warning: spoilers ahead.
As a quick plot summary, Ghost in the Shell tells the story of “The Major,” Mira Killian, a counterterrorism agent who has a completely synthetic/robotic body with the mind of a human woman who perished in a fatal accident in a future cyberpunk Tokyo.
Well get this, the fim’s climactic moment revealed that Killian’s mind belonged to a Japanese woman named Motoko Kusanagi who was kidnapped and tortured so that her mind could be put into a shell of a body to be more compliant and docile.
Rather than take this twist as an opportunity for commentary on whitewashing or even a critique of white beauty standards, the film had Motoko’s mother hugging the white body where Mokoto’s mind is imprisoned. This scene alone heavily implies that Asians are accepting of whitewashing and are willing to give into the white savior complex. That is to say, the film essentially took the original character of the series, a character who is a Japanese woman in a Japanese world, and killed her for the sake of Scarlett Johansson’s Mira Killian.
It appears that Hollywood would rather remove Asians from their feature films to avoid the issue of racial stereotypes, rather than accurately write in the experiences of Asians/Asian Americans. According to Keith Chow, editor of The Nerds of Color blog, “Erasure is not the answer to stereotypes.” He then goes on to say that “denying my existence [is] more offensive.”
As an Asian American, representation matters because I can never see myself being these characters. Hollywood tells me that I can’t be strong, that I can’t fulfill my dreams, that my words and actions are not valuable and therefore I should be denied my existence in a social space. Why don’t I deserve to have someone I can identify with on the movie screen? Why does Hollywood have an issue with representation?