In case it wasn’t already very apparent we’re in a time of greater cultural awareness around issues of politics and race, the deserved furor over the Kendall Jenner/Pepsi ad fiasco is a pretty good indicator of the climate at the moment. Certainly, the movie industry has been made quite aware over the past few years of the increasing calls for more diversity on screen, which made Paramount’s decision to press on with “Ghost In The Shell” with Scarlett Johansson in the lead all the more puzzling. Try as they might to overcome the controversy, the film never got out from under the conversation about its casting, and the studio admits that hurt the film, which opened to a disappointing $19 million.

In an interview with CBCParamount‘s domestic distribution chief Kyle Davies is candid about the reception to “Ghost In The Shell,” and how the whitewashing controversy played into it.

READ MORE: The Visually Impressive ‘Ghost In The Shell’ Never Reaches The Singularity [Review]

“We had hopes for better results domestically. I think the conversation regarding casting impacted the reviews,” he admitted. “You’ve got a movie that is very important to the fanboys since it’s based on a Japanese anime movie. So you’re always trying to thread that needle between honoring the source material and make a movie for a mass audience. That’s challenging, but clearly the reviews didn’t help.”

The subtext here is that Johansson was cast presumably to bring in a big audience, but it presupposes that no actress of Japanese or Asian heritage would’ve been commercially viable for the role. That’s certainly up for debate in an era when brands often carry more value than the actors in blockbuster projects. But perhaps this is a lesson for Hollywood that trying to chase a big bottom line without consideration for the cultural fallout has its consequences.

“Ghost In The Shell” is now playing.

  • John W

    Welp, let’s see what happens with Akira.

  • La Serpenta Canta

    Outrage over ethnic representation in films and television is definitely a selective thing.
    Like almost everyone out there, I was looking forward to watching Big Little Lies, which was David E. Kelly’s return to television as well as Nicole Kidman’s first television project. What could go wrong? The intro montage was cringey but I still tried to watch the first episode. It took me only 20 minutes to realize that, not only was the show going to be bad, but it is also one of the most racist, white centric productions of at the very least, the last 20 years.

    The show features the whitest, most redneck celebrity today, Reese Witherspoon, joined by an entirely white cast, with just one token black character in the form of dyed blonde Zoey Kravitz who, truth be told, looks white in most scenes thanks to the whitewashed digital photography. In a show of 58 actors appearing in different capacities only 4 are black including Zoe Kravitz.

    It is quite clear that HBO and David E. Kelly are firmly entrenched in the 90′s, where ethnic visibility was akin to what it was in the early days of Hollywood. There is no reason for this show about wealthy citizens to feature such an incredibly white cast, yet not only is the media and representation advocates as silent as a tomb, they are bending over themselves backwards to actually catapult this show into some historic television landmark.

    This just shows that, the more you distance yourself from the new civil rights and feminist movements the better, for these people have zero clue about anything, no grasp on history, no critical thinking and endless potential for incredibly dangerous and negative influence in the world today, and for entertainment.

  • Glenn Morris

    Having spent years studying Ghost in the Shell to prepare for my own
    writing within the genre, I would like to address the “whitewashing”
    controversy of its Hollywood adaptation. The setting is a Japanese
    controlled city in China. The body of Motoko is Caucasian, according to
    her creator. Although she was given a Japanese name (by a Japanese
    agency) there is no indication that her original name was Japanese. If
    she was ever a human in the first place, she chose a female cybernetic
    body instead of a “more combat efficient male model” as a reminder of
    her original gender. That is her memory, anyway, which may have been
    implanted. If you would like to know the actual background regarding
    this character, I refer you to the source material and Wendy Hui Kyong
    Chun’s book on the subject: ‘Control and Freedom’. Personally, I do not
    argue that The Major had to be white, but that nobody should presuppose
    that she was not, without evidence. Finally, my personal favorite twist
    on this discussion: A man in China actually build a Scarjo robot years
    ago using Japanese robotics and $50,000 of his own money.

    • Paul

      Exactly. Whitewashing was not the problem with this movie. The problem was the almost total disregard for the themes of the original source material. GitS is not necessarily a Japan centric story. If we were talking about Akira (which should not be remade), then that would be different.

  • terrygrant

    – “You’ve got a movie that is very important to the fanboys since it’s based on a Japanese anime movie. So you’re always trying to thread that needle between honoring the source material and make a movie for a mass audience.”

    And your solution is to hire the writer of STREET KINGS and the director of SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN? You had no intention of honoring the source material, dude – you just liked the way it looked.

    Sanders is on record as having said that the original film was basically too cerebral and philosophical, and while he wanted to bring a bit of that to this adaptation, he wanted people to be excited by the film, more than anything.

    Whitewashing was the least of this film’s problems.

  • Miguel Juan

    Nope. The movie was just bad. The parts that were taken from the original anime only served to show how this fell short in comparison. The actors did well, it’s a shame they were in a bad movie…

  • jmbrr

    This casting thing was an issue only in U.S. Japanese couldn’t care less,for example. Also, if the latest Iron Fist whitewashing nonsense has taught us anything,it is that large amount of audiences won’t care about these issues if they like what they see. I haven’t seen this movie, but everyone who has seen it seems to agree that it wasn’t a very good one.

  • aFriendlyAgenda

    And thats a good thing

    White liberals in hollywood spend so much time patting themselves on the back for their own smug race-baiting, they should be called out and punished for their own hypocrisy

    How tone-def are hollywood race-baiters to think that nobody would notice and it was a good idea