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