LOS ANGELES, April 20 — When the first photo of Scarlett Johansson in the lead role of Ghost in the Shell was released on Thursday, it churned up the whole debate about whitewashing in Hollywood all over again.
To be fair, fans of the cult anime have known for a while that Johansson had been cast as one of the genre’s most beloved heroines, Major Motoko Kusanagi.
But their discontent took a turn for the worse when it was reported that the film’s producers tested visual effects on Johansson that would make her appear “more Asian”.
As they say, trouble always comes in threes.
Also under fire last week was Marvel’s Doctor Strange, with Tilda Swinton cast as a Himalayan sorcerer known as the ‘Ancient One’.
Only last year Emma Stone was cast as a woman with mixed Asian-Hawaiian parentage in Cameron Crowe’s Aloha.
And naturally, there was the whole #OscarsSoWhite controversy that overshadowed this year’s Academy Awards.
Now, established Asian-American actresses Constance Wu and Ming-Na Wen have spoken out about the controversy.
During a panel on Saturday at the Committee of 100 conference in Los Angeles, the Fresh Off the Boat actress slammed those reported attempts at altering Johansson’s appearance as “heinous.”
Changing a white actor’s features to appear more Asian, “reduces our race and our ethnicity down to mere physical appearance. And as well all know, our ethnicity, our races, and our culture are so much deeper than how we friggin’ look,” Wu was quoted by Buzzfeed as saying.
Her comments reinforce ones already made on Twitter, in which she wrote: “It’s like, way to reduce race to mere phys[ical] appearance as opposed to say culture, social experience, identity, history.”
It's like way to reduce race to mere phys appearance as opposed to say culture, social experience, identity, history https://t.co/JDbu9s0DPt— Constance Wu (@ConstanceWu) April 15, 2016
Wen, who was also part of the panel discussion, said more people needed to speak out about the racism that’s still prevalent in Hollywood.
“The whitewashing will just continue and continue if [white filmmakers] become comfortable,” Wen was quoted by Buzzfeed as telling the audience.
Ghost in the Shell is directed by Rupert Sanders and currently in production in New Zealand.
Apart from Johansson, the cast includes legendary Japanese actor and director Takeshi “Beat” Kitano as Section 9 Chief Daisuke Aramaki and Hannibal’s Michael Pitt as the hacker known as The Laughing Man.
Ghost in the Shell is slated to open in cinemas in March 2017.