Who’s to Blame for Hollywood Whitewashing?

After seeing Ghost in the Shell and reviewing it, I looked at the controversy of how much fans hated having Scarlett Johansson in the lead role. The film’s story is from a Japanese manga and many folks wanted an Asian woman as Major. Let’s push it a little further. This movie should have been full of Asian actors. Yet the only real noticeable ones were Major’s boss and one guy on the team. Every single person of importance, from the loving doctor down to the company bad guy, was of some other race, mostly white. So focusing on Johansson as Major is only part of the issue. The entire movie should have featured Asians.

The whitewashing problem is not new. It is just as obvious in movies such as Dr. Strange where Tilda Swinton played an Asian mystic.  But who is really to blame for this whitewashing? The answer is simple.

You.

And me.

Well, not just you specifically but the millions of movie goers that flock to films featuring predominantly white actors while being less enthusiastic about movies with largely minority casts.

Let me break it down for you. Hollywood is not about art. People think it should be but it is not. The Hollywood film machine is about money. Massive, soul-corrupting amounts of cash that could feed armies or support small countries. They don’t care about equality, fairness, or justice. The Hollywood moguls care about return on investment. Movies are expensive, but they are also a magnificent money cows if they are done right. Being “done right” means they are aimed at attracting the largest audiences possible. Uncomfortable stories and films with lesser known actors either don’t get made, are never large moneymakers, or sit on the shelf for years until one of the actors in it become a big star.

Thus, film companies are going to make movies that sell tons of tickets and are aimed at the richest, most entertainment-oriented population available. That tends to currently still be mostly white people simply because they fill more of the wealthier demographics.

The other factor is that folks of like seeing actors of their race or ethnicity because they can personally identify with those characters more. As a white woman, I can picture myself in a story when that character is a white woman. Making her southern even helps more. I love the Wolverine movies but have never pictured myself as a clawed, hulking male. Yet I easily can see myself as Phoenix in a liplock with him. When I watched Hidden Figures (excellent movie, by the way), I didn’t picture myself as one of those ladies because that experience was too different from my life. I did love seeing the story and it made me feel ashamed about the way they were treated, but it had a lesser impact on an emotional level since I couldn’t viscerally relate to what they had to overcome.

Hollywood knows these facts and will continue to exploit them by whitewashing stories and roles that should go to minority actors. To appease the folks crying out for equality in movies, producers or directors may throw in a Black or Latino in secondary roles, just to make everyone feel better about themselves. However, it is not done with a lot of thought or care to the sensibilities of the minority groups. Case in point: how often is the minority guy only the best friend, background character, or the first one to die?

Some exceptions do exist. Samuel Jackson clearly ruled as head of a stellar cast in The Hateful Eight. Denzel Washington dominated The Magnificent Seven along with great actors Lee Byung-hun and Manuel Garcia-Rulfo. These occasional movies show that times are changing, but that attitude evolution crawls along at a snail’s pace.

Is it fair or right? Hell no.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m glad that the producers and decisions makers are supporting more minority actors in roles, and more minority-oriented movies are getting made, with bigger budgets than ever before in cinema history. Great actors of any race deserve a chance and the bookstores are filled with great stories featuring minority characters that should be on the silver screen.

However, white people movies make better box-office blockbusters. If you don’t like this fact, then change it.

How?

Vote with your money.

Go see a film you normally wouldn’t because it has a mostly minority cast. No one will throw you out. While you are raging about whitewashing in some films, also cheer on others which truly support a mixed cast like Rogue One or Get Out. Be vocal in your displeasure about how films like Ghost in the Shell should have been cast differently.  If the idea really offends you, then DON’T see the whitewash film, no matter how good it is.

If you want to be an instrument of equal representation, then vote with your money and your opinion as often as possible. Make it bad business to whitewash great stories. Only when Hollywood is hurting in the pocketbook will they change. Only the movie goers can bring about that change.

 

Ghost in the Shell: Glitzy but Confusing

I’m not much into anime or manga but my sons are. I first heard of Ghost in the Shell through them and watched the original anime version so long ago that I can barely remember it. So when I went to see the live action one now playing in theaters, I had a relatively fresh perspective and zero expectations on how true it stayed to anyone’s original vision. In short, I’m newbie sticking my toe into the colorful and greatly varied world of Japanese animation stories.

Ghost in the shell.jpgHaving said that, the current manga movie, starring Scarlett Johansson in the lead role, is certainly an eyeful. It reeks of a comic book technoshine starting with the opening of the girl being vaguely aware as her brain is taken from her human body and placed into a complete new robotic host. The doctors had weird red laser scanning type goggles and the transference showed flashing fiber optic style connections intertwining with the brain as the capsule was lowered into the body. The whole opening had an artistic feel.

This artistry continues through the rest of the movie as we see a city that is drowning in sensory overload from the street level to the bird’s eye view of ten-story tall hologram advertisements. The look is reminiscent of the old Blade Runner movie, sans darkness and rain. I’m not sure what city she is supposed to be in but the cinematic one reminded me a lot of Tokyo. I spent 1989 there in the Shinjuku ward, which even back then glittered, flashed, and glowed with nearly spasm-inducing intensity at night.

Johansson did a great job as a human/robot mix performing as a cop-type good guy while trying to find out about her past. She even forgoes any pretense to femininity as she kicks ass around the room wearing a skin-colored plastic invisibility suit that makes her look a lot like a slightly swollen naked Barbie doll. She and her best friend Batou, a curt and cold mostly human partner (Pilou Asbaek), are part of a government-sponsored organization meant to stop terrorism. However, she is also somewhat “owned” by the Hanka Corporation, which manufactured her. The company’ experiments blurs the line between human and robot. Their stated goal in some kind of immortality for humanity with cybernetics being the next level of evolution. Over the course of the movie, it also turns out that the company’s owner is involved at the heart of the terrorist activities. Even when the protagonist, called Major, walks into an area, she hulks man-like rather than glides along. I found this factor impressive from someone as beautiful as Johansson. Certainly she is killer feminine enough as Black Widow in the Avengers franchise so discarding it for an emptier, machine feel without going cheesy robotic could not have been easy.

The movie, however, left me feeling confused. Although filled with high-powered glitz, the world seems more of a dystopian society separating the haves and have-nots. Technology itself in the form of cyber enhancements eats away at humanity and those unenhanced are mocked or outcast. The issue of what defines man forms the core of this movie as Major looks for her past and her humanity even though she is more cyber than person.

Visually Ghost in the Shell earns a stunning four thumbs up out of five but really the plot left me trying to make sense of it all. My first impression was that it must have cost a lot to make this film. However, the storyline should be so engaging that I ignore the mechanics of the filming and immerse myself in the story. That did not happen. Perhaps the plot needed time to percolate or requires a second viewing to catch all the nuances in this film. In the meantime, I left wishing I understood it better.

In short: Good visuals on the big screen but not in my top ten for most impressive movies of the year.