“Whitewashing” is a phenomenon that has been around in the film industry for a while, but has recently been gaining more attention due to the increase in film production and access to social media. By definition, whitewashing occurs when white actors are cast in non-white roles. These choices often lead to backlash from fans of films, the media, and parties in the film industry. Perdeby looked at two upcoming films and their controversy.
In October 2014, DreamWorks made a R140 million bid for Scarlett Johansson to star in the Hollywood adaptation of the classic anime Ghost in the Shell, directed by Rupert Sanders, with Johansson playing the lead role as Major Motoko Kusanagi. In addition to Johansson, Michael Pitt and Pilou Asbaek also star in the film in non-white roles. This decision, especially Johansson’s casting, was met with significant backlash and criticism. The main argument was that Ghost in the Shell is Japanese intellectual property, and casting white actors made no sense. In an interview with Buzzfeed News in July 2016, Steven Paul, one of the movie’s producers, defended the film from whitewashing criticism, saying, “I don’t think it was just a Japanese story. Ghost in the Shell was a very international story, and it wasn’t just focused on Japanese; it was supposed to be an entire world”. He concluded by reassuring fans, saying, “They’re going to be very, very happy with it when they see what we’ve actually done with it”. Ghost in the Shell is set for release on 31 March 2017.
The Great Wall, starring Matt Damon and directed by Zhang Yimou, is another film that has come under fire for whitewashing. It is described as a “Chinese-American epic historical-fiction action-adventure monster film”. A press conference was held for the movie at the New York Comic- Con on 8 October 2016. When asked about the whitewashing criticisms, Matt Damon described it as “a f****** bummer”. Co-star Pedro Pascal added, “We don’t want to be kept from work that they wouldn’t have the opportunity otherwise to see that it is very specifically Chinese. It’s a big, fantastical popcorn entertainment movie, but it has visual style that is Zhang Yimou’s and his only.” The movie opens on 16 December 2016 in China and 17 February 2017 in the United States.