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The Two Good Things That Might Come Out of Hollywood's Whitewashing of Ghost in the Shell





by Cindy Wu

April 2017

Netflix just released a trailer for their film adaptation of Death Note, a popular Japanese manga that began in 2003. Death Note's popularity expanded worldwide about 10 years ago. People still enjoy the original Japanese manga and anime today. However, with the reveal of this film, fans have mixed feelings and fear it will not do justice to the original.

The biggest issue being discussed is this trend of whitewashing the source material. This has happened in the past with other live action adaptations like Avatar: The Last Airbender and Dragonball Evolution. Most fans assume that most of the characters are Asian, and that would also fit with the themes of both franchises. As a result, fans were enraged when they say their favorite characters being portrayed by random white actors. It didn't help that these movies were poorly written and directed.

Currently there is a film adaptation of a Japanese manga being shown in movie theatres. Ghost in the Shell was originally a Japanese manga dating back to 1989. Of course, the main characters of this film are also portrayed by white actors. At least the lead is played by Scarlett Johansson and not some random actress. Most reviews of Ghost in a Shell criticize its convoluted story, but agree that the visuals are stunning. This has nothing to do with the fact that the characters are not Asian. So why is there so much fuss about race and ethnicity is our films?

Some argue that it shouldn't matter because we should see past the race of the character. If that's true, then why don't we have more diverse casts? Race should only matter if the character's race adds to the message of the film. In the case of Death Note, the main characters have two opposing personalities, which Netflix's adaptation doesn't seem to get right, but they fight with even levels on their intellect.

If race doesn't matter, then why are some actors denied roles solely based solely on their race? Actor Edward Zo discusses this issue in his excellent YouTube video. He heard they were not accepting Asian actors for the main character of Death Note, which is ridiculous considering the original characters are Japanese and live in Japan. We only have Edward's word on this statement, but it's not something that hasn't happened before.

But not all hope is lost. These latest adaptations may get us closer to what we want: more diversity in our media. With all of these films based on Asian literature, it shouldn't be long before someone decides to cast more Asians, especially after all the negative publicity about whitewashing and the consequent not too stellar financial performance of Ghost on a Shell's opening weekend.


These films also introduce Japanese manga and anime to its audience. It doesn't matter if the movie is good or bad (although too many bad movies may turn people away from similar material in the future). Any publicity will make people curious about the original in the belief that if the original has a big fan base, there must be something good about it.


These film adaptations aren't really for the fans anyway. Rather, these are for the vast majority of people who haven't been exposed to Asian literature and animations or had an unfavorable opinion of Asian arts. So, while it would be great to have more actors that Asians can relate to right now, change rarely occurs suddenly. It happens in steps, and this is at least one small step closer... and hopefully all the discussion about whitewashing will make it a small but mighty step toward real diversity.





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