Paramount Pictures and DreamWorks Pictures were probably hoping for a less controversial reception when they unveiled the first look last week of Scarlett Johansson in the live action anime adaptation “Ghost In The Shell.” Accusations of whitewashing the lead role started flying, and the issue was compounded by rumors that the studio tested CG effects that would make the white actors appear “more Asian” (which the studio confirmed, though they said it was something they had decided not to use in the end). And as the chatter continues, Max Landis has now stepped into the fray.
Always one with an opinion, Landis hit YouTube with a defense/explanation of why anger at Johansson’s casting is misguided. According to the filmmaker, a film as ambitious as “Ghost In The Shell” needs an A-list actor to get it made, and there are simply no Asian women with the blockbuster name recognition of Johansson. Essentially, Landis’ argument is that this is how Hollywood works, and that’s just the way it is, which is ultimately poor ground to stake an argument on.
“There are no A-list female Asian celebrities right now on an international level. It’s infuriating,” he said. “There used to be, in the 90s, diversity in our A-list actors. Jackie Chan and Jet Li were famous at the same time, they could both get movies made. We don’t have that guy anymore, we don’t even have Lucy Liu anymore.”
And while Landis does have a point, he’s also missing that blockbusters these days are as much sold on concept as they are on star power. For example, the “Fast & Furious” franchise is a mega success, but outside of Vin Diesel, it has no one who can carry a blockbuster movie on their own (and Diesel is unpredictable outside the series — “The Last Witch Hunter” flopped last fall). And there’s “Creed,” which was sold on the nostalgia of Sylvester Stallone and the franchise, but used the opportunity to put Michael B. Jordan in the lead role. And if you want to talk about difficult subject matter, both “Fifty Shades Of Grey” and “Straight Outta Compton” didn’t need A-list talent to be huge hits either.
In short, there probably is a way to make “Ghost In The Shell,” probably at a lower budget, but with an Asian actress in the lead. Landis is right that Hollywood is taking the safe road by casting Scarlett Johansson, who had a massive hit a couple years back with “Lucy,” but it doesn’t mean its the right decision either.
Watch Landis talk “Ghost In The Shell” below and let us know your thoughts in the comments section.