Last year, the casting of Scarlett Johansson to play the lead in “Ghost in the Shell,” a live-action adaptation of the classic Japanese anime series centered around Major Motoko Kusanagi, was met with controversy and backlash. Hiring a white actress to play a Japanese character seemed to critics and fans of Masamune Shirow’s iconic franchise like another case of whitewashing.
Now the actress in the center of the controversy has once more addressed the issue. “I certainly would never presume to play another race of a person,” said Johansson in a recent interview with Marie Claire. “Diversity is important in Hollywood, and I would never want to feel like I was playing a character that was offensive.”
Johansson adds, “Also, having a franchise with a female protagonist driving it is such a rare opportunity. Certainly, I feel the enormous pressure of that — the weight of such a big property on my shoulders.”
But this is not the first time the actress has spoken up about this issue. In an early November interview with Collider, the actress said, “I think when you have a character that’s so beloved…People have a lot of opinions about these characters that they love and grew up with and are inspired by and so forth. I try to kind of clean the slate and really follow my instincts with the character and hope that I give the character as much integrity as people expect. Bringing these pages to life is a kind of challenge. Because you can’t rip it off the page, it’s totally different. You’re playing it as a – it’s not really a person, but it’s a human brain, it’s someone who’s having this life experience. Which is very different from just ripping stuff off from the Manga.”
Last June, during an on-stage interview in Tokyo, director Rupert Sanders defended the casting of Johansson. “It’s a very international cast and I think that the best of casting her is that I didn’t have to cast big name actors around her, I could cast people like Juliette Binoche, Kaori Momoi and Takeshi Kitano. That’s unusual for a Hollywood film, usually it’s that you need the star and then you need ten people who can be on the poster, but we didn’t have that. So it was great, I was given the freedom to cast the film however I wanted,” he said.
The international cast also includes Pilou Asbæk, Michael Pitt, Rila Fukushima, Chin Han, Danusia Samal, Lasarus Ratuere, Yutaka Izumihara and Tuwanda Manyimo.
“Ghost in the Shell” opens in theaters March 31.