2017’s upcoming live action feature film version of Ghost in the Shell has hit a giant brick wall of controversy over the weekend.
After Avengers regular Scarlett Johansson was cast as the lead in the film, which has been adapted from a beloved Japanese anime series, things were looking promising, and hopes that the tenderness and complexity of Eastern animation would be transferred into an exciting live-action setting were high.
But the project has now come under fire for allegedly contemplating using computer generated effects to alter the appearance of Johansson, with particular reference to her ethniticy, meaning that, once again, Hollywood is coming under harsh criticism for race-related casting.
What have the creators allegedly done?
Entertainment site ScreenCrush claim that Paramount tested the possibility of using CGI to make Johansson look “more Asian”, something that Paramount strenuously deny.
However, the studio have admitted that they did use CGI to alter the appearance of a minor background character.
Of course, detractors would argue that the ethics of whether or not CGI effects should be used to alter an actor’s ethnicity within a movie isn’t a question specific to A-listers.
Does it really make a difference if Paramount used computer editing to alter Scarlett Johansson’s face, or Extra number 42’s face?
It goes without saying that Ghost in the Shell, originally a Japanese manga series, features exclusively Japanese characters, so the studio’s concerns about authenticity aren’t impossible to understand.
As we mentioned, Paramount are maintaining that a large chunk of the accusations made against them are false, but their ready admission that the CGI techniques were used on “background characters” makes us question whether or not they really understand the problematic nature of altering an actor’s race using clever editing.
So, what’s the uproar?
Well, the issue here should be obvious: is it morally acceptable for film-makers to use CGI effects to edit the apparent race of their actors, instead of casting actors already of that race?
It seems that the movie-going public are finding it hard to accept that there are no Japanese actors out there who could play Motoko Kusanagi, the protagonist of Ghost in the Shell.
Is the act of editing an actor’s race, in itself, inherently wrong?
This controversy follows a long line of race-related questions that have been recently raised to the movie industry; this years God’s of Egypt came under heavy criticism after director Alex Proyas fielded an all-Caucasian cast for an African-Biblical epic.
And the Nina Simone biopic starring Zoe Saldana was stringently attacked for apparently using make-up and prosthetics to help replicate the likeness of the singer and civil rights activist – an issue closely related to the Ghost in the Shell controversy.
What’s the alternative?
We’ll reiterate this, just for emphasis: Paramount studios have flat out denied the claims that they used CGI editing to alter the race of Scarlett Johansson’s character in the upcoming remake of Ghost in the Shell, and have instead claimed that the editing effects were only used on a background character.
But there are alternatives to this ‘beauty work’, as it is now apparently known within the industry, and the fact that the studio are apparently neglecting these alternatives is really what’s causing all the controversy.
Although those within the industry will claim that the studio is only striving for authenticity, it seems hard for us, as regular fans, to really believe that there were no other options.
If the studio really wished to achieve a near-perfect level of accurate story-telling within the film, then why not cast an actor who more resembled the character that they would be playing?
For now, it seems that movie studios will continue to push the boundaries of cinematic ethics in race related casting.