With the recent news that Scarlett Johansson has been cast in the live action version of Anime classic 'Ghost In The Shell' as Asian police officer Motoko Kusanagi, this raises a long held argument: Why does Hollywood insist on white washing ethnic characters? Johansson of course is no stranger to taking on roles that seemingly shouldn't suit her. From playing a Russian spy in the Marvel movies, to her recent roles as an alien and an A.I in the amazing 'Under The Skin' and 'Her' respectably. This isn't a new dispute, as white actors have been notoriously cast in a wide variety of unsuited parts throughout film-history. Such as the notorious 1956 production 'The Conqueror', that cast all-American every-man and famous cowboy star John Wayne, as no less than Genghis Khan himself. Other notable contributions to this inauspicious club include: Charlton Heston as a Mexican Narcotics officer in 'Touch Of Evil', Peter Sellers in full dark face as Indian actor Hrundi V. Bakshi in 'The Party' and the most atrocious and wince-inducing of all, Mickey Rooney's bafflingly bad performance as a Japanese landlord in 'Breakfast at Tiffany's'. A performance so politically incorrect and outdated to modern sensibilities, that it almost derails the entire movie.
This almost comically unneeded practice is unfortunately continuing today, as seen in such films as the Wachowski Brothers 'Cloud Atlas'. A film that features a number of well known actors like Jim Sturgess and Hugo Weaving wearing heavy prosthetics to transform their faces into unconvincing Asian visages. That's not to say it doesn't go the other way too, just recently there has been two controversial changes to characters in the genre field, with the change of Johnny Storm in 'Fantastic Four' and Tulip in the new 'Preacher' series from white to black. Yet I see these changes as something more refreshing and new, as opposed to the hack and slash butchery when they try and distort or change a white actor into Asian, black, or Indian, etc.
This also hurts the culture of movies as a whole too. Think how many great parts and awards, Academy or otherwise, are given to white actors, whereas black or ethnic ones are usually shoved into supporting roles, stereotypes or menial parts. So yeah it does hurt a little deeper when these meaty roles are given away needlessly. However the 'Ghost In The Shell' movie turns out or the proposed 'Akira' production, think how great it would be to see the vast array of Asian talent handle these films with big studio money. Maybe then we could get something more faithful and respectful to the original source material. Unfortunately this isn't the kind of movie world we live in, is it?