Ghost in the Shell studio boss suggests ‘whitewashing’ contributed to box office flop

The Scarlett Johansson action flick is courting yet more controversy

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Ghost in the Shell opened to a shaky start at the weekend. It may have earned more than the £7 of Shia Labeouf’s Man Down, but the prospective blockbuster starring Scarlett Johansson has become something of a box office flop, earning just $19 million in the US and £2.3 million in the UK, compared with estimated production costs of $100 million.

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The reason for its failure? According to Kyle Davies – domestic distribution chief for Paramount studios, who made the film – the ‘whitewashing’ controversy that followed the announcement that Johansson would be playing a character depicted as Asian in the original Ghost in the Shell comics and cartoons, was a contributing factor.

“We had hopes for better results domestically. I think the conversation regarding casting impacted the reviews,” he told CBC.

“You’ve got a movie that is very important to the fanboys since it’s based on a Japanese anime movie. So you’re always trying to thread that needle between honouring the source material and make a movie for a mass audience.”

There’s also a twist in the film that bolsters the whitewashing controversy further. So stop reading if you want to avoid spoilers…

Ready? Okay: at the start of the film you’re led to believe that Johansson is playing a cyborg with a brain transplanted from westerner Mira Killian. However it turns out that brain actually belongs to Motoko Kusanagi (the original name of the character in the manga source material), a Japanese character.

That could be seen as contradict what Johansson said in an interview with Marie Claire (via The Independent), in which she defended her casting. “I certainly would never presume to play another race of a person,” she said. “Diversity is important in Hollywood, and I would never want to feel like I was playing a character that was offensive.” 

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Ghost in the Shell is playing in cinemas now