The problem with international representation in Hollywood
Ghost in the Shell is only the tip of the iceberg for race problems in mainstream media
By Brett Luft, Web Editor
In his broadcast review of Ghost in the Shell, the CBC’s Eli Glasner said the film didn’t have a whitewashing problem — it had a Hollywood colonialism problem.
His reasoning is simple: the tale of Major is often considered a tale of Japanese identity, and Glasner says by taking a Japanese story in a Japanese city and replacing the character with a predominantly White cast, it creates an unusual setting for the movie.
“Every major character — just about — is Caucasian,” Glasner says in his CBC News review. “Her closest friend is played by a Danish actor, Batou; the robotics professor, Juliette Binoche; the villain, Michael Pitt; except they kept around legendary actor/director Takeshi Kitano [to] play the gruff squadron commander.”
“[But he] inexplicably speaks in Japanese — nobody else does, but he does to add a little bit of that exotic flair.”
Glasner goes on to say that part of the reason the movie’s problem is Hollywood colonization is because they take Japanese culture and images and “depopulate” the story.
But this isn’t a story that’s exclusive to Ghost in the Shell. These past few weeks also saw the first reveal of a reimagining of another beloved Japanese story: Netflix’s Death Note.
Just like Ghost in the Shell, Death Note traditionally takes place within Japanese culture. This cultural relevance goes beyond setting, as the main supporting character is a Shinigami (Death God) with more cultural relevance than, say the Grim Reaper in Western culture.
But all of the characters in Death Note have been replaced with a Western cast member. Light Yagami is now Light Turner, Light’s sidekick Misa Amane is now Mia Sutton and the only Japanese character seems to be L’s sidekick, Watari.
Even the Japanese Death God is played by Willem Dafoe — though he certainly looks and sounds the part.
This misrepresentation of media is a shame to our society, because there are a lot of talented Asian-American actors that would do these stories justice. Amazon’s Man in the High Castle proved this by reconstructing the United States West Coast as a modern-day extension of Japan and populating it with many great Asian actors.
The search for identity is something that should be universal. It should be equally represented in media, and there’s no way around it. It’s just a fact.
Shows such as Homeland have made great strides in combatting the “White Saviour” mentality by casting white actors in storylines that aren’t necessarily flattering. But that’s only a starting point.
Martin Scorsese’s Silence is one of the only examples in recent history of a story being adapted in a way that made sense to its source material. Silence has less than six Western actors attached to its film, and that’s only because those characters were written to be Westerners living abroad.
Silence proves that it should be simple for Hollywood to adapt a movie in a culturally appropriate way, but it doesn’t appear that it’s going to be the norm any time soon.
Even though Ghost in the Shell tanked in its opening weekend debut, Death Note looks like it’s going to be a continuation of Hollywood’s issue localizing content for Western audiences.