Scarlett Johansson’s Whitewashed ‘Ghost In the Shell’ Flops at Box Office

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Scarlett Johansson in “Ghost In the Shell” is the first non-Japanese portrayal of the protagonist. (Paramount Pictures)

“Ghost In the Shell,” the film starring Scarlett Johansson as a Japanese woman, bombed at the box office and led Twitter users to call for an end to whitewashing.

The film earned $19 million this weekend, much lower than the industry-predicted $25 million domestically, according to Variety. (The movie has earned only about $40 million internationally.) The 2015 casting of Johansson in the movie based on the manga by Masamune Shirow, which spurred a 1995 anime flick, was met with criticism and a petition launched to have her pushed out of the role. Fifteen thousand people signed in favor of Johansson being replaced by an Asian actress, but Johansson, who was box-office gold with a $43.9-million debut with 2014’s “Lucy,” stayed on.

“I certainly would never presume to play another race of a person,” Johansson told Marie Claire in February. “Diversity is important in Hollywood and I would never want to feel like I was playing a character that was offensive.”

Johansson’s role as Major Mira Killian, a robot commander of a task force that targets cyber criminals who is Asian in the original manga and films, seemed to be protected by a plot device. Killian learns that she is a manufactured cyborg shell and her brain is that of a Japanese girl named Motoko Kusanagi, the name of the major in the source material.

This is only the latest case of controversy to erupt over the casting of white actors in roles originally written as Asian people. In December, Matt Damon defended his casting as the protagonist in “The Great Wall,” pointing out to ComingSoon.net that “whitewashing was when Chuck Connors played ‘Geronimo,'” a reference to the white actor’s 1962 portrayal of the Apache chief.

“There are far more nuanced versions of it and I do try to be sensitive to that,” Damon said. “But [my co-star] Pedro Pascal called me and goes, ‘Yeah, we are guilty of whitewashing. We all know only the Chinese defended the wall against the monster attack.'”

That film flopped too, earning $45 million on a $150 million budget. British actress Tilda Swinton also came under fire for playing The Ancient One, who is a Tibetan man in “Doctor Strange,” but her portrayal didn’t hurt the film, which stars fellow Briton Benedict Cumberbatch. It earned $233 million domestically after opening to $85 million in November. “Gods of Egypt,” starring Gerard Butler as an ancient Egyptian deity, also suffered a similar fate as Variety reported it was touted as a franchise-starter early on.

The failure of “Ghost In the Shell” led Twitter users to call for Hollywood to end whitewashing as they poked fun at the low earnings.

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