Could Ghost In The Shell's box office failure bring an end to Hollywood "white-washing"? 5 years ago

Could Ghost In The Shell's box office failure bring an end to Hollywood "white-washing"?

Trying to enjoy Ghost In The Shell within the bubble of it being "just a movie" was almost impossible to do, due to the massive furore that built up around the lead character's casting.

The original 1995 anime classic is a cornerstone of modern Japanese cinema, with a kick-ass Japanese female in the lead role.

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For the 2017 remake, the movie looks like it is certainly still taking place in Japan, and there are lots of Asian actors in supporting roles, but that kick-ass female lead role went to the very-much-not-Japanese Scarlett Johansson.

Clip via Viral Film

Now, there are plenty of arguments to be made to support this casting decision.

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For one, anyone who actually went to see the movie will know that it actually makes sense, with Scar-Jo merely playing the humanoid, robotic "shell" for someone else's brain.

Another is that there aren't really any kick-ass Japanese females on which to hang this big budget blockbuster, which kind of opens the larger can of worms about why aren't there really any kick-ass Japanese females breaking into Hollywood?

And finally, there's the fact that this is an adaptation. An American-film company-produced adaptation, and should they see fit to change the details, then so be it, as it is an adaptation. To play devil's advocate for a moment, nobody seems to be up-in-arms about Chan-wook Park's South Korean movie The Handmaiden, an adaptation of the very English novel Fingersmith, so what's the problem?

Regardless of which, if any, of those excuses you might accept, cinema-goers seem to be very aware of this issue, and are supporting it with their wallets. Or more to the point, they are doing the exact opposite.

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Clip via Movieclips Trailers

Ghost In The Shell cost $110 million to produce (that's without the heavy promotional and advertising spend), and early industry estimates had it racking up a fair-to-impressive $33 million in its opening weekend.

It ended up making barely $19 million, which is pretty flop-ish for such a high profile release.

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Comparatively, Scar-Jo's last headlining movie Lucy opened to $44 million, while Rupert Sanders (the movie's director) last project Snow White & The Huntsman opened to $56 million.

And this isn't the first time that Hollywood's "white-washing" has potentially resulted in a big blockbuster failing at the American box office:

  • Matt Damon in The Great Wall - Budget: $155 million, Opening: $18 million, Total: $45 million
  • Emma Stone in Aloha - Budget: $37 million, Opening: $9 million, Total: $21 million
  • Noah Ringer in The Last Airbender - Budget: $150 million, Opening: $40 million, Total: $131 million
  • Rooney Mara in Pan - Budget: $150 million, Opening: $15 million, Total: $35 million
  • Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods And Kinds - Budget: $140 million, Opening: $24 million, Total: $65 million

Similarly, Netflix's take on the Marvel comic Iron Fist came under fire for casting Finn Jones in the title role, despite the fact that Iron Fist is actually Caucasian in the comic books. However, fans figured that a character who performs kung fu and works with the mystical arts would have been prime real estate for an Asian actor to get a chance to play.

On a related note, Marvel's big hitter Doctor Strange had the same problem, casting Tilda Swinton - a white female - in the role of The Ancient One - an Asian male - but maybe because the gender swap balanced it out, the movie went on to make very few troublesome waves and ended up making $677 million at the box office.

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You would think after the #OscarsSoWhite controversy and the fact that an action franchise with one of the most racially diverse casts around - yes, we're looking at you Fast & Furious - continues to make billions of dollars, that Hollywood would take a chance on an unknown quantity.

Big budget blockbusters with huge marquee names fail all the time.

It just takes one movie with an unknown, racially different lead to be a success for this all to change.

All we have to do now is wait and see when that might be.