Scarlett Johansson Manga Movie Photo Renews #HollywoodSoWhite Debate

Scarlett Johansson in Ghost in the Shell
Scarlett Johansson in Ghost in the Shell

Scarlett Johansson in Manga Role Renews HollywoodSoWhite Debate

In the manga comic “Ghost in the Shell,” she’s called Major Motoko Kusanagi. In the movie, she’ll simply be known as “Major.”

The difference? Casting.

The release of the first photo from the New Zealand set of white actress Scarlett Johansson as what had been for decades a Japanese character triggered another round of complaints of Hollywood whitewashing in the ongoing #HollywoodSoWhite controversy.

“Nothing against Scarlett Johansson. In fact, I’m a big fan. But everything against this Whitewashing of Asian role,” “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” star Ming-Na Wen wrote on Twitter.

Scarlett Johansson Casting Comes Amid Studies Showing Racial, Gender Bias in Hollywood

Several studies showed that Hollywood remains the domain of white men, and Hollywood’s hiring practices are under scrutiny by federal labor leaders. The all-white slate of acting nominees at the Academy Awards sparked outrage, intensified by what many saw as racially insensitive joking targeting Asians by host Chris Rock.

Also drawing fire were other recent casting decisions, including the use of white actors to play Egyptians on “Gods of Egypt” and white actress Emma Stone to play a Eurasian woman on “Aloha.”

The “Ghost in the Shell” manga was originally written by Masamune Shirow and published in 1989 by the company Kodansha. It was made into a 1995 anime feature with several Japanese spinoff movies and series.

Comic Company Defends Scarlett Johansson Casting

Sam Yoshiba, director of Kodansha’s international business division, defended using Johansson in the role.

“Looking at her career so far, I think Scarlett Johansson is well cast,” he tells “The Hollywood Reporter.” “She has the cyberpunk feel. And we never imagined it would be a Japanese actress in the first place. … This is a chance for a Japanese property to be seen around the world.”

A number of Asian actors star in “The Ghost in the Shell,” including Beat Takeshi Kitano of “Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence” and Kaori Momoi of “Memoirs of a Geisha. Also, such “race-bending” is not new for manga properties. Kodansha’s “Attack on Titan” manga comics featured Western characters but the movie versions released last year had all-Japanese casts.