Of these movies, one is hitting DVD/blu-Ray in the next week or so if it hasn’t already been released (Doctor Strange), one is in theaters (The Great Wall), and one is due out in theaters sometime this year (Ghost in the Shell). These movies are in some quite . . . spirited (we’ll go with spirited) discussions. These discussions are centered on casting choices.
In Doctor Strange, the role of the Ancient One went to Tilda Swinton. The story put her as old (the one guy, when telling Strange about her, couldn’t even say how old the Ancient One was, only that she was Celt), despite her youthful appearance. I went to see Doctor Strange in the theaters. That was actually discussed in the movie.
People have their knickers in a twist over this. The reasons for it have me, well, not happy. (Yes. We’ll go with unhappy.)
People are upset that the Ancient One was portrayed by a WHITE woman. Please note the fact it isn’t necessarily a woman in the role that has everyone upset but that she’s WHITE. In a role allegedly designed for an Asian. Ironically, I feel quite certain some of those same people complaining about Swinton’s casting would also be complaining about Hollywood stereotyping the role. Kind of a lose/lose situation. (Yet no one said anything about Idris Elba playing Heimdall, a historical figure in a work of fiction who happens to be the whitest white guy in the Norse pantheon, and Elba is African-American, obviously. No complaints about his casting on my part. He was actually a fantastic choice, but he does stick out in Asgard like a sore thumb. Onwards.)
On a personal and creative level, I find this outrage over Tilda Swinton’s casting of the Ancient One and people screaming bull sh-t over Marvel’s change of cannon (they own it, they have the right to change it) for the Ancient One’s origins to be more than a little insulting. Not because they’re screaming foul over what is perceived whitewashing but over their own stereotyping. By saying bull shi-t to the Celtic background, to me, implies that the only cultures who can have Ancient Ones, masters of sorcery and magic, are the Chinese and Japanese, maybe even the Koreans. Let’s just lump all of Asia into that. It’s an unintentional implication that the Celts didn’t have pagan roots, that the Norse, the Germans, Egyptians, South Africans, and the Native Americans throughout North and South America were somehow inherently always Christian and thus never having these beliefs in magic and in being gate-keepers against the forces of evil that would destroy our planet.
As a writer, I do like to think of how a person becomes what s/he becomes, and, for Doctor Strange, I see the journey of the Ancient One as transcendental. Tilda’s Ancient One learned from another Ancient One was probably Chinese or even Hindu. A person from Africa or from a Native American tribe could have made that same journey as the Celtic Ancient One and become the Ancient One. It is not a role one is born with but a role one acquires through who knows what.
So I personally feel it wouldn’t have mattered if the Ancient One had been cast as George Takei, Tilda Swinton. or Rhiana. People would have found a reason to complain about this particular casting choice because the role would have been A – Stereotyped (Takei), B – Whitewashed (Swinton – already being said), or C – Done to be Politically Correct aka Another Token Person of Color Character (Rhiana).
I would love to have an open, civil discussion over the possibilities of the Ancient One from Doctor Strange with people who clam the role should have gone to a Chinese or Japanese actor. Because that is my question: Are you actually helping Chinese and Japanese actors land better, leading roles in Hollywood by saying they must be in certain types of roles at all times? Or are you generalizing and stereotyping based on something that’s been done for years?
Second in the discussion of alleged whitewashing is The Great Wall. Don’t worry. It didn’t actually happen. Matt Damon plays a character that was actually meant to be white. Is there some white savior complex going on with this movie? Hardly. It’s kind of one of those situations where he could turn tail and run but still face death anyway, or aid in the defense of a kingdom, especially defenders who have been stuck in one place for pretty much their entire lives. The writer of the story always had the role intended for a white person, Damon’s a self-proclaimed fan of the director, and the director also wanted him on the film.
Like I said the other day in my updates entry, don’t go expecting it to be an action flick because it has Damon. It is not.
Finally, I get to Ghost in the Shell.
I’ve never really been a fan of Ghost in the Shell. That’s more my brother and sister and my best friend. I have, however, become acquainted with several different anime and manga series since my second year of college, when I started hanging out with people in their late teens, early twenties, compared to my mid-twenties. I’ve actually encountered a bit of variety in characters from Japanese pop culture, and one thing I have noticed is some of the manga-kas like to do unusual characters. Genjo Sanzo from Saiyuki is actually Chinese, but he has blond hair and violet eyes. His traveling companions are considered demons, and they don’t look typical, either. Sha Goyjo is half-human, half-demon with bright red hair and bright red eyes. Cho Hakkai has the light brown hair and green eyes. Goku, our little monkey king, has brown hair and golden eyes, a sign of being a born heretic in the mythos of this story line.
Bear with me here. I have a couple more examples of the variety in Japanese mangas and animes before I get back to Ghost in the Shell.
I love Saiyuki. I love Trigun. Vash the Stampede has blond hair, blue eyes. My best friend loves Hellsing, which takes place in London, if I’m not mistaken. I love Gravitation and FAKE, both yaoi mangas. FAKE is set in New York, Gravitation in Tokyo with some parts in New York. In FAKE, everyone is American (obviously), and only one person has Japanese descent (Randy ‘Ryo’ MacLean – my apologies if I got his last name wrong. It’s been a while). Gravitation, Eir ‘Yuki’ Uesugi is full Japanese but does not look full Japanese with blond hair and lighter eye color. (Tohma can be explained as possibly dying his hair blond and wearing contacts to make his eyes blue-green.)
Of course, there are the feudal style mangas out there, Inuyasha and Rurouni Kenshin. For Inuyasyha, Rumiko Takahashi has claimed that Kagome’s dad was Canadian. That’s why she originally had blue eyes, which is not a normal eye color for anyone of Japanese descent.
Now I’m not going to touch on the likes of Sailor Moon, Dragonball Z, or even some of the video games I’ve played where the characters are obviously not of Japanese descent. Rather, I’m going to get back to Ghost in the Shell and the casting of Scarlett Johansson as Motoko.
While I’m not a fan of Ghost in the Shell, I have done my research. Motoko isn’t even human. Motoko is an artificial intelligence, a cyborg, an android, and anything else you wish to describe her, but she is not human. She might have the memories of a human, but that doesn’t make her human, at least on the flesh and biology aspect.
That expands the casting choices for Motoko. Motoko doesn’t have to be white. Motoko doesn’t even have to be Japanese. Motoko just needs to be female. And if people want to point to Motoko’s name as proof of her Japanese-ness, I call b.s. on that logic, mainly because it presumes that only Japanese people have Japanese names. No. Japanese people do pick European/American names for their children. I’m certain there are a number of white Americans, people like me who are enamored with Japanese culture, who would name their kids Japanese names. I know female cosplayers who go by Japanese names, and they’re not Japanese in the slightest. And, since Motoko’s creator in the series is probably Japanese, s/he gave her a Japanese name. That does not make Motoko 100% Japanese. A cyborg is not 100% any culture. And to imply that there are no Americans or Canadians or other Europeans (or even Africans, South Americans, etc . . .) living in Japan is kind of foolhardy. I do feel like that is what people who are complaining about and judging Ghost in the Shell are doing. Whether that’s actually what they’re doing, I don’t know. I admit it. I don’t know, but text-based conversations do leave a lot of room to be desired.
From Wikipedia on Motoko: Since she has a full cybernetic body, she is not certain her “ghost” retains any humanity and speculates on the possibility that she is entirely synthetic, with artificially generated memories designed to fool her into thinking she was once human. Throughout the movie, she seeks to find answers to her questions and finally meets the Puppet Master, a rogue AI who became sentient and who is also looking for existential meaning. In the climax of the film, Kusanagi and the Puppet Master “merge” to form an entirely new entity that exists free of physical boundaries and propagate itself through the Net.
Now, those who are upset about the casting of ScarJo as Motoko can say whatever they want. I question how much they do know about Ghost in the Shell. I have the whole internet to use to find out what I need to know about a character for any given series. I do know people who do like tihs show, whose opinions on ScarJo’s casting I would love to hear. I’m just not into condemning a movie I haven’t seen based on casting choices.
Then again, I also have no problems watching Japanese and Korean horror films.
I found Uzumaki to be more funny than scary. A Tale of Two Sisters was disturbing. Hero, starring Jet Li, was amazing.
With all of that said, yes, I do want to see more diversity in films. And, with the internet, I know how to find it.
Thanks for bearing with me on this. I believe roles should go to the actors and actresses who can best portray the character. And in fiction (please note the word “fiction” here), pretty much anyone can play a given character.
Have a wonderful rest of the weekend, guys!