Paramount Pictures executive Kyle Davies told CBC News recently that part of the reason Ghost in the Shell’s live-action 2017 release in theaters bombed domestically was due to the reviews centered around the casting of Scarlett Johansson.
“We had hopes for better results domestically. I think the conversation regarding casting impacted the reviews. You’ve got a movie that is very important to the fanboys since it’s based on a Japanese anime movie. So you’re always trying to thread that needle between honoring the source material and make a movie for a mass audience. That’s challenging, but clearly the reviews didn’t help.”
According to Deadline Ghost in the Shell has managed $41.3 million in overseas grossing this past weekend, bringing the total to $92.8 million since opening to a rather poor showing in the U.S., of $18.6 million. Showing at only 327 cinemas in Japan, the movie actually grossed an impressive $3.2 million.
The movie seemed to have its biggest issues with attracting audiences in America, which is kind of ironic given that Scarlett Johansson was cast in order to bring recognition to the Ghost in the Shell movie.
Some people are claiming that Johansson’s supposed star-power didn’t help push ticket sales domestically, others blamed the media’s constant fascination with identity politics and the topic of whitewashing as having affected the audience’s willingness to see the movie.
Some people claimed that an Asian should have been cast to reach the Asian demographic, others claimed that Scarlett Johansson was fine in the lead role, but instead the biggest issue was that the movie was too dumbed-down compared to the themes covered in the original anime.
According to Northwest Asian Weekly, they recently reported that the MPAA has classed Asian Americans as the movie industry’s most frequented demographic, and they claim that the low turnout may have been in part to the controversy over casting.
Science Fiction claims that given the stats from the MPAA, the film’s messaging becomes “problematic” for Asians, writing…
“[…] when your movie says that a being that’s the best of human and the best of robotics happens to be a white body with an Asian mind. This is wrong on so many levels and we definitely don’t have time for the conversation about how Western beauty standards has caused some epic problems for the way that people of color (in this case, specifically Asians) view themselves and are viewed by society, so just know that this isn’t the best message for Sanders’ film to be sending after it was already in some hot water. I mean, if you’re really interested, just start looking into the popularity of skin-whitening lotions in Asia and you’ll only start to scratch the surface.”
Others have claimed that the whitewashing controversy didn’t have any effect on whether they were going to see the movie or not, but instead they chose not to see it because they felt it would be a bastardization of what the original anime and subsequent television series were like.
Regardless of the reasons behind the movie bombing in North America, it is true that in 2016 there’s been a significant increase in Asian Americans attendance at movies, which was previously dominated by Hispanic Americans.
Ironically enough, the issue of “whitewashing” was recently turned on its head to “Asian-washing” when some fans of Fullmetal Alchemist claimed that Square messed up in casting a Japanese man in the lead role, which was originally supposed to go toward a blonde-haired, blue-eyed German.
Some people are okay with the casting, others are not.
Given how disruptive identity politics have become in entertainment media, it will be interesting to see how well Fullmetal Alchemist is received domestically in Japan and internationally overseas.
I think most normal people will simply be glad when the term “identity politics” no longer has any application whatsoever to media entertainment.