Strange & “Shell” Whitewashing Responses

The other week came both the first trailer for Marvel’s “Doctor Strange” film, and the first photo from the live-action “Ghost in the Shell” adaptation. Both projects came quickly under fire in their wake for taking Asian characters and ‘whitewashing’ them.

In “Doctor Strange,” the character of The Ancient One is portrayed as a small and elderly Tibetan-born male in the comics. In the film though, the character is portrayed by tall white actress Tilda Swinton. Following the trailer came screams of upset that this was another example of Hollywood’s cultural appropriation of Asian characters.

Swinton though, quite aware of the backlash, has reassured fans it’s not an issue for a very specific reason. She told Heat Vision last night: “Well, it’s not actually an Asian character – that’s what I need to tell you about it. I wasn’t asked to play an Asian character, you can be very well assured of that.”

So why have the writers re-characterised this mentor figure? We’ll find out hopefully with the next trailer.

Meanwhile there’s “Ghost in the Shell”. The manga and anime adaptations centered around the female Asian character and Section 9 leader Motoko Kusanagi, but in the live-action film it’s a role that Scarlett Johansson will take on.

A report following the photo release indicated that Paramount and Dreamworks very briefly tested VFX software that would allow the filmmakers to “shift her ethnicity” towards something more Asian. Paramount quickly shut that down with a statement saying the test was done relating to a “specific scene for a background actor,” an actor who was ultimately dropped from the project. They re-iterated that there were no tests conducted on Scarlett’s character and that they have no plans to do so.

Even so, fans remain upset at the lack of Asian representation in the film – and in particular Johansson’s casting. One person who doesn’t have a problem with it though? Sam Yoshiba, director of the international business division at Kodnasha Comics which is the world’s leading manga publisher and was behind the original comics.

Yoshiba tells THR: “Looking at her career so far, I think Scarlett Johansson is well-cast. 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.” He also says he visited the film’s set recently in New Zealand and “was impressed by the respect being shown for the source material”.

“Doctor Strange” is currently targeting a November 4th opening, “Ghost in the Shell” will hit April 14th next year.