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Race Swap Casting Choices: When’s it OK?

February 24, 2016

A local anime group recently shared a link to a Yahoo news article about fans petitioning for an upcoming Ghost in the Shell adaptation to replace Scarlett Johansen with a Japanese actress:

If we’re going to talk about Hollywood’s race problem, let’s get really real about it—not only do African-American actors get whitewashed by the entertainment industry, but so do Asian actors, even (maddeningly) when parts specifically call for an Asian character.

The petition itself (64k out of 65k signees at the time of this writing) goes on:

The original film is set in Japan, and the major cast members are Japanese. So why would the American remake star a white actress?

nick fury cast as black guy: COOL
anyone else cast as white person: THAT’S RACIST
this is a double standard. Is it changing the race of a character that some people dislike, or just white people?

this also reminds me of people telling black people that they can’t cosplay light-skinned anime characters. It’s like, a fictional story and made-up character. Is race central to the story being told or to the characters? Is it important that Sailor Moon has light skin and can’t be a black girl? Is it really important that everyone in GitS is Japanese?

I personally found the (white and indian) casting choices in The Last Airbender movie annoying since the fantasy cultures and martial arts were so obviously East-Asian. I also thought it was weird that Heimdall, “the white god” from nordic mythology was cast as a black guy in Thor. But these are instances where the ethnic culture is central to the character or story – and the race swap is conspicuous.

Other times, arguably like GitS, or turning Hermione black in the new Harry Potter play, doesn’t really affect the character or story in any way. The character’s race is kind of besides the point.

I’m honestly not an expert on GitS, having only seen a couple episodes, and the more recent film. But from what I know about the cyberpunk-noir world of GitS and the story of its cyborg protagonist, race wasn’t a central element. So maybe give this girl a break and let her tell the story of a made-up cyborg girl form the future.

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