Racial Minority "In The Shell"
by Ailsssss on April 21, 2017 - 4:22pm
In recent years, there has been a lot of controversies surrounding the underrepresentation of certain races in mainstream media. Following the #OscarsSoWhite phenomenon, Hollywood is now constantly under fire for not casting visible minorities in leading roles, especially for their adaptations of foreign media. Ghost in the Shell did not help its case when director Rupert Sanders decided to cast Scarlett Johansson as his movie's leading role, which was originally portrayed in the manga as a Japanese girl (or cyborg), Motoko Kusanagi. Hollywood’s “whitewashing” is not completely uncommon, as Emma Stone played a half-Chinese, half-Hawaiian, girl in the 2015 movie Aloha. In 2010, amongst the “172 non-foreign feature films released to theaters in 2011, racial/ethnic minorities only accounted for 10.5 percent of lead roles, although they accounted for 36.3 percent of the US population” (Erigha). The two sides of the debate usually consist of obtaining box office success (from casting popular White actors) versus keeping the culture of the original works or characters. However, this should not even become a topic of debate since it is absolutely unethical to replace an originally non-white character by a Caucasian actor simply because it would potentially yield more sales in terms of box office.
To start off, profit is never a valid summon bonum (end goal) to guide our actions. It leads to people taking decisions based on a very superficial concept rather than focusing on the actual morality in their actions. That being said, according to deontology, – which is an ethical framework that judges morality based on actions – many of the Hollywood directors are not taking the right actions to reach success, and are therefore unethical. Every producer wants their movie to be successful, but hiding the visible minority from the big screen is just not the right way to do so. They are taking advantage of the presence of white privilege in our society and reinforcing it through their casting decisions. Indeed, both a White and a Black/Asian/Hispanic actor may showcase the same talent during an audition, but it is almost certain that the White actor (especially if he/she is more famous) will start further ahead in the decision-making process. This is notably what led to Emma Stone’s casting in Aloha. Why didn’t the director choose an actual half-Chinese, half-Hawaiian, girl to play the role? Because “[i]nstead of knowing the right actor when you see her, casting directors understand that the “right” person must adhere to the standardized codes, conventions, and expectations of the industry they service” (Warner), which in this case, probably consists of choosing an actress that fit in the all-star cast of the movie (Bradley Cooper, Rachel McAdams, etc.). This decision does nothing but give off the message that Caucasian actors would portray non-white characters even better than non-white actors themselves, which is presumptuous and simply false. This is all to say that profitting off white privilege is an unethical behaviour when trying to obtain popularity and box office success.
A movie not only has the responsibility to entertain its audience, but also to depict an accurate representation of the current society, where ethnic diversity is present in our daily lives. To make an argument that encompasses both teleology (an outcome-based ethical framework) and utilitarianism (which promotes the greatest good for the greatest number), the goal of a movie should go beyond the surface-level entertainment and money-making that many of the current directors fall prey of. Hollywood movies, given their large influence on people all around the globe, should instead promote diversity and work towards the good of humanity as a whole. How can the general population learn to be accepting of different skin colors if even the most established film-makers cannot embrace diversity on their screens? Indeed, “whether intentionally or unintentionally, both the news and the entertainment media 'teach" the public about minorities, other ethnic groups and societal groups […] [T]his mass media curriculum has a particularly powerful educational impact on people who have little or no direct contact with members of the groups being treated” (Cort). Therefore, media also holds an important role in educating the population. The underrepresentation of particular races in movies does not help achieve the goal that is to create a harmonious world in which there is no division and everyone simply embraces mankind as a whole. Therefore, many Hollywood directors aim for an unethical goal that does not support racial acceptance.
Respect is an universally agreed-upon virtue that should be the guiding point of all actions. It is the most basic form of politeness that is taught in schools since children’s early age. Therefore, in the context where morality is based on if the agent is virtuous or not, Hollywood director who choose to take part in a whitewashed casting definitely do not fall into the virtuous category. First of all, it is definitely not virtuous to choose a candidate over another simply because of their skin color (assuming that both demonstrate the same amount of talent). Such decisions can even lead to the perpetuation of racism since they may suggest that White people take precedence over non-white actors during the casting process, which is even less of a virtuous behaviour. Furthermore, by choosing a White actor to play a non-white role, the directors show a lack of respect in many ways. Not only do they disregard the cultural background of the original work (in many of the adaptations), they also do not show any recognition to the non-white actors who get rejected to play non-white characters. In fact, the film-makers of recent movie “Ghost in the Shell” even “ran tests to see if they could CGI white faces in an attempt to make them look more Asian” (Williams). This sends a highly discouraging, and alarming, message to the community of racial minorities, since it shows that film-makers would rather go through all that trouble of using CGI rather than to simply cast Asian actors. It is important to know that “the media influences not only how others view [the minorities], but even how they view themselves” (Cort). It tells them that even for roles that align with their ethnicity, they still stand less chance than popular White actors.
The best solution to this ongoing controversy is to “open the gates” to more racially diverse writers in Hollywood. Indeed, “over the past decades, White Americans accounted for nearly 80 percent of feature film writers and 70 percent of television writers” (Erigha). Statistics also show that out of the 74% of creators that are represented by Hollywood’s top three talent agencies, only 2% are minorities; “[t]he rest of the creators, not at those agencies, [are] 24% minority” (Rothman). In addition, more ethnically diverse people should take part in the casting process of movies. As of 2016, the “twenty-six-member leadership team [of the Casting Society of America] was all white with the exception of one Latino” (Warner). It is only through solving this racial problem from within the industry that there can truly be a change in its results.
The whitewashed casting in Hollywood’s adaptations of foreign movies as well as the underrepresentation of minorities need to be addressed until they are not issues anymore. If a director decides to portray a story that is set in a time and place other than in America, then it is important for them to respect this authenticity and cast their actors accordingly. Because if a Japanese (or even simply an Asian) girl cannot even obtain a role that was initially created for a Japanese, how can they stand a chance when it comes to the more general ones, written for anybody? In other words, choosing a White actor instead of an non-white actor to play a non-white character gives the message that non-white faces are not as valuable and do not yield as much money. This could potentially perpetuate the already-existing racism towards visible minorities by reinforcing the idea that their skin color is less important. Casting smartly is the least amount of respect that Hollywood could pay actors of the visible minority. It is a sign of respect, not only to the actors themselves, but also to the original work, as it keeps the essence of it. As Kristen J. Warner states so well: “[G]ood casting happens when no one notices the casting director’s work”.
Williams, Mike. “Ghost In The Shell tries too hard to cover up its whitewashing,” Metro, 30 March 2017.
Cort, Carlos. “A Long Way to Go: Minorities and the Media,” Center for Media Literacy.
Rothman, Lily. “The Hidden Factors in Hollywood’s Racial Diversity Problem,” Time, 13 February 2014.
Erigha, Maryann. “Race, Gender, Hollywood: Representation in Cultural Production and Digital Media's Potential for Change,” Sociology Compass, vol. 9, 1, 2015, pp. 78-89,
Warner, Kristen J. “13 Strategies for Success?: Navigating Hollywood’s “Postracial” Labor Practices,” Precarious Creativity: Global Media, Local Labor , 2016, pp. 172-185,