Did ’Ghost in the Shell’ Test VFX That Would Make Scarlett Johansson Appear Asian?

     April 15, 2016


The live-action adaptation of Ghost in the Shell already has its fair share of dissenters due to the casting of Scarlett Johansson as Japanese character Major Motoko Kusanagi. As the first photo of her hit the Web, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. actress Ming-Na Wen tweeted she’s “against this Whitewashing of [an] Asian role.” Now a new report from ScreenCrush reveals a much larger diversity issue going on behind the scenes.

“Multiple independent sources close to the project” told the site that Paramount Pictures and DreamWorks commissioned Lola VFX, the company behind Brad Pitt’s age manipulation in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, to perform a series of VFX tests. These test sought to shift Johansson’s ethnicity in post-production to make her appear Asian in the film. Fortunately, an insider clarified to ScreenCrush that these tests were immediately rejected upon review, but the problem is that there were seemingly enough voices behind the scenes that believed this to be a good idea in the first place.


Image via Paramount Pictures

Paramount released the following statement, which confirms the tests, but denies they were related to Johansson, even though ScreenCrush sources maintain her character was the specific focus.

A test was done related to a specific scene for a background actor which was ultimately discarded. Absolutely no visual effects tests were conducted on Scarlett’s character and we have no future plans to do so.

Hollywood’s lack of diversity when it comes to gender and race has been widely documented, from the lack of female voices in behind-the-scenes talent, to the white-washing of Gods of Egypt and Exodus: Gods and Kings, to the casting of Emma Stone as an Asian woman in Aloha. But this is one of the most drastic examples.

Before the reveal of these VFX tests, comic book writer Jon Tsuei (RUNELOVEKILL) took to Twitter to explain why the casting of Johansson in The Ghost in the Shell is so disappointing beyond the surface level of white-washing.

He continued:

ghost-in-the-shell-killian-eng-posterThe manga came out in 1989, the first film 1995. An era when Japan was considered the world leader in technology. Everything hot in that era came out of Japan. Cars, video games, walkmans, all of that. Japan was setting a standard. This is a country that went from poised to conquer to the Pacific to forcibly disarmed. They poured their resources into their economy. And as a country that was unable to defend themselves, but was a world leader in tech, it created a relationship to tech that is unique. Ghost In The Shell plays off all of these themes. It is inherently a Japanese story, not a universal one. This casting is not only the erasure of Asian faces but a removal of the story from its core themes. You can “Westernize” the story if you want, but at that point it is no longer Ghost In The Shell because the story is simply not Western. Understand that media from Asia holds a dear place in the hearts of many Asians in the west, simply because western media doesn’t show us. Ghost In The Shell, while just one film, is a pillar in Asian media. It’s not simply a scifi thriller. Not to me, not to many others.


Tweeting a Photoshopped image of Japanese actress Rinko Kikuchi (Pacific Rim) in the role, Tsuei concluded:

The Ghost in the Shell is scheduled for release on March 31, 2017.

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