Off the Beat With Louis Otero: “Ghost in the Shell” and Why Whitewashing is Our Fault

By Louis Oterolouis

DreamWorks, you beautiful idiots, you could have had it all. The American remake of “Ghost in the Shell” has been in “development hell” for years. Announcing that the project has finally begun production should’ve led to weeping fanboys falling at your feet. There could’ve been statues of CEO Michael Wright erected in town squares all across the land, but no. Instead of being the internet’s favorite production company for a month (or at least until Marvel announces a “Thunderbolts” movie or something equally obscure), you had to cast Scarlett Johansson as the traditionally Japanese lead. Now the internet is pissed, saying you’re all a bunch of whitewashing racists. However, maybe you’re not entirely to blame. The fault also lies with us, the audience. Here’s how.

The cost of a typical Hollywood blockbuster is about $100 million. Recently, however, these numbers have increased. For example, Warner Brothers’ “Batman V. Superman” (BvS) was rumored to have cost about $410 million by the time the film reached theatres. “Ghost in the Shell,” given its source material (think “Blade Runner” meets “The Matrix”), would likely fall closer in-line with BvS’s budget than the average. So, we must keep in mind that this film would be an enormous financial undertaking for just about any company. This means a great risk, and with today’s audience, risks do not always pay off.

Look, I’m a poor college student too, and I’ll admit that on occasion I’ve illegally streamed a few movies. I don’t do it because art isn’t worth paying for. I just don’t always enjoy paying $20 to see a young adult novel broken up into four, awful, two-hour movies. This refusal to pay for art, however, seriously hurts profit margins. In 2007, it was estimated that piracy costs the average movie release about $40,000,000 and that number has likely skyrocketed since then. This makes every movie a huge risk, not just those starring minorities. It’s terrible that we even consider this an issue but the proof is in the numbers.

Last year, “Straight Outta Compton” hit theatres. Fans and critics alike raved about this film, praising it for its impeccable acting, writing, and socio-political relevance. However, despite all of this, we still didn’t show up to the box office. The NWA biopic only made about $200 million worldwide. When you consider that “The Martian” made over $400 million dollars more, these are very meagre results. “The Martian” is only 2015’s 10th highest grossing film. The same can be said for 2013’s “12 Years a Slave,” and it actually won a slew of Oscars. Still, this movie only made $187 million.

Discouraging as these figures may seem, there’s still hope. While Scarlett Johansson plays the lead, much of the cast is actually Asian. Just as “Deadpool” did for R-rated superhero flicks, spending our money on films with minority leads can show Hollywood that their “risks” will be rewarded. While it’s too late for “Ghost in the Shell”, if we get our acts together maybe the industry will too. Then, maybe Karen Fukuhara or Rinko Kikuchi can play the lead in the film’s inevitable remake.