Welcome again to We Have Always Lived in the Kraken, a pop culture blog transmitted directly to you from the belly of the beast. Here in the Notes we’ll show you this week’s posting schedule, but first, a little Seafood for Thought.
The rumblings about Ghost in the Shell casting Scarlett Johansson in the lead (originally Japanese) role has been building for quite some time, but finally exploded once a photo from the film actually appeared to the masses. Cries of whitewashing were heard across the internet. Dreamworks and Paramount were clearly aware of this potential backlash, as they at one point considered using visual effects to make Johansson look more Asian. They ended up scrapping the idea–the smart move, because digital yellowface is never the answer. But that still leaves them with the problem of a white star in an Asian role. In a vacuum, it can be argued that Johansson is a great choice to play Major Motoko Kusanagi. She could play the role well, especially considering Kusanagi is a cyborg whose body is designed and altered to suit her missions. (I can even imagine a fascinating version of this where the character is played by multiple different actresses, I’m Not There-style, but that’s way too out there for Hollywood.) The problem is, we do not live in a vacuum, and even if a casting decision can make sense at the micro level for whatever reason, that doesn’t change the fact that on a macro level it continues to perpetuate Hollywood’s horrible, racially lopsided casting practices. Of course, there is no fixing that issue quickly either, which is what complicates this matter even more.
Max Landis offered a rebuke to the backlash that highlights a lot of what makes this particular case even more of a clusterfuck than normal. Hollywood invariably does whatever it can to minimize risks. Sometimes that means lowering budgets, sometimes that means going with “safer” ideas, and sometimes that means casting the biggest star possible. There are very few stars who can really sell a movie, and even fewer who are female. Add in the requirements of an action-heavy dramatic role and that number could be counted on one hand even after going a few rounds with the Man From the South. Johansson happens to be one of them, and, well, Ghost in the Shell doesn’t get made without her. Plus, if a version of a “riskier” IP like this can’t succeed with Johansson in the lead, then there just won’t be more movies made adapting popular anime IP, especially with a woman at the front. (Hollywood loves to assume one failure means something won’t ever work when it is more convenient for Hollywood not to do that thing). Now some may argue this isn’t that big of a loss, and, well, if you just consider this to be a loss for future anime adaptations, you could really go either way with such an argument. That’s an extremely narrow view of things, though. These anime IPs would broaden the type of roles being offered in Hollywood, and films like that need to be made. But unfortunately, in order for them to get made, we need to play by Hollywood’s rules and show up for even the movies they’ve fucked up or whitewashed. Once the industry realizes it has a strong hope of making money with these projects, the studios will be willing to take chances on lesser known, more diverse actors and actresses, and given the opportunities those actors could form the backbone of a larger, more diverse stable of stars. Although that end result is good, I admit the prospect of supporting whitewashed movies (likely over a long period of time) to get there doesn’t sound all that appealing.
This of course leaves us all between a rock and a slightly bigger rock. We can and should complain about the casting, because it’s just another example of unfortunate (even if perhaps justified by the circumstances) whitewashing. But at the same time we need to go watch them, if we want Hollywood to be willing to learn from its mistakes. That may sound weird, but in an industry as backwards and messed up in its white to non-white ratio (not to mention its male to female and straight to LGBT ratios), the best we can expect are incremental steps in the right direction. The fact that Ghost in the Shell is even getting made at all is a small victory, one that can hopefully lead to further changes as the industry grows and new voices are allowed to take the place of the old ones. It may seem like this is frustratingly slow, and it is. It may not feel that great, and it shouldn’t. But the only other solution is to burn it all to the ground.
And I don’t simply mean boycotting films that are whitewashed, like Ghost in the Shell, because all that will do is make Hollywood think the flaw was with the IP and not anything it did. Studios would just act like WB and stick solely to so-called safe franchises that are basically are such strong IPs that they assume people will see these films no matter what. To really take a stand, audiences would have to start boycotting more or less all movies, because as long as you go watch Harry Potter or LEGO films, Warner Brothers has no incentive to really try anything different. And it couldn’t just be audiences; directors, writers, and actors would have stop working for any film that continued to perpetuate racially imbalanced casting practices. We would have to kill the industry in order to make it better in any reasonable timeframe; and the measures would harm many who rely on the industry to make a living but who have no control over productions. So I don’t know how much of an appealing or realistic option that is either. I wish there were better answers, but there just isn’t right now. Annoyed or not, if you want better films than Ghost in the Shell, you have to go see Ghost in the Shell, or you need to be ready to burn it all to the ground, no matter the cost. I can’t support and don’t condone the scorched earth approach. But these are your options. Do what you will with them.
From the depths of the Kraken, here is what we are bringing you this week.
Monday: Fresh out of the smelter, another steel-hard episode of the Life in the Kraken podcast. (Now on iTunes!) This time, it’s a mash–a monster mash! It’s a graveyard, etc. The point is, we’re talking both Universal’s upcoming attempt at a Marvel-esque shared universe of classic monster movie reboots and the much more actual tangible existing monster mash-up, the TV show Penny Dreadful. In between, Sam takes us on a tour of the infamous Studio Deen and we all try to decide why it had to be snakes in the adventure board game Fortune & Glory.
- This week instead of a Screening Room, we’re announcing a new feature! Come visit the Lending Library for reviews of cool books. Kyu’s inaugural entry covers David Wong’s latest, the sci-fi action comedystravaganza Futuristic Violence and Fancy Suits. Is the violence futuristic? Are the suits fancy? You’ll have to check out the review to find out.
- TV Roulette is at it again as David looks at Fox’s Family Guy. He stopped watching this show long ago, but will now check in to see how far the show has fallen since its heyday. There is certainly a chance it might still be good, but that seems highly unlikely if we’re being honest.
Wednesday: No new content today. The Kraken got one of his tentacles stuck in an old German tank, and now instead of just grasping its prey, the limb fires 35mm shells. We’re going to go find some WD-40 or something, because this will not end well.
Thursday: Nothing new today. The Kraken just entered a prismatic hole, which is like a black hole, only colorful. We’ll return with content as soon as we stop seeing everything in shades of hrurh and semble.
Friday: Today’s content has been declared classified via Kraken Law because of -redacted- and -redacted-. Please feel free to peruse out archives while we figure all this out.
- Baturdays returns with “The Case of the Missing Link,” a non-violent story about Bruce Wayne looking through the manor for his lost cuff-link and who am I kidding, Batman fights a caveman. Obviously Batman fights a caveman.
- The pilot season has started again for the major television networks. What looks good, what looks bad, what is likely coming our way next fall? David offers his thoughts on some common threads and the slates for ABC and CBS in part 1 of Network Pilot-a-palooza.
Catch of the Week:
Each and every week the residents here in the Kraken will offer one recommendation for the week that we think you all would enjoy. It might be a movie. It might be a book. Who knows? This is your… Catch of the Week.
David: This week I would like to recommend Haven’t You Heard? I’m Sakamoto a manga recently turned into an anime for the recently started spring anime season. This show has one joke, which is Sakamoto is awesome in any situation, but man does the show do it well. This is one of the most highly entertaining animes in quite some time. It is clever and has one of my favorite intros of all time. Of course, it is also made by Studio Deen so if weeks from now this rec has backfired on me royally at least we can all say the warning signs were there.
Kyu: April continues to shower us with classic non-superhero comics. This week I’m recommending Alan Moore’s From Hell, which may possibly be even better than Watchmen. That may be taking things a bit too far, but it’s still a remarkable and mature work. Often digressive and obscure, From Hell offers a glimpse into the past, as through a charcoal-smudged window, to moment when modernity crystallized in violence. More than just the telling of Jack the Ripper, or even the much-lauded work Moore does to place his killer into the religious and political context of the era, From Hell is at the last a self-aware effort to answer a historical mystery that will never truly be solved. The effort is monumental, and the book will reward reading and rereading for a century to come.
That’s it for this week. We hope you continue to enjoy your stay in the Kraken. If you hear a loud buzzing sound, don’t worry, that is just your brain defragmenting. Just wait. It’ll end soon enough, one way or the other.