Has Hollywood finally learned the lesson that, if you anger a good chunk of your audience, they may not turn up opening day?
Speaking candidly to CBC, Paramount's domestic distribution chief Kyle Davies confessed that the reasoning behind Ghost in the Shell's poor box office performance may, unsurprisingly, be the whitewashing controversy that sprung up over the film's domination by white actors in an adaptation of the distinctly Japanese manga.
"We had hopes for better results domestically. I think the conversation regarding casting impacted the reviews," Davis stated. "You've got a movie that is very important to the fanboys since it's based on a Japanese anime movie. So you're always trying to thread that needle between honouring the source material and make a movie for a mass audience. That's challenging, but clearly, the reviews didn't help."
The film, which boasted a $110 million budget, took just over $19 million on its opening weekend; beaten by, of all things, Dreamworks' animated movie The Boss Baby. Ghost in the Shell's only hope now of avoiding a major box office bomb is if the film's international audiences turn out in force.
Though Davis may be skirting around the issue slightly in attempting to place blame on critics, it's comforting at least to see the studio recognise that audiences took issue with the film's whitewashing, and particularly that Paramount didn't attempt to take the usual route of blaming the entire thing on the fact it's a rare female-led property.
Fans expressed their dismay early on at the news Johansson would be cast in the lead role of The Major, and the first image of the actor in the role seemed only to solidify the dissonance of her casting.
A defining voice in the backlash was Ming Na-Wen, the voice of Disney's Mulan and current star of Marvel television series Agents of Shield; with comic writer Jon Tsuei explaining Ghost in the Shell actually ties into something deeply rooted within Japanese identity and to whitewash its story is to strip it of its weight, power, and relevance.
Producer Steven Paul has defended the decision by stating that fans are "going to end up being really happy with it" and that the film isn't distinctly Japanese, but takes place in "an international world". Johansson herself finally addressed the controversy as well, stating, "I certainly would never presume to play another race of a person. Diversity is important in Hollywood, and I would never want to feel like I was playing a character that was offensive."
Hollywood whitewashing controversies
Hollywood whitewashing controversies
1/11 Scarlett Johansson cast as Motoko Kusanagi in Ghost in the Shell
Blonde, white US actress Scarlett Johansson was announced to be playing the clearly Japanese character Motoko Kusanagi in Hollywood's Ghost in the Shell remake, much to the dismay of Asian film fans
2/11 Tilda Swinton cast as The Ancient One in Doctor Strange
Marvel sparked outrage when Anglo-Scottish actress Tilda Swinton was cast as Tibetan mystic The Ancient One alongside Benedict Cumberbatch in Doctor Strange
Zoe Saldana was criticised for 'blacking up' to play the considerably darker-skinned soul singer Nina Simone in Nina
4/11 Jake Gyllenhaal stars in Prince of Persia
The half Jewish, quarter Swedish actor was cast to play a Middle Eastern Prince in Disney's 2010 film
5/11 Rooney Mara as Tiger Lily in forthcoming film Pan
Mara was been cast in the role of American Indian Tiger Lily, sparking an online protest from angry film fans
6/11 Christian Bale plays Moses in Ridley Scott's Exodus: Gods and Kings
Ridley Scott claimed he would never cast 'Mohammed so-and-so from such-and-such a country' in a lead role in his Biblical epic, and went on to cast an entirely white cast instead
7/11 Jim Caveziel plays Jesus in Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ
Catholic star Mel Gibson chose to cast a Caucasian American actor in the role of Jesus for his controversial film
8/11 Micky Rooney plays a Japanese neighbour in Breakfast at Tiffany's
Who better to play Holly Golightly's Japanese neighbour IY Yunoishi than American actor Mick Rooney. At least Hollywood has come some way since 1961
9/11 Ben Affleck as Tony Mendez in Argo
Ben Affleck became the subject of a few editorials in Latin American newspapers for casting himself (an American with English, Irish, Scottish and Swiss ancestry) as a Mexican CIA operative
10/11 Jennifer Connelly plays Alicia Nash in A Beautiful Mind
Alicia Lopez-Harrison de Lardé was a naturalised US citizen from El Salvador, but was played by an actress of Jewish, Irish and Norwegian descent
11/11 Chinese actresses cast in Memoirs of a Geisha
What better way to alienate Japanese cinemagoers than to cast three Chinese actresses in the lead roles in a film about Japanese culture
But these arguments clearly weren't enough for audiences, and it's about time studios learn that diversity really does pay - on so many levels.
Ghost in the Shell is out now.
- More about:
- Ghost in the Shell