Ghost in the Shell: Studio admits whitewashing controversy hurt film at the box office

The film, which boasted a $110 million budget, took just over $19 million on its opening weekend

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The Independent Culture

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.

Ghost In The Shell - Trailer 3

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."


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.

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