Forget Ghost in the Shell and read this roundtable.
Surprise surprise: Ghost in the Shell is doing terribly in theaters. And if you, like me, opted out of seeing GITS, then I highly suggest you go straight for the Hollywood Reporter’s roundtable discussion.
THR’s Rebecca Sun invited a group of actresses, writers, and comedians of Japanese descent to watch GITS followed by a roundtable discussion. The result, not surprisingly, is a funny, honest, and cathartic take on a terrible movie and even worse plot twist. The gathered, Keiko Agena, Traci Kato-Kiriyama, Atsuko Okatsuka, and Ai Yoshihara (y’know, actually being Japanese and Japanese American actresses and all) provide the most important point of view and will hopefully be heard by the rest of Hollywood. Doubtful, but hopefully.
Ai Yoshihara: Major’s backstory is white people trying to justify the casting.
Okatsuka: And they f — ed up in the process because now it looks even worse. The text at the beginning of the movie explained that Hanka Robotics is making a being that’s the best of human and the best of robotics. For some reason, the best stuff they make happens to be white. Michael Pitt used to be Hideo.
Agena: That was the other cringe-worthy moment, when they called each other by their Japanese names. We’re looking at these beautiful white bodies saying these Japanese names, and it hurt my heart a little bit.
Okatsuka: It’s not even about seeing me on the screen as a performer. It’s a bigger concern. It’s 2017 and I don’t know why these representation issues are still happening. It’s overwhelming. This means so much to our community but is so on the side, still, for a lot of people.
Kato-Kiriyama: It’s dispensable. We still feel dispensable.
Agena: …But as a fan, as a human Asian-American, I want to see that star being born. That was the part that hurt. This is such a star-making vehicle. And they can find people. They found that wonderful girl [Auli’i Cravalho] that played Moana. They found the guy that’s gonna star in Crazy Rich Asians [Henry Golding]. Yeah, it’s hard. But they can be found, and this could have made a young, kick-ass Asian actress out there a Hollywood name and star.
Kato-Kiriyama: And they know it, too. They know that they had that kind of power to change someone’s life.
Yoshihara: Yeah, a bunch of the Asian people got killed. All the minor roles are Asians who didn’t have lines. But all the core characters except Beat Takeshi and the mother were mainly white.
Kato-Kiriyama: The question itself has to be challenged. Why are you trying to drum up examples of people of color or specifically Japanese who are OK with it? Is it so you feel justified in maintaining your norm? Don’t you want to know why people are hurt? Aren’t you curious, as an artist? Isn’t there anywhere in your progressive, liberal mind that’s curious about the people that are feeling hurt?
Kato-Kiriyama: It’s trying to get the conversation away from race yet again. Sure, it’s a great role for women. I don’t know if kick-ass white woman action stars is such a void, but even that aside, it’s trying to step over the dead body. That’s fine when there are empowered characters who are women, but that’s not what we’re talking about. We’re actually talking about race. Can we just stay here for a little bit?
Okatsuka: When white feminists don’t know what to say about race, they go for the feminist thing. That’s what happened with the Women’s March. When women of color were like, “Will you be there, though, for the next march, when the next black kid gets shot? Will you be there when women of color need you?” they were like, “Wasn’t it great for women all around?”
Agena: That’s what’s so exciting about this time. There is a Master of None, there is a Fresh Off the Boat, there is a Get Out. I love being alive at this point, and that’s why I’m just waiting for the thing that’s not this movie. The thing where we can go out not as five women sitting there chewing our teeth through this movie, but five women going, “Yeah! Let’s go see this movie because we’re celebrating it!” I want that experience.
This whole conversation is everything the top decision makers at Paramount — or really anyone who gave this movie the go-ahead — need to hear right now, tomorrow, and every day. Kato-Kiriyama, Agena, Yoshihara, and Okatsuka were really able to break down what many Asian Americans were feeling as they watched the movie, from the first announcement of ScarJo two years ago to its premiere a few days ago. They understood how hard it was to watch this whole project get further through the process, green light after green light, and feel like all our voices and concerns were completely ignored. And then to watch (or hear about) the movie and know our voices had been ignored.
When Asian Americans are going to the movies more often than most other communities of color, why aren’t we seeing ourselves in our own damn roles? It’s been amazing to see that we’re barely four months in to 2017 and we’ve already seen “Ghost in the Shell,” Netflix’s “Death Note,” and Netflix’s “Iron Fist” (not doing great Netflix. Try harder buddy.) I’m not sure how we got to a media landscape where I can list off a handful of amazing AAPI representation accomplishments in media — “Power Rangers” “Andi Mack,” “Moana”— and a whole series of disappointments in one breath.
A few days ago the studio finally admitted that maybe casting Scarlett Johansson as The Major wasn’t the best move. It’s a shame that it took a dollar amount to show them what most of what the AAPI community had been shouting for months. Too little, too late, seeing as the movie is now out and everyone’s been paid. But I am hopeful for the future of Hollywood what with “Crazy Rich Asians” and “Mulan” in the works. Well, hopeful and a little (a lot) scared.