Why Did ‘Doctor Strange’ and ‘Ghost in the Shell’ Whitewash Their Asian Characters? (THR)

This week, Marvel dropped the first teaser trailer for Doctor Strange, based on its comic series about a critically-injured neurosurgeon who travels to the Himalayas to learn mystic arts from a powerful sorcerer known as the Ancient One. Two days later, Paramount and DreamWorks released the first image from Ghost in the Shell, their live-action adaptation of the Japanese manga about a anti-cyberterror task force set in mid-21st century Japan and led by cyborg Major Motoko Kusanagi.

On paper, it reads like a great week for Asian representation in Hollywood – but the Ancient One and the Major are played, respectively, by Tilda Swinton and Scarlett Johansson. And so these two projects – long awaited by many fans of their source material – instead join Gods of Egypt, Aloha and Pan as recent inductees to Hollywood’s Whitewashing Hall of Shame.

Rebecca Sun and Graeme McMillan, writing for The Hollywood Reporter, recently took on the issue of Hollywood whitewashing, specifically the whitewashing of Asian characters. In the article, the two engage in a fascinating conversation that covers these films, the larger questions they raise, and the culture of Hollywood in general. Of particular note was the discussion on the allure of star-power, in which Sun and McMillan ask just how Asian actors are supposed to achieve the ScarJo or Swinton levels of star-power that film studios want for movies with Asian protagonists in an environment where said actors will never be cast in the (even non-race-specific) major roles that develop the necessary cachet.

Obviously, there’s nothing to be done about the whitewashing of Doctor Strange or Ghost in the Shell (just as there’s probably nothing to be done about the cultural appropriation and orientalism of Netflix’s upcoming Iron Fist series—sorry, not getting over that one anytime soon), but just seeing an article like this in a major industry publication is a welcome development. This is an issue that needs to be front-and-center in the cause of more and better media representation for minorities.


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