The Hollywood Reporter | Ghost in the Shell: 4 Japanese Actresses Dissect the Movie and Its Whitewashing Twist
THR invited the women to join a no-holds-barred conversation about cultural authenticity and why Japanese nationals fail to understand the race controversy: “People in Japan worship white people.” The participants were Keiko Agena (Gilmore Girls), stage actor/writer Traci Kato-Kiriyama (PULLproject Ensemble), Atsuko Okatsuka (co-founder of the all-Asian, mostly female Dis/orient/ed Comedy tour) and Ai Yoshihara (The Sea of Trees).
Scarlett Johansson has noted that Ghost in the Shell represented a rare opportunity for a woman to star in a studio-backed action film. Tilda Swinton and her Doctor Strange filmmakers also have noted that gender-bending The Ancient One was a positive step for female representation. What do you make of their points?
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?”
Kato-Kiriyama: To the argument they were making through Doctor Strange about not wanting to create the Fu Manchu character, it’s like, well, then don’t.
Okatsuka: Give them words to speak that aren’t stereotypical.
Kato-Kiriyama: “If I stick an Asian there, they’re gonna be too Oriental.” That’s how you see us. If you can’t see an Asian actor as a fully dimensional human being…
Agena: Oh damn, oh shoot! Drop the mic! This is deep, y’all! My heart hurts.
Okatsuka: What time’s happy hour?
Agena: I need a drink.
Kato-Kiriyama: They don’t realize how deep that comment is.
Yoshihara: One of my improv teammates [Kelly Marie Tran] got cast in Star Wars because they had confidence that they could make an unknown actor shine. Because they had confidence in what they’re doing, they don’t need to cast a famous actor to play one of their main roles.
Agena: In this show I’m working on right now, 13 Reasons Why, the girl that’s playing the lead is a newcomer [Katherine Langford], and it’s a star-making role for her. If you find the right person and you have confidence in your project, you can make it great. Also, 13 Reasons Why has so much diverse casting in it that’s not necessarily specified in the book. That makes me hopeful for the future. Just trust the story a little bit! See how people will respond and get on board with you. Everybody, not just one type of audience, was excited about Get Out and were telling their friends. The audience will show up if you have authenticity. Like Moonlight, there was stuff in there that is so specific to that community where the filmmakers grew up. Even if I don’t understand everything they’re talking about, I will love it if I feel that it’s real. And you also feel when it’s not, and that was what we just spent two hours doing.
Okatsuka: That’s why we used to go to the movies. To see a specific story that we might not know.
Kato-Kiriyama: A good story, you’re not crossing over. You’re just telling a good story. We never talk about white folks crossing over into other communities.