Sunday, April 17, 2016

Diversity and demand

I'm a little confused.

So, the Scarlett Johansson in the remake of Ghost in the Shell controversy has opened up again due to another Caucasian actor playing an explicitly Japanese character in a big budget movie.

There's something I don't understand.

Professional douchebag Max Landis, famous due to being the son of the world's funniest child murderer, has posted some condescending nonsense about saying the people complaining don't understand how Hollywood works. I'm not sure in this context why anyone who is interested in the subject should even pretend to care.

But here's the thing I get out of this, for whatever it's worth.

Hollywood does not make expensive movies with Asian stars and makes a very small number with black stars because they don't believe the demand exists. The logic goes, it's a business decision and not a racist one.

If we take this at face value, and I don't at all, but I'll play along for argument's sake, then how are people to express that there is a demand? If there are no expensive Hollywood movies to see and vote with our dollars on, then publicly expressing concerns over that lack, especially in cases where it stands out, such as this case, seems the only option available to communicate the growing interest in seeing Asian actors in important roles in expensive movies.

Am I missing something? Is publicly stating "I would like to spend my hard earned cash on this" not a valid message to send? Is there a way we're all missing that doesn't involve simply staying quiet and buying whatever they sell because they say so? I suspect most people raising this concern would be quite interested to hear it.

All I know that if one spends too much time listening to or discussing Max Landis that their brains will start to melt, leading them to eventually be as dumb as him. No one wants that, do they?


Marty McKee said...

Let me play devils advocate for a moment. I ask because I've never received an answer to this question, and I'd like to hear one. What's the difference between Brit Mark Rylance playing a Russian in BRIDGE OF SPIES and Johansson playing Japanese (without "Asian" makeup even) in this?

Neil Sarver said...

I'm not sure there is one. I've also seen enough movies from around the world to know that they don't generally spend much time on such issues anywhere. I don't know how much these issues are raised anywhere either, although I'd be interested to know. The other side of that is that the US is "the melting pot" and does widely distribute around the world, so perhaps Hollywood leading the way would be appropriate if there's a way to lead.

I also don't think the Japanese would hesitate for a moment to buy up a property like this with all white Americans, set it in Japan and cast it with Japanese people.

With those, I think the moral imperative is on shaky ground, or at least very complicated ground.

I do think that Asian actors are under-represented in Hollywood movies. Are Russians? I'm not sure.

And the comeback to people expressing a demand for Asian actors in Hollywood movies that there's no demand for Asian actors in Hollywood movies simply doesn't work. Is it possible it's not enough demand? Sure. I don't know.

I'm not sure I buy the argument that people wouldn't go to a good live action Hollywood Ghost in the Shell movie with an Asian lead. Although I do buy they can hedge their bets, because a certain number more are likely to go to a shitty one starring Scarlett Johanssan than a shitty one starring a relatively unknown Japanese actress.

My point really is they can only know if there's any substantive demand if they aren't occasionally making them and seeing what happens. And if there's none to choose, no one can express their desire to see more of them except in calling things like this out, is there?

Steven Millan said...

This situation(regarding Scarlet Johannson's casting in GHOST IN THE SHELL) is pretty similar to how Eddie Trunk referred to the Axl Rose/AC/DC situation,"It's who can draw in the most money". This is apparently the answer here,courtesy of Scarlet's mega success in THE AVENGERS films. The same also applies to both Angelina Jolie playing a young British woman in the TOMB RAIDER films and Rooney Mara playing a young Swedish woman in the American remake of THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO(even if Mara isn't a very well-known name star). And the less said about Max Landis(whose AMERICAN ULTRA presented Jesse Eisenberg as the most unlikely violence prone action lead ever[in an action film]),the better.

Neil Sarver said...

Yes, and in most cases, the way that will make the most money is the least interesting to me, as in AC/DC with Axl Rose. That's why I generally stay out the fray.

Although Scarlett Johansson in a sci-fi adventure isn't generally a turn off to me. Here, the fact that I only ever tepidly enjoyed Ghost in the Shell is at least as big an issue in drawing me to this one specifically, so it's not really my pet issue, but I'm interested in seeing more diversity in casting generally, so I do get it.

And, yes, not to mention American Ultra was nearly unwatchable. I made it through because I was being polite that night, although that's not generally my specialty.

Marilyn said...

I'm with you, Neil, though the well-documented cowardice of Hollywood bean counters probably has more to do with it that specifically racist concerns (though the de facto big draw of white stars results from the original sin of racism). Sessue Hayakawa was a huge draw in the silent era, so perhaps the bean counters should get out from under their desks and try the "grand experiment" again.

Neil Sarver said...

I completely agree. It's definitely way past time.

And whereas, I'm inclined toward thinking it's not racism, but, man, on the rare occasions they have made movies with more diverse casts, they're things that have otherwise limited appeal, such as Danny the Dog (aka Unleashed) with Jet Li, or are just terrible, The Forbidden Kingdom with Jet Li and Jackie Chan, or both, The Corruptor with Chow Yun-Fat.

The same with something like female superheroes. "Well, Catwoman and Elektra failed. People don't want to see woman superheroes." Oh, or maybe they just don't want to see shitty ones.

I'm sticking to genre stuff, partly because that's what falls into my notice the most, but it's also where the big money and, thus, big risks take place.

Most of these would go away in a naturally diverse system. If plenty of Asian actresses were getting prominent work, people wouldn't have been watching this carefully to see what they did. I don't see any reason why changing the race of the lead in Ghost in the Shell specifically ruins that movie, so I suspect, if there were able to see a wide, diverse group of people in our movies, this controversy would have been very small.

I like diversity. It's good. I'd like to see more. If they gave me more, I'd happily vote with my dollars for more. They don't give me that option and are too afraid to take leadership on it. That's sad.

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