Just my opinions here…
I’m silent about ScarJo playing the Major in the GITS movie. I haven’t seen the movie. And to be perfectly honest, I do not believe the movie would have done well even if it did have an Asian-American lead (which is all the more reason it should have, honestly, but I never saw the Major as an Asian woman–an Asian name, yes, Motoko Kusanagi is very, very Japanese, but the appearance could be anyone because prosthetic/cyborg bodies, and ScarJo’s look nailed it.) But why would it have bombed? Tell me, how many non-anime fans in America are familiar with Ghost in the Shell? I’ll wait. I don’t think it’s that many, percentage wise. I just don’t know if there’s a huge crossover between anime fans and American cinema-goers.
GITS is popular. GITS is big. But GITS is not Marvel/DC Comics big. It’s not anything Studio Ghibli big. It’s not even Dragon Ball Z big.
They did a big budget live action remake of an anime movie that came out before HD was even a thing (which itself is not exactly on the tips of the tongues of general audiences. Heck, I’m a big GITS fan and my own wife has no idea what it is). Half the potential audience is divided on whether ScarJo should have played her, many are too old to care (Speed Racer also had this problem to a much larger degree) and the other half has no idea what it is. The audience for live action movies is far different than the closet anime fan who subscribes to Crunchyroll and goes to all the free websites to watch anime they can’t find there.
There was nothing about this film that said ‘success’. That it was going to be critically panned was all but guaranteed just because of the whitewashing–which I am not at all diminishing. Again, the movie might have been better served with an Asian lead, but it wouldn’t have made the movie any more successful commercially, because honestly, Ghost in the Shell is…kind of obscure compared to other properties. Maybe the movie was an attempt to change that (worked great for many American comic characters) but…oh well. And then you throw in a plot that may have worked fine in animation but needed too many changes for a movie studio to deem it acceptable for the U.S….
When a movie like this comes out, my mindset is “It’ll probably do great on DVD/Netflix.” Scott Pilgrim bombed in theaters too, but I think it was a good flick, and now it’s known as a ‘cult classic’. GITS is probably a perfectly fine, well-made movie too. Thing is, even with ScarJo at a role that would have perhaps been better served with an Asian lead, I want comic/cartoon/anime movies (and shows like Iron Fist) to do well. Someone will spin it and say women can’t headline an action film (ScarJo has done it a few times with Lucy, GITS, her role in The Island and her prominent role in the various Marvel films, so that’s certainly not it) and someone else will say ‘we’re not greenlighting anymore anime properties (or properties with women leads) because they don’t sell tickets’.
There’s a bigger picture here than whitewashing, and I think that makes an easy culprit to blame. Whitewashing is the norm in this country, and white people are the majority. They didn’t choose not to go see GITS because ScarJo was playing the Major. Many, I’m sure, chose not to go see it because they weren’t interested.
I’m still glad the movie exists.