That Time a Studio Used CGI to Make an Actor Look More Asian (Allegedly)


It probably won’t surprise anyone reading this to learn that Hollywood is just a teensy bit racist. Hell, we ourselves have talked about the fact they once blacklisted an Asian dude for being so handsome that horny white women couldn’t deal or how known legend Ke Huy Quan basically quit acting for 2 decades because he simply couldn’t get any work that wasn’t racist or demeaning as fuck. But today’s story is so bizarre that even Hollywood has tried desperately to distance itself from it. Using CGI to Asian up Scarlett Johansson.

So before we continue we have to note that all of the parties involved in this story have heavily denied that it happened in the way we’re about to describe and tried like, so hard to distance themselves from it. The exception being Scarlett Johansson who apparently had no idea any of it was happening. Though she didn’t exactly help things by loudly claiming it’s her right as an actor to play any race she wants. A sentiment she almost immediately walked back because it’s probably not a good idea to have your name pop up in discussions about white people defending their right to play Asian people.

“Rooney’s bucktoothed, myopic Japanese is broadly exotic.” – The New York Times

Anyway, today’s fact concerns Johansson’s casting as The Major in the live-action adaptation of Ghost in the Shell, a seminal work of animation that’s probably the favourite movie of the most annoying person you know, or more specifically the backlash to this casting. For anyone unfamiliar with the film curious about why people would give such a huge shit we invite you to consider The Major’s real name for a moment while looking at this picture of Johansson. Motoko Kusanagi.

In fairness to Hollywood though this was an adaptation and an adaptation doesn’t necessarily need to be 1-to-1 and if we’re honest, things probably should change when the medium does. Something people working on the movie were keen to point out, noting how it’s a critical plot point that The Major isn’t a human, but a robotic shell housing a human consciousness (This is what the title of refers to if it wasn’t obvious BTW) designed to whup ass and there’s no reason that, that shell needs to be Asian.

Which is true, but then the film goes right ahead and drops that Johansson’ character actually was Asian all along and the bad guys puppeteering her soul to commit war crimes slapped it inside of a robot that looks like a hot white lady for some reason. Which is it’s own kind of fucked up for reasons we really don’t have time to get into.

Getting back to the story, following the backlash it’s rumoured that the Paramount Pictures toyed with the idea of using CGI to just make Johansson look more Asiany – Rumours we should note Paramount deny but every source that reported on them corroborated via insider sources and stood by the veracity of after said denials – tasking both their internal teams and the guys handling effects for the film with the task of digitally yellowfacing the fuck out of their movie.

Exactly what this would have involved isn’t clear and after a lot of prodding Paramount only admitted to using CGI to alter the look of a background actor for a scene that was cut from the final film. Which you may think sounds bad, but is actually depressingly common for Hollywood pictures set in locales that aren’t majority white. For example consider that time Disney openly admitted to painting a bunch of background extras brown for the live-action Aladdin movie because they literally ran out of people with dark skin for crowd shots.

Whether this was the case for Ghost in the Shell isn’t clear but the fact that Paramount spent $100 million making this movie and only considered that maybe casting a white person as a character with the most Japanese sounding name possible when they released the trailer for it is too fucking funny not to at least mention.