Film Forward

One Exec Had A Realization About Moviegoers, And It Could Be A Lesson For The Film Industry

"I think the conversation ... impacted the reviews."

Not all big-budget films become blockbusters — and Ghost in the Shell is a prime example of that. But, perhaps, this movie's performance can be a lesson for Hollywood.

Based on the Japanese anime and manga series of the same name, Ghost in the Shell follows a cyborg soldier named Major, who attempts to stop the world's most dangerous criminals. The problem, as most already know, is that Major is portrayed as Asian, yet Scarlett Johansson was chosen as the lead in the latest example of whitewashing.

Ghost in the Shell's March 31 release date came and went, with opening weekend yielding less than $19 million — though to date it has made a little over $62 million — coming in at No. 3 behind No.1's The Boss Baby and No. 2's Beauty and the Beast (the former debuting while the latter had already been out a few weeks by this time), per Box Office Mojo. This, considering the fact that the movie was made on a $110 million budget, was a major letdown for the film studio.

"We had hopes for better results domestically. I think the conversation regarding casting impacted the reviews," Kyle Davies, Paramount's domestic distribution chief, told CBC News. "You've got a movie that is very important to the fanboys since it's based on a Japanese anime movie. So you're always trying to thread that needle between honoring the source material and [making] a movie for a mass audience. That's challenging, but clearly the reviews didn't help."

So far, Ghost in the Shell has a 45 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes, with the critics' consensus noting the "cool visuals" and Johansson's "compelling central performance" — but, when compared to the original, this update just "lacks the magic." Many of the critics bring up the whitewashing effect and, as Davies believes, that could have affected the movie's turnout.

This means that Ghost in the Shell joins a list of projects from recent memory — such as 2008's Speed Racer, 2010's The Last Airbender, 2013's The Lone Ranger, 2015's Pan, 2015's Aloha, and 2016's The Great Wall — which fell victim to similar claims. (2016's Doctor Strange, while accused of whitewashing a major role, ended up both a critical and commercial success.) It's probably already too late for Death Note to learn from the missteps of fellow Netflix series, Marvel's Iron Fist, but going forward maybe there will be a change, not only in how stories are told, but in who they're being told about.

If films such as Ghost in the Shell don't perform well and nobody goes to see them, it could be a further sign that onscreen representation does matter to people. Not just anyone, though, but those who matter most to studios: moviegoers.

(H/T: The Huffington Post)

The ways we watch TV and movies have evolved, and it's time for the talent in front of and behind the camera to do the same. Film Forward speaks on the initiatives to diversify the film industry and the stories it tells. New articles premiere every second Thursday of — and throughout — the month.

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