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Paramount Blames ‘Ghost in the Shell’ Box Office Flop on Whitewashing Controversy

GHOST IN THE SHELL
Paramount Pictures

Kyle Davies, the President of Domestic Distribution for Paramount Pictures, is not having a great week. The early eruption of a backlash to his studio’s newest release (the generously-budgeted Ghost in the Shell remake) and its whitewashed casting was cause for concern. But up until recently, he could assuage his shareholders’ worries by clinging to the notion that hackle-raising on the internet would not have any tangible effects on the box office receipts. That changed after this past weekend, when the Scarlett Johansson vehicle mustered a piteous $19 million in wide release. Left to answer for the film’s commercial failure, Davies has placed the blame on the controversy over tapping confirmed white woman Johansson to portray an Asian role, to which the whole of the internet will now respond with a hearty “DA-DOY.”

Davies spoke about the Ghost in the Shell belly-flop to CBC News yesterday, suggesting that the public’s wholesale rejection of a white woman portraying a character named Motoko Kusanagi may have had something to do with the lackluster returns. To her credit, CBC reporter Zulekha Nathoo did not respond with “Gee, you think?”:

We had hopes for better results domestically. I think the conversation regarding casting impacted the reviews. 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 honouring the source material and make a movie for a mass audience. That’s challenging, but clearly the reviews didn’t help.

While it’s heartening to see that he at least partially gets it, there’s still something slightly-off about Davies’ phrasing. His subtle implication that a film starring an Asian-American actress would not have been “for a mass audience” rings false, and what’s more, blaming a flop on negative reviews is like blaming the doctor for your heart condition. We’re just the messengers — Paramount must now lie in the unduly white bed that they’ve made for themselves.

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