Disney fans revolted when they heard the possibility of a White Mulan after Sony said, according to Variety it will have ‘a mostly Chinese cast,’ for the live action adaption of the 1998 hit Disney movie.
Fans protested by posting a petition signed by over 97,000 people, almost reaching it’s 100, 000 signature goal, to prevent the White washing of Asian actors. This is not the first time an American Film Studio has cast a white male or female actress in an Asian Role.
Jake Gyllenhaal, an A-list white male actor was cast as the Prince of Persia in the so named movie. Tilda Swinton, another white A-list actress, is to play the Ancient One, a Tibetan sorcerer who will mentor Benedict Cumberbatch in Marvel’s soon to be released Doctor Strange. Last and probably the most controversial in recent news is Scarlet Johansson cast as the Japanese protagonist, Major Motoko Kusanagi from Ghost in the Shell.
When looking at these casting decisions it can be difficult to not point fingers at producers or directors of movies who decided to make an adaption of an Asian centered book or movie. Hollywood screenwriter, producer, director and actor, Max Landis explains why movie producers make such controversial decisions on his Youtube channel.
‘There are about 5 women who can get your movie made. I think they’re all distressingly white,’ according to Landis. ‘You should be mad, but you’re mad at the wrong people if you’re mad at the studio or the director or the actress or the film industry.’ The only reason you’re upset about a white female actress like Scarlet Johansson being cast in an Asian movie adaption ‘is if you don’t know how the movie industry works.’
Landis explains how ‘a movie is bought by a studio, (Sony) studios work through distribution models, (profit sharing with the film maker and the studio)’ and ‘distribution models are fueled by imaginary metrics (how marketable a movie is).’ Marketability is when the problem of appropriate casting comes into play.
In the 90s we had diverse ethnic A-list actors such as Lucy Liu, Jet Li and Jackie Chan all being famous at the same time. ‘There are no A-list female Asian celebrities right now on an international level,’ said Landis. The 90s was also a time when movies could make a good profit purely because of it’s name and not because of who starred in it. Landis uses Akira for example.
‘It’s incredibly f**ked up. It doesn’t matter how good the actor is, it doesn’t matter about (their) race, it’s just their track record that matters,’ Landis explains that the problem is overarching pop culture when it comes to casting and movie producers ‘are becoming more and more afraid because movies are making less and less money’ now. The big blockbuster movies are making more money than ever where the little movies don’t make as much, according to Landis. Movies need marketable actors to make movies successful now. The movie industry isn’t racist; the movie industry is built on a structural racist system. This is why the same two Black men get cast in blockbuster movies, Denzel Washington and Will Smith.
When a risky movie like Ghost in the Shell comes along, it can’t rely on it’s name to sell like it could have in the 90s. It needs someone like Scarlet Johansson to make it work, according to Landis. This fits in well with the Mulan situation where the animated movie was such a massive success in the 90s, the studio needs something to sell it other than the name now.
Landis says ‘As much as I would love a world in which properties, ideas and stories are bigger than actors that’s not the world we’re living in.’ We shouldn’t be mad at the film industry for possibly casting Mulan as white, but be angry at our pop culture and why it prevents Asian actors selling a movie anymore.