Carter’s Comic Corner XVI: Paramount Learning Lessons the Hard Way with “Ghost”

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Image via sciencefiction.com

I thought about writing on how stomach-churning it is that “Batman v Superman” will have an R-rated cut for Blu-Ray. But honestly, what can I say that hasn’t already been said? “Deadpool’s” been out for a few weeks and already the wrong messages are being learned.  Warner Bros’ understanding of Superman is fundamentally broken. This is just a tactic to protect the studio when the film doesn’t make back its budget. So instead I will talk about something that’s been on my to-do list for far too long.

“Ghost in the Shell” is a popular manga series that has spun off into several adaptations. While I’m not familiar with the sci-fi comic, it seems like it has a large following on across the globe. Last year, production began on a live action adaptation slated for 2017. However, excitement turned into outrage when Scarlett Johansson was  given the lead role – the character, you see, is an Asian woman. A massive petition campaign begun and actually reached 65,000 signatures, no small feat for such a niche matter. It seemed like the petitioners inadvertently got in their way, as Disney and Dreamworks dropped the project. However, Paramount quickly picked up the project and recently begun filming.

Honestly, I am confused as to why Paramount would go out of their way to push this project, and not just because of the white-washing accusations. Make no mistake, given how race relations in America have become the talking point of media over the last two years, it takes a certain amount of gall for studios to still do this. Though I wonder if studios now do it as a sort of shield, hoping the prerelease outrage makes critics forgive the movie or go easy on it. As I write this, the director of “Gods of Egypt” is blaming the film’s critical failure on “politically correct vultures.”

But built on top of that, they are gambling with this film any way. While Hollywood is in a bit of a comic book mania right now, its successes have been almost exclusively superhero films. Looking over non-superhero comics — ”Scott Pilgrim,” “2 Guns,” “R.I.P.D,” “Sin City: A Dame to Kill For” — range from average success to a complete box office disaster. A series having diehard fans has frequently turned out to be fools’ gold for box office success, and one presumably alienates those fans with white-washing original characters.  

And that’s not even factoring in the even smaller base for manga-based works. Despite extensive research, it is genuinely hard to find examples of Hollywood-made manga adaptations even being made, let alone working financially. Maybe “Speed Racer?” In fact, the biggest example is that of the “Dragon Ball Z” film, a punchline of epic proportions (not to mention another awful example of white-washing). This is the gladiator arena that Paramount wants to enter: one where the two prime examples are a polarizing film and an unfathomable disaster.

I want to stress that none of this is a knock on “Ghost in a Shell.” I imagine it is a wonderful, and it is always wonderful to see how excited a fan base is. And they definitely deserve to see their characters on the big screen, like any fandom. But why Paramount is so committed to this specific vision at this specific time is baffling to me. The well is poisoned, the subject is niche,  and the history isn’t on its side. With the growing anime boom in the wake of the digital age, there may end up being a massive market for live action manga and anime films, but I wonder if this is the right canary to send down the mine.

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