The first live-action, English-language adaptation of the popular Japanese manga series Ghost in the Shell hits theaters this week. But even before the previews roll, feelings are mixed. Some fans’ anxiety stems from Hollywood’s splotchy track record with manga adaptations (see: Speed Racer, Dragonball Evolution). But more notably, the movie has ignited the discussion about Hollywood’s continued whitewashing of Asian roles. In this case, fans have protested Scarlett Johansson’s casting as the character known in Masamune Shirow’s original manga series as Motoko Kusanagi.
Here’s a primer on the the franchise, the controversy surrounding its release and how it fits into larger conversations about cultural representation in Hollywood.
What is Ghost in the Shell and why are they remaking it?
Ghost in the Shell originated as a Japanese manga series written and illustrated by Masamune Shirow beginning in 1989. It takes place in a fictional city in mid-21st century Japan and tells the story of a group of special operatives, Public Security Section 9, who fight terrorism, corruption and cybercrime. In this futuristic world, some people have cyberbrains, others have prosthetic bodies, and still others—like Motoko Kusanagi—have both. Having a cyberbrain has advantages (like connecting to various networks) and disadvantages (like the ability to be hacked). The “ghost” in the title refers to human consciousness, and the “shell” is the cybernetic body.
As for a modern retelling, the themes of the story—questions about what defines humanity as artificial intelligence grows increasingly prominent—continue to fascinate moviegoers (see: Ex Machina, Westworld, Black Mirror, Blade Runner 2049). The original movie adaptation, a Japanese animated film released in 1995, has a big following, including directors Lana and Lilly Wachowski, who the New York Times reports brought a copy along when they pitched The Matrix. And while the manga has spawned a second animated film, TV series and a handful of video games, it’s never been rendered as a live-action film.
Read more at Time.