“I certainly would never presume to play another race of a person,” she said. “Diversity is important in Hollywood, and I would never want to feel like I was playing a character that was offensive.”
“Also, having a franchise with a female protagonist driving it is such a rare opportunity,” she continued. “Certainly, I feel the enormous pressure of that — the weight of such a big property on my shoulders.”
The film came under fire when Paramount announced Johansson as The Major, a half-human, half-cyborg agent hunting down criminals for the elite task force Section 9. The character’s Japanese roots in the sci-fi source material sparked claims of whitewashing around the movie adaptation.
Further enflaming the backlash was a report claiming the producers ran tests that were later scrapped to make the actors appear Asian; the studio stated Johansson wasn’t involved in those tests.
Producer Steven Paul later defended casting Johansson in an interview with BuzzFeed. “I don’t think it was just a Japanese story,” he said. “Ghost in the Shell was a very international story, and it wasn’t just focused on Japanese; it was supposed to be an entire world. That’s why I say the international approach is, I think, the right approach to it.”
In a behind-the-scenes featurette released for the film, Mamoru Oshii, who directed the original Ghost in the Shell anime movies, gave his blessing to the new adaptation.
“Scarlett Johansson, playing Motoko from beginning to end, has gone above and beyond my expectations for the role,” he said. “I’m sure this will be the most gorgeous film in the series so far.” Oshii further asserted Ghost in the Shell remains “very true to the anime.”
Directed by Rupert Sanders, Ghost in the Shell also features Michael Pitt, Rila Fukushima, Juliette Binoche, Pilou Asbæk, Ran Wei, and Chin Han. The film opens in theaters March 31.