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Scarlett Johansson 'Ghost in the Shell' casting prompts petition

Actress Scarlett Johansson attends the Gotham Independent Film

Actress Scarlett Johansson attends the Gotham Independent Film Awards at Cipriani Wall Street on Dec. 1, 2014 in Manhattan. Credit: Clint Spaulding / PatrickMcMullan

More than 12,000 people have signed an online petition objecting to the casting of Scarlett Johansson as a Japanese military captain in the film "Ghost in the Shell."

Care2, a social advocacy website, announced the news days after the news of Johansson's casting. The DreamWorks-Disney film is scheduled for release April 14, 2017.

The petition notes that barely more than 4 percent of speaking roles go to Asian actors, according to a USC Annenberg survey, and asks DreamWorks to "stop whitewashing Asian characters."

"What concerns me is the fact that minority actors are so rarely given opportunities in big-budget leading roles," Care2 petition author Julie Rodriguez says in a press release. "It's a self-defeating cycle: Hollywood insists viewers won't be drawn to unknown minority actors, but they're never given the chance to break out of a narrow set of background roles to prove themselves."

Care2 has launched similar petitions in the past. The site targeted Ridley Scott's "Exodus: Gods and Kings" for casting Christian Bale as Moses, and Disney's upcoming "Pan" for casting Rooney Mara as Tiger Lily, an American Indian character.

"Ghost in the Shell" is based on an iconic Japanese media franchise that began as a manga in 1989 and developed into anime films, television series and video games. It is set in a future Japan and its main characters are members of a cyber-terrorism task force.

Manga and anime have long raised questions about ethnicity. Characters tend not to look traditionally Japanese or, for that matter, very realistic. If anything, they are highly idealized, with enormous eyes, aqualine features and hair in unnatural colors like blue or pink. They often seem tall and willowy. The women tend to be impossibly curvaceous.

Though early Japanese animators were influenced by Walt Disney and the Fleischer Brothers, it's hard to say whether the features of anime characters were ever intended to look Caucasian. Many fans of anime say that the characters are of unspecified ethnicity, allowing viewers to perceive them as whatever race they themselves happen to be.

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