I am truly kind of a joke sometimes.
Spoiler warning for the big plot twist of Ghost in the Shell.
I even became majorly (haha) upset once it was revealed that the Major’s backstory was that she was a human Japanese woman, killed and converted into a “white” cyborg. The weird, inverted parallels to narratives of many transracial adoptees made me seethe.
So of course, I wouldn’t see it.
But then a family member wanted to see it, even after mentioning my contention with the whitewashing, and so I relented.
But right now I’m not sure if I have enough energy or time to expand more on this from a specific adoption perspective. It’s there, tucked away in my brain, but I’ve already written a post on adoption just last month, and honestly, I’d like to take a small break from that for now.
Instead I’m going to make some recommendations for some stories that I’ve loved over the years that deal with GITS‘s unexplored potential with regards to heritage, identity, race, and marginalization. These aren’t meant to be a comprehensive list, again just stories I’ve experienced and enjoyed that seemed relevant, and nothing is listed in any particular order.
I mean, duh.
It’s still in some theaters and also available through Redbox, Amazon, and iTunes.
American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang
I’m incredibly biased, as this was a deeply formative story in my teenage years. American Born Chinese validated my wonky self-perception, knowing that I was Asian but feeling like I “should” be white and that was unfair that I would be forever marked as foreign and the Other, and yet also, knowing that sort of unspoken insecurity was wrong. Not wrong because it reeked of internalized racism, but because that wouldn’t be fit to express in a “post-racial” society, particularly not in a mostly white liberal suburb. American Born Chinese never says the word “racism,” but the harm of it, slurs, stereotypes, and respectability politics, are all explored in a way that’s cathartic and accessible. Its conclusion of self-acceptance without necessarily radical action or systemic change may seem weak, but I feel it’s appropriate. It’s about working on the self before society. As a story, it’s well-crafted, interesting, and compassionate. The art is clean, simple, and expressive. I love many of Yang’s other works (which are also worth checking out) but this one holds a special place in my heart.
Check it out at your local library, bookstore, or comics shop. Or order it through Amazon, whichever.
Iron Man 3 (2013)
Spoiler Warning for Iron Man 3.
I’m not going to spend too much time on this since it’s probably the least connected to even what this list is about but 1) I love Iron Man 3 (possibly my favorite MCU movie but it’s been a while since I last watched) and 2) it has the decency and self-awareness to re-purpose a problematic character like the Mandarin explicitly as a xenophobic caricature and image.
That is, understand the power of whiteness.
It’s not perfect but it actually makes up for the controversy that blew up from just knowing the cast list before the movie’s release, unlike GITS.
You can probably find it in most places that you can buy or rent a movie.
Voltron: Legendary Defender (Season 2)
Spoiler Warning for Voltron: Legendary Defender.
I know Karleen was the only one to gush about Voltron when we recounted last year but I love it too. In fact, I thought the second season was amazing. It’s not perfect (really, it works more as Season 1: Part 2 than as an entire separate season, and those “Hunk never stops thinking about food” jokes need to be laid to rest for a while) but it was exciting, cool, and gave me the character arc that Keith desperately needed, which unexpectedly catapulted him from “Voltron team member I don’t dislike but is my least favorite” to “Top boy, best son.” He’s not adopted and his identity issues fit under the category of science fiction/fantasy metaphors, but even within the context of Keith being part human and part Galra, Voltron takes the time to empathize with his struggles. The show follows him from his desire to know himself, to some level of self-acceptance of a paladin, to awkward and painful reconciliation between him as a person and him as part Galra (both an internal struggle as he tries to figure how he aligns with the Galra and an external struggle with some of his teammates). It may be a metaphor but it’s thoughtfully written and I’m looking forward to what the third season will have in store for him.
It’s available to stream on Netflix.
Get Out (2017)
Yes, I know, you know, everyone knows. But please go see this movie, I beg of you.
I said I wasn’t doing this in any particular order but I will say this is probably the best of them all and the most relevant to GITS as a starting point. The most I will say is that Get Out takes the potential themes of identity, white supremacy, racial alienation, bodily autonomy, and objectification that GITS either made a ham-fisted sandwich out of or remained completely oblivious to, and actually does something with them. It goes the most straightforward route, setting in a contemporary time and place without any muddy metaphors of “cyber enhancements” or distracting indulgence in exotic visions of Japan. It pulls no punches as to what it’s about and doesn’t pretend whiteness is the pinnacle of humanity or human stories. And possibly what’s most important is the voice of the marginalized. The metaphors and genre devices in Get Out work because they are from an often ignored and marginalized perspective. GITS’s paradoxical failure of unaware resonance but ultimate emptiness can be traced back to lacking this key element of authenticity.
Get Out is still in theaters. Go see it.