As the spectre of this year’s GHOST IN THE SHELL adaptation starring Scarlett Johansson still haunts sci-fi enthusiasts and anime fans everywhere, the impending premiere of yet another cyber-punk dystopia where an Asian person is reborn in a white body is definitely is definitely ripe for…something. Controversy, for sure. Blinding rage, potentially. Productive conversation? Also a possibility.
Netflix just dropped the trailer and release date for their new original sci-fi series ALTERED CARBON, based on the 2002 novel of the same name by Richard K. Morgan. The plot takes place far in the future, when humans have conquered space (hello, interstellar imperialism) and essentially conquered death; now, instead of human souls & minds shuffling off this mortal coil along with their decaying bodies, a brain’s memories, personality, etc.–everything that makes you, you, minus the packaging–can simply be saved and reuploaded into a new body after death.
The protagonist of our journey into this world is Takeshi Kovacs, an at-least-partially-Japanese ex-military man who is “re-sleeved” into the body of a white cop named Elias Ryker in order to help solve the murder of one of the richest men in the galaxy.
The trailer begins as a sort of Black Mirror-y sort of advertisement for the death-defying procedure called “Psychasec” that invites its elite clientele to “live forever, in the body you deserve,” before warping and glitching into plot-teasing flashes that reveal glimpses of the conflict to come.
Notably, there are two people playing protagonist Takeshi Kovacs–Asian-American actor Will Yun Lee (THE WOLVERINE) and Joel Kinneman (SUICIDE SQUAD.) We only see Kinneman in the trailer, so we have to wonder–will Lee’s role be relegated to flashbacks? Or will he be doing some kind of voice-over narration throughout? Both? Is this white-washing?
It’s not the same as GHOST IN THE SHELL–wherein a character that had always been read as ethnically Japanese in the manga and anime had ScarJo conveniently shoe-horned into the “shell” narrative. As The Mary Sue points out, in the original story, Takeshi Kovacs is explicitly re-sleeved into a white body–but in the prose’s point-of-view, it’s not the white guy we’re seeing or hearing, the white guy we’re identifying with–Takeshi, not Elias, is the lens through which we see the world. But how will they translate that in a visual medium?
To be honest, I haven’t read the book, so I can’t speak to how the author deals with race. It may be that, because of the whole body-switching concept, the universe was conceived as a post-racial society. But we’re not in a post-racial society–on the contrary, we’re living in times when having non-white narratives and characters represented onscreen feels more crucial than ever. If this show could deal with these themes outright, unpack the implications of being able to choose a new body for your next life–a different race, a different gender, a different class, a different everything, “the body you deserve”–while keeping a Japanese character center-stage, it could be groundbreaking.
On the other hand, it could easily be a sadsack Ghost in the Shell sequel. Maybe it would have been better to diverge from the canon to simply cast a Asian character with an Asian body–a concept that shouldn’t be so groundbreaking. What do you think?
Via The Verge