Scarlett Johansson Responds to Trans Backlash [Updated]

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!!Update!!

Scarlett Johansson announced today that she decided to leave the part. Here is her official statement:

"In light of recent ethical questions raised surrounding my casting as Dante Tex Gill, I have decided to respectfully withdraw my participation in the project. Our cultural understanding of transgender people continues to advance, and I’ve learned a lot from the community since making my first statement about my casting and realize it was insensitive. I have great admiration and love for the trans community and am grateful that the conversation regarding inclusivity in Hollywood continues. According to GLAAD, LGBTQ+ characters dropped 40% in 2017 from the previous year, with no representation of trans characters in any major studio release. While I would have loved the opportunity to bring Dante’s story and transition to life, I understand why many feel he should be portrayed by a transgender person, and I am thankful that this casting debate, albeit controversial, has sparked a larger conversation about diversity and representation in film. I believe that all artists should be considered equally and fairly. My production company, These Pictures, actively pursues projects that both entertain and push boundaries. We look forward to working with every community to bring these most poignant and important stories to audiences worldwide"

GLAAD president and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis issued a separate statement, in response to Johansson's decision to step down from Rub & Tug (per Variety):

"Scarlett Johansson’s announcement, together with the transgender voices who spoke out about this film, are game changers for the future of transgender images in Hollywood. Hollywood changed how Americans understand gay and lesbian lives, and TV is starting to do the same for transgender people with authentic transgender portrayals being major hits with critics and audiences. The film industry has a real opportunity to do the same.

The original article follows:

As one of the most popular and easily recognized actresses on the planet, Scarlett Johansson is no doubt full of interesting offers. Someone of her talents attracts a certain style of movie, and that has been the case for the longest time. However, part of the criticism that often comes her way is just that: she has taken on so many different kinds of roles.

That might seem an odd critique of an actress. However, it’s the fact that Johansson has taken on so many roles in recent times that would be far more suitable for someone else. Take Ghost in the Shell, for example, much critique was sent her way due to being a poor representation of the character she played.

Scarlet Johansson in Ghost in The Shell

Part of the new problem, though, is her take on Dante Gill in Rub & Tug. This interesting mob drama is one that should be worth your time looking into, but the fact that Johansson will play a trans male in the movie. Given that she ‘whitewashed’ her character in Ghost in the Shell, this repeat of the same controversy has many people asking: just what roles are left for people who are actually suited to it?

According to April Reign, one of the people behind the #OscarsSoWhite campaign, the problem is this: “Scarlett Johansson received considerable backlash for Ghost in the Shell, when she played a whitewashed Asian character. The movie tanked. Undeterred, she has teamed up WITH THE SAME DIRECTOR to play a trans male character in Rub & Tug.”

April Reign

Sadly, given the opportunity to speak about why she felt she was the right choice for the role, Johansson done nothing of the sort. Instead, she responded by saying about complaints: “Tell them that they can be directed to Jeffrey Tambor, Jared Leto, and Felicity Huffman’s reps for comment.”

Two strikes and out?

After playing Major Motoko Kusanagi in Ghost in the Shell, this latest controversy merely adds another layer to the argument. After being seen to ‘whitewash’ a role made for an Asian, she’s now seen as someone who is going to ‘transface’ another key role. It’s all a very challenging act to balance out: directors want actors and actresses that the whole work knows.

Dante Gill, Can Scarlet pull it off?

This means often putting stars into roles they should probably have avoided. Appropriation is a very big topic at present, and this is only sure to help fuel the fire even further. Some people, though, hope that the backlash here will help them to further explain to others why they feel so strongly about this particular train of thought: and why they want to do more to help avoid appropriation in such stark terms.

What do you think? Should she have got the role? Could the role have been used to launch the career of a trans artist, instead?

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