Transgender actors fight Scarlett Johansson, Hollywood erasure
Transgender actors have had enough, calling on actress Scarlett Johansson to withdraw from a transgender role in an upcoming movie because of Hollywood’s tendency to cast cisgender actors as transgender characters.
Johansson was supposed to play the role of transgender Pittsburgh crime boss Dante “Tex” Gill in the upcoming movie, “Rub & Tug.”
Gill supposedly ran massage parlors in the 1970s and 80s that were fronts for prostitution dens.
Scarlett Johansson: Following in the footsteps
Johansson’s casting is nothing new as high-profile cisgender actors have been cast as transgender people in different projects before.
Prior to Johansson, there was Jeffrey Tambor in “Transparent,” Jared Leto in “Dallas Buyers Club,” Elle Fanning in “3 Generations,” Felciity Huffman in “Transamerica,” and Eddie Redmayne in “The Danish Girl.”
However, Johansson’s casting drew online criticism from transgender actors, who said hiring of cisgender actors for transgender roles drew away acting opportunities from the LGBT community.
For example, transgender actor Trace Lysette of the Amazon series “Transparent” said: “I wouldn’t be as upset if I was getting in the same rooms as Jennifer Lawrence and Scarlett for cis roles, but we know that’s not the case.”
Meanwhile, trans activist and actor Jen Richards tweeted: “Dear Hollywood, here are the rules we the Trans decided. Until the world stops erasing/oppressing/murdering us, trans women play trans women, trans men play trans men, nonbinary people play NB people.”
“If your project needs a ‘star’ for financing, then it’s simply not good enough,” Richards said.
Johansson, who had earlier drawn criticism for playing an Asian role in the movie, “Ghost in the Shell,” defended her casting by citing other cisgender actors who played trans characters.
Through a representative, she reportedly said: “Tell them that they can be directed to Jeffrey Tambor, Jared Leto, and Felicity Huffman’s reps for comment.”
Scarlett Johansson: A change of heart
Later, Johansson changed her mind and told Out Magazine in a statement that she was withdrawing from the role.
She said: “I have great admiration and love for the trans community and am grateful that the conversation regarding inclusivity in Hollywood continues.”
“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,” Johansson added.
She also cited statistics from GLAAD, the organization monitoring LGBT representation in media: “LGBT characters dropped 40 percent in 2017 from the previous year, with no representation of trans characters in any major studio release.”
In response to Johansson’s decision, Sarah Kate Ellis, GLAAD president and chief executive of Glaad, lauded Johansson and the transgender actors who spoke out, calling them “game changers.”
“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,” Ellis said.
She added, “The film industry has a real opportunity to do the same.”
Lysette also approved, saying that Johansson’s move was in the right direction.
Richards likewise tweeted: “To exhibit the spirit of generosity I earnestly want to see more of, I am going to take Scarlett Johansson at her word that she listened to feedback, realized that despite her intentions this was going to cause harm, and made the right decision to step down.”