Scarlett Johansson is at it again. After her notorious casting as a canonically Asian character in Ghost In The Shell, she has now accepted the role of a transgender man in upcoming film, Rub & Tug. Unsurprisingly, she has faced heavy criticism for her decision.
Rub & Tug will tell the life story of 1970s Pittsburgh crime boss, Dante "Tex" Gill, with Johansson in the leading role. Though an obituary in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette refers to him as a "she" throughout, Dante – who died in 2003 – identified as a man and asked to be called "Mr Gill”. It was believed he had undergone the initial stages of gender-reassignment surgery, too.
Johansson’s choice to play Dante has raised eyebrows and valid questions – notably, why couldn’t they have just found a trans man to play the role? And, further to that, why is Johansson physically incapable of turning anything down?
Her casting has gone down about as well as the last time she took on a role which characterised someone from a minority group, just a year ago in Ghost In The Shell, where she played Major Motoko Kusanagi, who was originally written as Asian. The big-budget movie, based on a film adaptation of a popular Japanese manga, was universally considered a flop, earning just $19m at the box office over its opening weekend, compared to its $110m budget and Entertainment Weekly’s modest prediction it would earn at least $30m. A paramount executive claimed the film may have been doomed from the start because of the film’s whitewashing controversy.
Given the dearth of minority actors in Hollywood, it certainly says something when they are even shut out from depicting roles that portray their own identities
Clearly, the lesson hasn’t been learned by any party involved – Rupert Sanders, who directed Ghost In The Shell, is even set to direct the new biopic. Some have argued that the controversy around her casting is unfounded, arguing that an actor's job is to take on roles that are different to who they are in real life. But given the dearth of minority actors in Hollywood, it certainly says something when they are even shut out from depicting roles that portray their own identities.
“I think Scarlett Johansson & other white CIS actors could ask themselves ‘When I take this role playing someone from a marginalised group, how often do actors from that group get to play, say, Black Widow?’” one Twitter user summarised.
Seemingly hellbent on angering as many people as possible, when asked for comment a representative for Johansson reportedly gave one from the actor herself.
"Tell them that they can be directed to Jeffrey Tambor, Jared Leto, and Felicity Huffman's reps for comment," it said. It was a heavy-handed reference to other actors who have played trans roles.
Johansson is one of the most famous actors in Hollywood and hardly starved of role offers, money, critical acclaim or fame. Perhaps it’s time she used that privilege and power to aid people other than herself.