Engendered derision: Scarlett Johansson defends trans role
Actress courts controversy after defending taking the part of a transgender man in gangster biopic
Scarlett Johansson has caused upset and offence after showing little remorse for taking on the role of a transgender man in a forthcoming film.
In Rub and Tug, Johansson will play Dante “Tex” Gill, a brothel owner and mobster in 1970s Pittsburgh who, although born female, assumed the identity of a man. The casting decision has proved controversial.
There are increasing calls for Hollywood to improve the diversity of people it puts on the screen, as well as the belief held by some that transgender roles should be played by transgender people.
Furthermore, Johansson and Rub and Tug’s director Rupert Sanders are not immune to such controversy. In 2017, Sanders directed Johansson in Ghost in the Shell, an adaptation of the Japanese manga of the same name, which sparked accusations of whitewashing after Johansson, a white woman, played Motoko Kusanagi, a Japanese character.
But while other actors who have faced a backlash over similar casting decisions have stepped away from the role (white actor Ed Skrein left the Hellboy reboot after being cast in a Japanese/American role), Johansson appears to have little remorse.
“Tell them that they can be directed to Jeffrey Tambor, Jared Leto and Felicity Huffman’s reps for comment,” she said in a statement printed by US feminist culture website Bustle.
The move has only served to fan the flames: Tambor, Leto and Huffman were cast in transgender roles, with Leto winning an Oscar for his portrayal of Rayon, a transgender woman living with HIV.
However, Tambor is an even more contentious choice of comparison. The 73-year-old won an Emmy for his portrayal of Maura, a transgender woman in Transparent, but was later fired from the show after being accused of sexual harassment by two of his transgender colleagues.
‘Root of violence’
Johansson has incited upset and anger on social media and in online commentary. As Jen Richards, a transgender actress, put it in 2016, the casting of cisgender people (those whose gender identity matches their birth sex) in transgender roles could “exacerbate the cultural belief that trans women are really men, which is the root of violence against us”.
In 2017, 28 transgender people died in the US as a result of violence, the highest number recorded. So far in 2018, at least 14 transgender people have been fatally shot or killed by other kinds of violence.
– © The Daily Telegraph