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2018:JUN: Controversy:
Actress Scarlett Johansson may
play role of a transgender man.

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Scarlett Johansson 2003 1

Scarlett Ingrid Johansson at the Toronto Film Festival, (2003)

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Part 1

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2018-JUN: Scarlett Johansson asked to play movie role of a transgender man.

Although Caucasian, she starred in the 2017 U.S. science fiction movie Ghost in the Shell, where she and other Caucasians played Asian roles. This "whitewashing" remains a common practice in U.S. film making.

Andrew J. Weaver, an Assistant professor of telecommunications Indiana University's College of Arts and Sciences said:

"There is an assumption in Hollywood that whites would avoid movies with majority black casts, or any race cast for that matter. You see this whitewashing of films –- even films that have minority characters written into them -- are being cast with whites." 2

In this science fiction movie, a secret government project involves the creation of an artificial human body into which a human brain can be inserted. Johansson plays the role of Mira Killian, the sole survivor of a terrorist attack that killed her parents. Her original body was too damaged to repair, and so her brain was transplanted. She later plays the role of a counter-terrorism operative in the movie.

According to Wikipedia:

"In Japan, fans were surprised that the casting had caused controversy, as they had already assumed that a Hollywood production would choose a white actress. They felt the appearance of the protagonist was immaterial due to the franchise's themes of self-identity and the blurring of artificial and natural bodies. The Hollywood Reporter spoke to a group of female Japanese American actors, including Keiko Agena, about the film. The actresses argued that Japanese natives are not upset by the film because of white beauty standards held in Japan. According to Justin Charity of Ringer, "your average Japanese citizen's outlook on diversity is much less influenced by pluralism than the outlooks of many Asian Americans, who live in a country where popular culture rarely represents them well, if at all. Hence, many Japanese Americans may find Johansson's casting in a Ghost in the Shell movie distressing, while native Japanese observers make nothing of it. ..."

"... director Rupert Sanders said of Johansson: "There are very few actresses with 20 years' experience who have the cyber punk ethic already baked in. I stand by my decision -- she's the best actress of her generation." 3,4

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Johansson, a cisgender 5 woman, was initially cast to play the role of Dante “Tex” Gill in Rupert Sanders' crime drama "Rub & Tug." In real life, Gill was a transgender 6 man who operated massage parties in Pittsburgh, PA during the 1970's. They were fronts for prostitution.

Carlos Garcia, writing for The Blaze, said:

"Members of the LGBTQ community and their allies saw the casting as insensitive because they preferred that a transgender 6 role be played by a transgender actor. ..."

Movie reviewer Valerie Complex responded:

"First the Japanese, and now Scarlett Johansson is taking on the trans community with her new crime film Rub and Tug. I can’t wait until her Rosa Parks film comes out."

Comedian Faith Choyce said:

"Scarlett Johansson is playing a trans man in her next movie because her ultimate career goal is to take an acting job from a member of each and every marginalized group."

Screenwriter Steven Canals said:

"We have to stop hiring non-trans actors to play trans characters. In my opinion, it’s equally as traumatic & offensive as black-face. It also shows how lazy, unwoke, and complicit in transphobia you are." 7

Trace Lysette is a high-profile transgender actress. She posted on twitter:

"Oh word? So you can continue to play us but we can’t play y’all?. Hollywood is so fucked. 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. A mess." 8

Jamie Clayton, another high-profile transgender actress, on twitter:

"Actors who are trans never even get to audition for anything other than roles of trans characters. That’s the real issue. We can’t even get in the room. Cast actors who are trans as non trans character. I dare you." 8

When asked for her comment, Johansson discussed other cisgender 6 actors who had portrayed transgender characters to popular acclaim. She said:

"Tell them that they can be directed to Jeffrey Tambor, Jared Leto, and Felicity Huffman’s reps for comment."

These are three cisgender actors who all earned rave reviews and accolades for playing transgender women in film or on television:

  • Jeffrey Tambor won an Emmy for his lead role on Amazon’s comedy series "Transparent,"

  • Jared Leto won an Oscar for "Dallas Buyer’s Club," and

  • Felicity Huffman earned an Oscar nomination for "Transamerica." 8 aerobics.

On JUL-13, reacting to the widespread anger, Johannson decided to drop out of the movie. Rupert Sanders, the director of Rub and Tub, has suggested that the project may be scrapped. 9

She issued a statement to Out Magazine on JUL-13, saying:

"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." 9

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Other controversies continue in Part 2

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Image by Tony Shek. CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons at: https://commons.wikimedia.org/
  2. "IU study looks at why Hollywood blockbusters often lack minority characters," Indiana University, 2011-MAY-12, at: http://newsinfo.iu.edu/
  3. "Ghost in the Shell," Wikipedia, as on 2018-JUL-03, at: https://en.wikipedia.org/
  4. "Whitewashing in film," Wikipedia, as on 2018-JUN-19, at: https://en.wikipedia.org/
  5. "Cisgender" refers to the vast majority of humans who identify their gender as the same as their birth-identified gender.
  6. "Transgender" refers to the about 0.8% of humans who identify their gender as different from their birth-identified gender.
  7. Carlos Garcia, "Scarlett Johansson is playing a transgender person in a movie – and people are angry about it," The Blaze, 2018-JUL-04, at: https://www.theblaze.com/
  8. Zach Sharf, "Trans Actresses Trace Lysette and Jamie Clayton Slam Hollywood After Scarlett Johansson Cast in Transgender Role," Indie Wire, 2018-JUL-04, at: https://www.indiewire.com/
  9. Nick Duffy, "Scarlett Johansson trans movie may be cancelled after star drops out," Pink News, 2018-JUL-17, at: https://www.pinknews.co.uk/

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Original posting: 2018-JUL-05
Latest update : 2018-DEC-18
Author: B.A. Robinson

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