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Just say no - Scarlett Johansson's latest inexcusable role


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Some people never learn, and apparently Hollywood stalwarts are no exception. For the second time in as many years, Scarlett Johansson has signed on to play a role that, simply put, should have gone to somebody else.  

In 2017, she could be seen playing Major Mira Killian/Motoko Kusanagi in Ghost in the Shell- Rupert Sanders' film adaptation of Masamune Shirow's Japanese manga of the same name. That a white, North American actress had been cast as a Japanese character was blatant whitewashing, and with the dust just settled somewhat around that controversy, Johansson has found herself embroiled in yet another one.

It was recently announced that she and Sanders will be joining forces once again for the biopic Rub and Tug in which Johansson- a cisgender woman- will be portraying Dante "Tex" Gill, a transgender man who owned illicit massage parlours in 1970s Pittsburgh. Some on Twitter have leapt to her defence, arguing that it is not fair for Johansson to be the sole recipient of the backlash, given the director and casting team's role in failing to cast a trans actor to play Gill.

Nevertheless, Johansson's career has seen her in more starring roles than most actors can dream of obtaining in a lifetime: She does not need to play this role. She is far from a struggling actress having to work any job she can get to stay afloat. In many ways, this fact adds insult to injury; she was born and raised in New York City - one of the most diverse places in the world - and is now one of the richest actresses in the world. There is therefore no excuse for her not to have educated herself in issues that relate not only to society at large, but also her professional field.

Transgender actress Trace Lysette, who features on the web seriesTransparent, denounced Johansson's casting on Twitter by drawing attention to the important fact that Hollywood is notoriously unwelcoming to transgender actors. As she 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". In the same vein, Sense 8's Jamie Clayton responded to the casting by highlighting that "actors who are trans never even get to audition FOR ANYTHING OTHER THAN ROLES OF TRANS CHARACTERS".

If Johansson's accepting of the role of Gill is ignorant, her statement in response to the criticism received for it is on another level; referencing other cisgender actors who have portrayed transgender characters, she responded "Tell them [critics] that they can be directed to Jeffrey Tambor, Jared Leto, and Felicity Huffman’s reps for comment.”  

This statement reeks of ignorance and arrogance; it is the ultimate act of privilege for Johansson to be able to accept that role in the first place, let alone respond so ignorantly and insensitively, safe in the knowledge that in Hollywood she is pretty much untouchable. Unfortunately, it is unlikely that she will experience any real consequences from this decision- with the exception of another hefty paycheque, of course. 

As a wealthy white woman living in the US with access to some of the most advanced resources in the world, for Johansson not to understand (or not to care about) the significance of her decision is inexcusable. It is not difficult to educate oneself, nor is it asking too much of her to pay heed to what other people are telling her, swallow her pride, and admit she made a poor choice. 

She does not need this opportunity, but somebody else does.  With her platform and audience, had she rejected the role she could have helped to contribute and bring more attention to an important discussion on the position of marginalised groups- particularly transgender people- in the Western world. In other ways, her accepting of the role has indirectly achieved that anyway, but the fact still stands: her ignorance will be rewarded with money, and maybe even critical acclaim.

In future ScarJo, for your own reputation if nothing else, when you’re offered a role- unless it’s that of a straight, white, cisgender woman- you should probably just say no. 

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