Did you hear about the latest Scarlett Johansson casting debacle?
Here's how a good portion of the internet reacted to the news:
BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO… https://t.co/w595k4Y0v9— ariela (@ariela) 1530670152
In case you missed it, here's a brief recap:
ScarJo was recently cast as Dante "Tex" Gill, a real-life transgender man who oversaw a massage parlor and sex work business in Pittsburgh in the '70s and '80s. A new film about his life, currently titled "Rub & Tug," is being co-produced by Johansson — and, conveniently enough, stars her as well.
But as the previous tweet not-so subtly suggested, many people aren't thrilled about Johansson, who is cisgender, portraying Gill, who was transgender. And rightfully so.
Photo by Angela Weiss/AFP/Getty Images.
But wait! Before you argue, "Well, isn't that what acting is all about — pretending to be somebody you're not?" hear what a few trans actors had to say about the news. Because if anyone should be heard on this issue, it's them.
Jamie Clayton, who starred in "Sense8," wasn't thrilled.
Trans actors don't get nearly the same opportunity as cis artists, she argued, which gets at the heart of the issue.
Trace Lysette, known for her role in "Transparent," also made a similar argument.
If she were getting a seat at the table, things would be different. But those seats are reserved for cis women.
It makes matters worse when those same cis actors are celebrated for playing trans characters when actual trans actors never even had a shot, Lysette continued in a follow-up tweet.
They make a great point.
Very few transgender characters make it onto the big screen, period. But even when they do, those characters are often defined solely by their gender identities, fall into harmful stereotypes, or serve no purpose to the plot other than to be the butt of transphobic jokes.
In recent years, more fully realized trans characters made it into Hollywood narratives. But when they do, too often they're still portrayed by cisgender actors, like Matt Bomer, Jeffrey Tambor — and now Scarlett Johansson.
As Lysette and Clayton noted, it's still rare (read: basically impossible) for trans actors to be cast in cisgender roles. So it's understandably infuriating when the few opportunities that do arise for them are snatched away by cis Hollywood heavyweights who no doubt have a plethora of scripts to choose from.
Beyond affecting the opportunities for trans actors, though, these casting decisions have real-world ramifications as well.
When cisgender actors are cast in transgender roles, it perpetuates the harmful myth that transgender people are simply "in drag" — that they're really just pretending or performing, GLAAD's Nick Adams argued in The Hollywood Reporter:
"Hollywood is having a very difficult time letting go of the idea that putting a male actor in a dress, wig and makeup is an accurate portrayal of a transgender woman. ... It's yet another painful reminder that, in the eyes of so many people, transgender women are really just men. That message is toxic and dangerous."
Casting decisions on Hollywood sets do make a difference in real life, whether we believe it or not.
But maybe there's a way out of this latest casting mess.
First, Johansson can apologize for her incredibly insensitive response to the criticism, as well as her defensive alignment with cis actor Jeffrey Tambor's role as a trans woman in "Transparent" (remember, he allegedly sexually harassed then-assistant Trace Lysette).
Then she can take YouTuber Grace Randolph's idea and run with it:
"I hope the Scarlett Johansson controversy doesn't keep the amazing story of Jean Marie Gill aka Dante 'Tex' Gill from being told. If Johansson was smart, she'd find a new director, take the role of Tex's girlfriend Cynthia, and give a trans actor a big break."
I hope the Scarlett Johansson controversy doesn't keep the amazing story of Jean Marie Gill aka Dante "Tex" Gill fr… https://t.co/xW4hrMpI5I— Grace Randolph (@Grace Randolph) 1530674713
That's not a bad idea, really. Hopefully someone in Hollywood is listening.