Unfair representation is an issue that is particularly prevalent in the film industry today. So, why would you choose Scarlett Johansson to represent a transgender man?
You only have to look at the statistics to see that there’s a real lack of diversity in the film industry. For example, in a study of 900 popular movies from 2007 to 2016 only 1.1 % of speaking actors identified as LGBT+. And looking back at casting choices over just the last few years provides countless examples of inequality where actors and actresses of minority groups failed to gain the recognition they rightfully deserved. The Theory of Everything (2015), saw an able-bodied actor play the role of a disabled man. Ghost in the Shell (2017) is one of many cases of ‘whitewashing’ with Johansson being cast in the role of a Japanese character by director, Rupert Sanders.
I understand that sometimes making decisions can be difficult… I often struggle to decide what to choose for lunch, so I certainly wouldn’t want to be in the shoes of a director picking the cast for their next film. However some decisions are simple, especially when it comes to transgender actors being able to play trans characters in films. This is why I really don’t understand why directors are continuing to cast cisgender actors in transgender roles.
And 2018 marks another poor decision from Johannsson and Sanders, as the latter decided to cast Johansson as a transgender man in upcoming film, Rub and Tug. Sanders chose Johansson to star as Dante ‘Tex’ Grill whose massage parlours in Pittsburgh concealed the underground sex scene in Pittsburgh during the 70’s. Grill was assigned female at birth but identified as male, meaning that Johansson’s casting caused quite the backlash from the trans community.
In a series of tweets Indya Moore put forward how it’s impossible for a cisgender woman to tell a transgender man’s story.
‘U can’t create projects about the experience of trans people without using trans people as you are deligitimizing trans peoples respect as men and women.
And: ‘ cis people cannot tell trans stories- don’t have the range. If they did they would emp empathize with the reality of how problematic, dismissive and fetishizing this is.’
However, unlike her role in Ghost in the Shell, which Johannsson went on to play, she decided to drop out of this part after the backlash received by the transgender community.
Johansson was met with praise from Ivory Aquino, a transgender woman, for withdrawing from the role,“it definitely has reignited this conversation, and it was so inspiring to see so many people in the community band together.”
Whilst it’s great that Johansson’s withdrawal from the film has sparked conversation, it’s just one small step in the right direction to ensure that transgender actors gain the recognition they deserve in the film industry. A lot of the controversy surrounding the issue has been concentrated on transgender roles being played by cisgender actors. Take Jared Leto’s role in Dallas Buyers Club (2013), for example.
However, for true equality to take place in the industry, transgender actors need to be offered roles in films that don’t include plot lines involving transgender characters. It needs to become the norm for transgender actors, as well as other minority groups, to be considered for roles, along with the typical A-listers who we see time and time again.
Jennifer Finnley Boylan suggests:
True inclusion would be when a lawyer is written on a TV show that doesn’t have anything to do with being disabled, and [the studio says], ‘Why don’t we cast that guy in a wheelchair?’ ” Sullivan said — or sub “guy in a wheelchair” with “woman,” “queer person” or “person of color.”
Transgender actresses Jamie Clayton and Trace Lysette have expressed the same point of view in tweets in response to Scarlett Johansson’s casting as Tex Grill.
Trace Lysette tweeted:
‘ 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.’
‘A mess’ really does describe inequality in the film industry at the moment. The saddest part is that film can be used as a medium to educate and inspire, yet all that it’s showing us is just how unfair the world we live in is.
What do you think? Was Scarlett Johansson right to step down? Can cisgender actors authentically portray the stories of transgender characters?
Text: Chaz Pond
Images: Jun Sato/Getty Images for Paramount Picture, Pittsburgh Post Gazette, Taylor Hill, Focus Features
@IndyaMoore on Twitter, Austin Hargrave, @MsJamieClayton on Twitter.