Happy Independence Day, all my United States of American readers (hi, dad!). This is the Finest Nerd Czarina, and I hate the news.
Today in entertainment, Scarlett Johansson has been cast to play a transgender man in the upcoming film Rub & Tug. I shouldn’t have to explain why this is a problem, but I will. The character, Dante Gill, is a man. Yes, he was assigned female at birth, but he identified and lived his life as a man. Scarlett Johanson is a cisgender woman. That means that she identifies as the gender that was assigned to her at birth, which happens to be female. The bits between her legs match the bits between her ears. Given all this, how can it be possible for her to accurately portray a trans man?
Let’s put it another way. If a movie was to be made about Martin Luther King, Jr. would Viola Davis be cast as him? No. She is a great actress, absolutely, but MLK Jr. was a man; it’d make no sense for her, as a woman, to play him in a movie. This isn’t a matter of the actor’s skill, or their choice to take on a challenging role. This is a matter of media representation: A trans character should be played by a trans actor. Is it good that a transgender person is being represented at all in a mainstream movie? Of course it is. But casting a woman to play him is so problematic. Trans men are not “really” women. The LGBT community would be thrilled to see a trans actor get a few minutes in the limelight, rather than largely be disgusted at this choice.
Scarlett Johansson is no stranger to casting controversy, as she was cast in the lead role of Major / Makoto Kusanagi in 2017’s Ghost in the Shell. If you’re thinking that a name like Makoto Kusanagi sounds very Japanese, and are also noticing that Scarlett Johansson is very Caucasian, you would be correct on both counts. Those of you who aren’t fans of Anime or manga: The movie was based on a Japanese media franchise that started in 1989, so naturally, everything about it is quite Japan-centric. At the time, Johansson explained her choice to take the role as, essentially, “girl power”. In response to the controversy surrounding this film, she pointed fingers at other mainstream cisgender actors who had also been cast in transgender roles. All of that is wrong, though, Scarlett. That includes your choice to accept this role, as well. Saying, “Well, so-and-so has done it before” isn’t making your choice any less distasteful. Obviously, Johansson isn’t the only one to blame for this; Rupert Sanders, who directed both films, really ought to know better. Anyone in charge of the casting of this movie should have chosen better. It is unfortunate that Johansson is essentially the face behind the controversy when there is a whole team of people who are just as wrong about this situation as she is.
The solution to the Rub & Tug casting dilemma is simple: Cast a trans actor. They are out there. They are probably not “big names” because they aren’t cis white actors, but they do exist, and it is an untapped resource for Big Hollywood. It’s the same for any character. Black character? Hire a black actor. Biracial character? Hire a biracial actor. Character of size? Hires an actor of size (not someone in a fucking fat suit). Gay character? Hire a gay actor. Character who uses a wheelchair? Hire an actor who uses a wheelchair. You catch my drift. There isn’t a shortage of entertainers in Hollywood. There are certainly enough of them to be able to be representative of all kinds of characters, and newsflash: All of us want to be represented in the media.
[UPDATE 7/14/2018] ScarJo has decided to step down from this role.
And not by Scarlett Johansson.