Scarlett Johansson has it all. Exceedingly successful in her industry, she holds the title of one of the highest paid actresses in the world and portrays Marvel’s Black Widow, former-KGB-agent-turned-Avenger. She’s also snagged the role of a transgender man in the upcoming “Rub & Tug.”
That’s right — Hollywood has cast a cisgender woman to play transgender man Dante “Tex” Gill, the owner of several Pittsburgh brothels that fronted as massage parlors in the 1970s. The “Rub & Tug” character was born a woman but referred to as “Mr. Gill,” and evidence suggests Gill was working towards completing the physical aspect of a sex change.
Johansson is a prosperous, talented actress, the dream of many a casting director. She could play any part in Hollywood, but she chose to accept an offer to portray a character representing one of the most marginalized minorities in the industry: the transgender community.
It must be difficult enough to carve out a space for yourself as a transgender individual in this transphobic society, not to mention the limited supply of transgender roles in Hollywood films forces transgender actors and actresses to compete with cisgender stars for cisgender roles. Even though they are extremely talented and qualified, transphobia acts subconsciously to bias casting directors, making it twice as hard for a transgender individual to land a role.
Some say that the mentality of “only transgender individuals should play transgender characters” equates to ideas like “only straight people should play straight characters,” putting actors in boxes. Although film stars should have the opportunity to explore new and unfamiliar roles, this issue seems more complicated than that.
Jamie Clayton, the “Sense8” actress and transgender woman, expressed her outrage at the situation over Twitter and framed the issue perfectly. Imagine if the industry you had overcome so many hardships and obstacles to break into cast a cisgender woman in one of the few roles you would have been a perfect fit for.
Actors who are trans never even get to audition FOR ANYTHING OTHER THAN ROLES OF TRANS CHARACTERS. THATS THE REAL ISSUE. WE CANT EVEN GET IN THE ROOM. Cast actors WHO ARE TRANS as NON TRANS CHARACTERS. I DARE YOU #RupertSanders @NewRegency #ScarlettJohansson https://t.co/RkrW8MeGcG
— Jamie Clayton (@MsJamieClayton) July 4, 2018
Johansson herself responded to the backlash, encouraging critics to contact the reps of Jeffrey Tambor, Jared Leto and Felicity Huffman. All of these actors are cisgender individuals who portrayed transgender characters in films or television and won awards for their work.
Johansson has been involved in casting controversy before, when she played the role of Japanese cyborg Motoko Kusanagi in the “Ghost in the Shell.” This led to accusations of whitewashing the film — and rightfully so. It simply does not make sense to cast an already successful white woman for a Japanese role, when there are so many talented Japanese women who could have been given the opportunity instead.
Part of the blame for this situation should fall on the casting directors for not making more of an effort to seek out a transgender individual for the role. The rest should be attributed to Scarlett Johansson, who has accepted it, aware that she could be taking a spot away from a marginalized transgender individual.
After all, the concept of turning down a role to make space for an actor from a more underrepresented community is not foreign. Actress Amandla Stenberg was almost cast in “Black Panther,” but dropped the opportunity because she felt that a “darker-skinned” actor would fit the role better than she would, being a “biracial, light-skinned American.”
“‘Black Panther‘ is one of the only films that we have that has darker-skinned representation,” Stenberg elaborated. “That’s what was so beautiful about it.”