Whoever is advising Scarlett Johansson on what roles to take needs to be fired immediately.
The actress recently announced that she will be playing a trans man in the movie Rub and Tug, based on the true story of crime boss Tex Gill.
There has already been extreme backlash from the trans community, as well as from the general public, and for good reason. There are so many amazing trans actors who can’t get work, who can’t even get an audition. And by taking the role, Scarlett has directly taken away an opportunity, a rare opportunity, for one of these actors.
Of course, defenders of Scarlett have already shot back with “She’s an actor! That’s what actors do!”
But there inherently lies the problem. By allowing a cisgendered person to play a trans person, we are implying that transness is a role that someone can put on, not an identity. We would never expect a white actress to play someone who was Mexican American or Asian (oh wait, Scarjo totally did that too.)
Of course, acting directly asks that a person take on a new persona. But there are some lines that cannot be crossed. We ask deaf actors to play deaf parts, we ask those with down syndrome to play characters with down syndrome, this should be no different.
Scarlett is certainly not the first cis person to play a trans person on screen, a fact she was quick to point out in her manager-issued statement. She cited actors like Jared Leto in Dallas Buyers Club and Felicity Huffman in Transamerica.
But those were years ago and things have changed so much since. Hell, things have changed tremendously in the last year. People like Laverne Cox, Jazz Jennings, and Janet Mock are household names. We have a TV show, Pose, with a large trans cast, and we have a fierce trans activist community.
What was ok then is not ok now. And it’s time we all accept that.