Scarlett Johansson is taking heat (again) after she signed on to play a role that would, according to her critics, be more fittingly portrayed by an underrepresented minority in Hollywood.
On Tuesday, it was announced that the three-time Golden Globe nominee would star in Rub & Tug, taking on the role of Dante “Tex” Gill, a transgender man operating a massage parlor with ties to Pittsburgh’s underground sex industry in the 1970s.
The inevitable backlash was swift in its onset: Dante “Tex” Gill is a transgender man; Scarlett Johansson is a cisgender woman—why not find a trans actor to play the part?
Of course, Johansson was ready for the wave of hate—she dealt with similar backlash over her portrayal of a character in the 2017 Manga-inspired film Ghost in the Shell (also directed by Rub & Tug's Rupert Sanders), which critics suggested should have been played by an Asian actor.
ScarJo’s rep had a comment ready for critics of her latest casting announcement: "Tell them that they can be directed to Jeffrey Tambor, Jared Leto, and Felicity Huffman's reps for comment," said her representative, referring to cisgender actors who have portrayed trans characters in the past (Tambor in Transparent; Leto in 2013's Dallas Buyer's Club; Huffman in 2005's Transamerica).
Interestingly enough, Tambor (who was cast to play a trans woman in 2014) has said on multiple occasions that after listening to his critics, he now believes that trans roles should be given to trans actors. So we can assume that his reps, at least, would probably agree with Johansson's detractors.
Trans actors Trace Lysette and Jamie Clayton both responded to Johansson’s comment on social media:
While the ideal would be to cast a trans actor to play a trans character (a seemingly straightforward concept), Evan Urquhart, a trans man, had another suggestion for how Hollywood can address these kinds of casting decisions when in search of an A-list actor to drive ticket sales.
"Hollywood does rely on big-name stars to carry big movies, and I’m not aware of any trans actors who have the name recognition of Johansson at the moment," wrote Urquhart on Slate. "So in lieu of the ideal, I’d like to advance a simple alternative that seems to be very rarely considered: Cast cis men to play trans men, and cis women to play trans women."
He continues, "Cisgender men can play trans men more realistically than women can because they are, well, men."