“Scarlett Johansson issued this comment to Bustle via a representative: “Tell them that they can be directed to Jeffrey Tambor, Jared Leto, and Felicity Huffman’s reps for comment.”” This is what she would say to an entire demographic of people experiencing discimination daily. People expressing frustration over something that has happened again and again. The concern she is replying to? Her being cast to play a transgender man in an upcoming film. The message Scarlett Johansson would tell my son, aspiring trans actors, trans fans, and their families? Sarcasm. Biting sarcasm that shows a lack of character.
A little more than a year ago I wrote about this before. I had asked the question, is trans entertainment without representation alienation? I wrote this inspired by an op/ed written by a 16 year old transgender teen in Teen Vogue. Grace Dolan-Sandrino was tired of Hollywood casting cis actors to tell trans stories. She told the story of watching Elle Fanning play a trans young man in the movie “3 Generations”. She spoke about how it missed the mark not only in performance, but in writing and directing. As a trans parent, I read. I saw her point. The story was lacking and further perpetuating myths that are not true about the trans community.
I shared the post on social media. A friend of mine who was an entertainer/actor saw it and posted it on her social media. Then I got to hear the wisdom of a cis het white male with experience in community theater and ren fairs cis plain everything this teen author on Teen Vogue does not understand. The 16 year old he decided to speak down to instead of listen to was quite accomplished. She was a student at the prestigious Duke Ellington School of the Arts. But he reminded her, and every trans person that they are wrong and that casting should only be about who is the best actor and nothing more. And, he felt, the trans person should be grateful that they were moved from their stories not being told to their stories being told poorly and without their input and involvement. Like any poor ally, he claimed to be on “their” side.
What’s the Harm in a Cis Actor Playing a Trans?
The first piece of harm is the myth that transgender people hear all the time. I have seen TERF’s and others tell my son he is nothing more than a confused lesbian dressing as a man. One of the reasons so many trans women face violent assault and murder is that they are seen as men wearing dresses trying to disguise and confuse poor and unsuspecting men at bars. The myth that a trans man is nothing more than a girl in boys clothes and a trans woman is a guy dressing up as a women is perpetuated when we continue to cast cisgender people of the opposite gender they are portraying. Johansson playing a cis man, no matter how good her performance, will be forever associated as a woman dressed as a man.
The other piece of harm it does is it is one less role and one less job for a transgender person in the arts. Transgender people not only suffer violence and lack of civil rights, they also face lack of jobs and income opportunities. The sheer amount of homeless transgender people is alarming and horrifying. So many in Hollywood claim to oppose Trump and the people who create this world of inequity, yet they cannot cast and hire with diversity? This casting of trans actors is not as impossible as people would think. CNN gave a list of transgender actors that could have played the role.
Doesn’t Johansson Have A Point About Other Actors?No. All she did was illustrate that she has just gone down in cinematic history forever preserved as yet another example of the problem. She not only provided the list, but it was an incomplete list. It was a list that includes Tambor who wished himself to be the last cis person cast in a trans role. Leto has said his would probably pass on the role if offered it today with what he knows now. As far as Huffman? In a Huffington Post interview, she agrees with and understands those who were upset with her being cast.
What about “Avengers” co-star Mark Ruffalo? He produced a movie that cast yet another cis actor in a trans role. He announced the casting with great pride. When he heard the backlash, he expressed deep and sincere apologies that acknowledged, and not belittled with sarcasm, the pain of members of the transgender community.
I hear some defenders that will say, it is not an actor’s fault they were cast. Well, the could have taken a pass. If Harrison Ford were asked to do blackface to play a black person is a film written and directed by a bunch of white guys, I suspect he would pass. I hope I am right.
Historically I have been a fan of Scarlett Johansson. Additionally, I have also been a fan of all things Marvel and Avengers decades prior to the movie franchise. Out of principle and as a man who claims to love and support his son I make choices. I choose to stop watching Scarlett Johansson and I stop supporting the Marvel Universe until she apologizes. I know my money and fandom does not amount to much of a loss for her or the production companies. This is not about punishment. This is about my inability to support anyone who would be so crass as to say what she said in response to a fair criticism.
It is my hope that she recants her prior statement.
I hope this is the last time I write about this issue.
I doubt either will happen.
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