By Genevieve Rota
Scarlett Johansson has issued a short and dismissive statement defending her reported new role as a transgender man, sparking anger online.
The actress is set to star in Rupert Sanders’ upcoming movie Rub & Tug, about the underground sex industry in 1970s Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Johansson will portray Jean Marie Gill, who owned a massage parlour and was an integral part of the scene at the time.
The problem with Johansson’s casting is that Gill was a transgender man who was assigned female at birth, and spent most of his life identifying as a man.
Rather than cast a transgender man to take on the role of Gill, therefore allowing the story to be told from a place of first-hand experience, Johansson, a cisgender female, will be taking the lead – and Twitter is not happy.
A number of people called the casting out online, describing it as problematic.
Johansson today responded to the criticism by issuing a short responsive statement to Bustle, via her representatives.
“Tell them that they can be directed to Jeffrey Tambor, Jared Leto, and Felicity Huffman’s reps for comment,” the statement said.
Tambor, Leto and Huffman are all cisgender actors who have played transgender characters in recent years – Transparent, Dallas Buyers Club and Transamerica, respectively.
While her representatives’ referencing in itself was somewhat problematic, what was most concerning about Johansson’s statement was the dismissiveness, which seemed to only insulted those in the LGBTQI+ community further.
Sanders, who ultimately has the most say in who will be cast in the film, has yet to comment.
This is not the first time Johansson’s casting has been the centre of an uproar: In 2015, she was heavily criticised for taking the role of Major Motoko Kusanagi, a Japanese manga character in the film Ghost in the Shell.
The actress and the film’s creators – it was also directed by Sanders – were accused of whitewashing, which Johansson subtly denied in a 2017 interview with Marie Claire.
“I certainly would never presume to play another race of a person,” she told the publication. “Diversity is important in Hollywood, and I would never want to feel like I was playing a character that was offensive.”