US actress Scarlett Johansson will play a transgender man in her next film but has come under fire for her choice. Picture: AFP Photo / Jean-Baptiste Lacroix
US actress Scarlett Johansson will play a transgender man in her next film but has come under fire for her choice. Picture: AFP Photo / Jean-Baptiste Lacroix

Fury over Scarlett Johansson’s new role

SCARLETT Johansson is no stranger to accusations of cultural appropriation, having played a "whitewashed" Asian character in the movie flop .

Now she's under fire again - this time for gender appropriation - with her decision to be cast as a transgender man in the mob movie, Rub & Tug.

 

Scarlett Johansson has responded to backlash over her decision to play a transgender character in her latest film. Picture: Getty Images
Scarlett Johansson has responded to backlash over her decision to play a transgender character in her latest film. Picture: Getty Images

 

When faced with criticism which went viral on social media, Johansson, 33, responded via a representative to online magazine Bustle with the statement: "Tell them that they can be directed to Jeffrey Tambor, Jared Leto, and Felicity Huffman's reps for comment" - referring to the fact that those actors are cisgender and have played transgender characters, and received awards and critical acclaim for their portrayals.

 

Scarlett Johansson has supported social justice equality movements but has dismissed criticism about her transgender film role. Picture: Andrew Toth/Getty Images
Scarlett Johansson has supported social justice equality movements but has dismissed criticism about her transgender film role. Picture: Andrew Toth/Getty Images

 

In the film Rub & Tug, Johansson will potentially portray a massage parlour owner named Dante "Tex" Gill, who - according to Vulture - is a "transmasculine crime boss".

However, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette calls the real-life Gill a lesbian "who dressed like a man in suits and ties, wore short hair and sideburns and preferred to be called 'Mr. Gill.'"

According to differing reports, it is ambiguous whether or not the real-life Gill had actually undergone gender reassignment surgery or just "passed" as male in life.

 

Scarlett Johansson has lent her support to feminist causes but has alienated some gender activists with her decision to play a transgender character. Picture: Chelsea Guglielmino/Getty Images)
Scarlett Johansson has lent her support to feminist causes but has alienated some gender activists with her decision to play a transgender character. Picture: Chelsea Guglielmino/Getty Images)

If Gill was indeed transgender it will be problematic for Johansson to portray a transman when she identifies as a cisgender woman. Already, Twitter users are torpedoing the film with criticism before it has even begun.

Whereas there is a long tradition of cisgender actors playing trans characters to critical acclaim, the paradigm has shifted in recent years with the transgender movement increasing awareness and visibility of gender-authentic casting.

Transamerica, which earned Feclicity Huffman an Oscar nomination for Best Actress, was made in 2005-years before the transgender rights movement reached its "tipping point" through the work of actor-activists such as Laverne Cox.

Now, some compare cross-gender casting to the antiquated tradition of "blackface".

Others feel that Johansson seems tone deaf or out of touch with today's identity politics and social justice movements by even mentioning Jeffrey Tambor as an acting role model after the Transparent actor was fired for inappropriately touching his transgender castmate.

Or is Johansson just another mainstream Hollywood star with a pattern of appropriating minority identities for her own artistic goals?

Ghost in the Shell, which was a box office disappointment, was directed by Rupert Sanders, who will also direct Rub & Tug.

It remains to be seen whether Sanders and his star will authentically address the concerns around gender representation that social media users have raised.

However, there may be a bigger problem ahead for Johansson who does not bear any physical resemblance at all to Gill, leaving some to wonder how she will make the physical transformation for the role - gender aside.


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