Scarlett Johansson Drops Out Of Transgender Role In 'Rub And Tug'

Here’s the story.

She’d been taking heat from the transgender community for the role. She clearly felt the game just wasn’t worth the candle. I guess in future she’ll have to play only straight females. OK, that’s a reductio ad absurdum but there is a question of some importance here. Must actors confine themselves to roles of their own gender, sexuality, race, etc? Must Othello be played by a Moor, the hero of My Left Foot by a disabled person, and so on and so forth? The problem is that if we go down that road it’ll be even harder for minorities. “Sorry, the character is a white heterosexual male. You’re gay. Next, please!”

Yeah, I’m all for inclusion and representation in entertainment, it is a an area that needs a constant focus to do better.

Having said that, I also believe that one of the points of some acting is to inhabit the skin of the character who is different than you as a person. So, a young person plays an old person, a midwestern farm kid plays a king of england, a shy person plays an outgoing person, and yes, people should be allowed to act roles of characters that are not their race or gender or physical capabilities.

And due to the economics of movie making, getting a star to play the role offers a better chance at attracting funding and making money in the box office. If you want to make a big budget film, you need a star.

But, again, the powers that be can do better at expanding their viewpoint on casting and telling stories of underrepresented peoples.

On the one hand, that’s ridiculous. It’s called “Acting” for a reason. And what if the role is a one-eyed, one-armed gay Sherpa, and there just isn’t one available for the role? (or one does exist, and he’s a terrible actor!) Then what?

On the other hand, if you cast Tom Cruise as your gay Sherpa, and there really ARE several SAG one-eyed, one-armed Sherpa actors (gay or straight), how many other roles are out there for them? If you don’t cast them where they actually fit, are you going to cast them in the next rom com? The next Disney flick?

I wish I knew the answers. But the real question is, when is Hollywood going to stop defaulting to straight white guys in roles that are not “something-something”? Why not cast the 1E1AGS as the bank teller in the next film, or the killer on L&O, or the wacky neighbor?

I’m sure the movie will be a hit starring some transgender actor that no one has ever heard of.

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Scarlett Johanssen not up for another round of controversy overshadowing her work? I guess I’ll also have to make a note to watch the box office on this one.

I would take people upholding the principle of acting freedom a lot more seriously if I hadn’t seen a lot of those same people complaining when the role of a white male character is recast and given to a minority or female actor.

“Oh no, Idris Elba can’t play Heimdall. Heimdall’s supposed to be white. Halle Berry can’t play Catwoman. Catwoman’s supposed to be white. Katee Sackhoff can’t play Starbuck, Starbuck’s supposed to be a man. Michael Clarke Duncan can’t play Kingpin. Kingpin’s supposed to be white. Michael Jordan can’t play the Human Torch The Human Torch is supposed to be white. Morgan Freedman can’t play Red. Red’s supposed to be white. Judi Dench can’t play M. M’s supposed to be a man. Billy Dee Williams can’t play Harvey Dent. Harvey Dent’s supposed to be white. Women can’t play the Ghostbusters. The Ghostbusters are supposed to be men. It’s all a bunch of political correctness gone mad.”

But take a minority character and cast a non-minority actor in the role?

“What’s the matter? Haven’t you ever heard of acting? You just want reverse discrimination.”

Not just the star power, but can you find a person who’s real life matches the character’s that can be a lead role?

Then there’s the other side of the coin where some times the so called oppressed minority doesn’t actually care and/or need other people to speak for them. Case in point, The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. One of the characters is a Native American from the Lakota tribe. However, it’s played by the blonde haired, blue eyed Jane Krakowski. They gave her a very brief backstory to explain why she looks like a white person instead of a Native American, but people weren’t happy about it, saying that the character should have been played by an actual Native American. However, most of the articles I’ve read written by (or an interview with) a Native American sure makes it sound like they aren’t taking up an issue with it. There’s one article out there, that I can’t find right now, from a higher up in tribe/area where the character is supposed to come from specifically saying they like it because it’s bringing more attention to their tribe than they’ve had in a long time.

She has always reminded me of a man.

Huh. And do you, in turn, figure that a lot of the people who have a problem with Johansson taking this role had no problem with Elba et al doing as you’d said?

FYI, what Dante “Tex” Gill looked like:

I’m not sure what stake Johansson had in the movie other than having the lead role (was she a producer as well?), but I am OK with her dropping out. She had a tone deaf response to original concerns:

And yes, she’s an actor so broadening her abilities and taking on challenging roles is a part of that. On the other side of the coin, trans people have so very few opportunities in movies and on TV, having a cis-gendered woman “take” a part that they could play doesn’t seem right.

Good. I don’t share any of this ambivalence. I see no actual constructive reason why we need to have anyone being able to play things they are not. But there are so many reasons to want inclusion. Discrimination is harmful, and Hollywood currently discriminates. Sure, their reason my be because of money, but they are also the reason that there is a dearth of bankable minority stars. They don’t get to just wash their hands of it.

Plus, as pointed out in this video, the guy had a girlfriend who was an extremely important part of his life. You need a bankable star? Hire her as the girlfriend. Pull in some cameos to play the masseuses. The bankable star doesn’t have to be the lead!

And just maybe, if the movie can do well, then a trans man in the role might become a bankable star. And, even if not, doing this more and more would help create the potential to get bankable minority stars.

An odd choice of example, surely? There will obviously always be the exceptions - the recorded historical performances or the Patrick Stewart reverse casting example - but we must be at the point in history where the default casting for Othello isn’t a white guy. Which isn’t to say that there aren’t plenty of white actors who could do the part. Just that it’s so obviously the example where the matter has now come to be so settled otherwise that it’s somewhat weird to appeal to in this context.

Yes, we ought to expect Othello to be played by a “Moor” these days.

She does seem to be held to a different standard than Jeffrey Tambor, Jared Leto, and Felicity Huffman. Can April Reign’s statement that Ghost In The Shell tanked also be challenged?

It will be interesting to see how the transgendered Irish man who is eventually cast deals with the alcoholic stereotype.

Trans people have a right to be treated with as much respect as are non-trans people.

But no one has a “right” to be a movie star.

…those planning this movie, no doubt, wanted to bring attention to the issues faced by the real-life person being depicted, so they wanted a star in the lead role. A star, in all likelihood, would not have been interested in playing a smaller role such as ‘the girlfriend’–notoriously unchallenging fare.

Note that multiple movies on the same topic are made all the time: two movies about Truman Capote came out the same year; two movies about volcanoes came out the same year; two movies about United Flight 93 came out the same year, etc. etc. etc.

Nothing would stop filmmakers from making their own movie, staring a trans performer, or even starring an entire cast of trans people, if they wanted to do that.

But no one has a right to be cast in any one particular film. That’s not a “human right” in any conceivable system of fairness or justice.

I expect that given a week or so, the movie will be shelved.

I have no dog in the whole trans-people fight, but if we’re fighting that fight, it seems a little early in the game to have a groundbreaking trans-people film with the lead trans-person played by a not-trans-person. Maybe after we’ve had 50 or 100 of these then it’s OK. Just my intuition, I can’t give any reasons for it.

I think things like this need to be taken on a case-by-case basis. Yes, the original depiction of the character Kingpin was white, but there’s nothing that makes his whiteness inherent to the character. So there, there was no reason why a black actor shouldn’t play him, if he matches well in other ways (and it was inherent to the character that he’s big and physically intimidating, and Duncan did a good job with that).

On the other hand, there’s nothing about Johnny Storm that makes it inherent that he must be white… but it is inherent to his character that he’s Sue’s brother. Yes, it’s possible that one of them was adopted, but that’s an unnecessary complication. So in that case, I think that the casting didn’t work… but it could have worked if both siblings were black.

Similarly, it’s inherent to the character of Othello that he’s visibly not the same race as all of the other Venetians. Usually this means that he’s black, but that can be inverted, as with the Patrick Stewart production.

And of course, to use the usual example, you couldn’t make a movie about the life of Martin Luther King or Nelson Mandela with a white actor cast in the lead.

In the current case, from what I gather, it is important that the character is biologically female, but presents as male, and is able, at least approximately, to pass. I’m not convinced that Johansson is able to pull that off, and a lot of her appeal as a star is based on her (very feminine) appearance, and so is diminished if she’s masking that. And yes, there are transgendered folk out there with bodies which appear very strongly to be their physical sex, and who nonetheless identify as the opposite, and I’m sure that’s a significant source of stress for those folks, but that’s a different story from that of someone who can largely mask their physical sex. So she’s probably not the best choice for this role.

No dog in this fight myself either, but an argument I heard from a trans person on a podcast is that if a trans actor were not cast they would rather have seen a male actor cast rather than one of the most famous/attractive/sexy/etc. quintessentially female actresses - their point being a trans man is a man, not a woman.

I mean at least we could start with Jennifer Garner, once we’ve reached that point.

Frankly I’d be a lot more willing to defend SJ if I thought there was a chance in hell she could ever be made up to look like actual person. Otherwise, it’s just as much of a stunt as SJ playing Roseanne Barr.