After playing what was originally a Japanese character in the live-action adaptation of “Ghost in the Shell,” Scarlett Johansson will now take on the role of another character from another marginalized group.
Earlier this week, news broke that Johansson is teaming up with her “Ghost in the Shell” director, Rupert Sanders, for the project “Rub & Tug,” which is based on the story of Dante “Tex” Gill, a trans man who ran a massage parlor in Pittsburgh.
As several trans writers pointed out, Gill went by a male name and asked to be addressed as a man. Johansson’s insistence on playing Gill is already misrepresenting the details of his story.
As film critic E. Oliver Whitney notes, Johansson’s move perpetuates the notion that trans folks are just playing dress up with their gender. It fetishizes the trans experience and dilutes it while pushing out trans stories or actors from the chance to share their experiences. Whitney also notes that Johansson isn’t the only actor erasing trans experiences with their vanity projects.
Johansson responded to the controversy in a statement to Bustle saying, “Tell them that they can be directed to Jeffrey Tambor, Jared Leto, and Felicity Huffman’s reps for comment.” She’s referring to the actors who played trans characters in “Transparent,” “Dallas Buyers Club” and “Transamerica,” respectively.
They all earned accolades and praises for their so-called brave performances. However, they were not immune to criticism from the trans community either, which means the actress hasn’t done nearly enough research for her defense.
While cisgendered actors can audition for cis or trans roles, the same opportunities are not afforded to transgender actors. They’re usually only limited to playing trans characters, so watching a cisgender star swoop in on one of the limited trans roles feels inappropriate.
It’s not for the lack of trans talent out there, it’s that the opportunities for starring roles — like that of “The Danish Girl” — are never extended to trans actors.