There’s definitely more important transgender news than the recent Scarlett Johansson controversy, but nonetheless, the issue of whether or not the mega celebrity should play a trans character has ignited many important conversations.
The issue was a film called Rub and Tug where the actress landed the role of a transgender character. She was criticized for taking a role that should be reserved for trans people to play. She subsequently reversed her decision to take the role and bowed out, after carefully considering the criticisms and the position of transgender human rights champions.
Showing herself to be a woman of graciousness and class, Scarlett told Out Magazine: “In light of recent ethical questions raised surrounding my casting as Dante Tex Gill, I have decided to respectfully withdraw my participation in the project… Our cultural understanding of transgender people continues to advance, and I’ve learned a lot from the community…”
Unfortunately, due to the backlash, it looks possible that the whole film will be scrapped. If that’s the case, it means that a rare transgender character in cinema will not be brought to life by anybody, and the conversations surrounding the event won’t take place.
Here’s my official stance: Scarlett Johannsson should not be vilified for landing any role. Being an actor is about acting. Harassing her and condemning her is pure vitriol and hateful behavior. It can be argued that it is sexist too, because when men play women it’s a perfectly acceptable art form called drag.
That said, I think that the promotion of and inclusion of transgender actors, directors, writers, producers, editors and more is an excellent idea. Rather than suppressing someone’s film role, creating new opportunities or alternate movies is the answer. There is room for all! While some trans friends have shared their thoughts that this is like a person playing blackface, many more do not agree and also don’t think transgender acting roles should be limited to transgender characters.
Trans actors should feel free to play women, men, gender-fluid or nonbinary characters as they feel inspired. With these friends, I agree that although this has a long way to go, it is unprecedented historically that it has begun, and we will see more and more opportunities opening up for trans entertainers and trans people with behind the scenes skills for film and television.
There was a time when actors were lauded for bravery and courage for playing a transexual or transgender character. Felicity Huffman was incredible in the heartbreaking and poignant Transamerica. Hilary Swank blew the world away as Brandon Teena, in Boys Don’t Cry, a film that brought the issues of violence against trans people into the public forum.
However, this was in a time when there were very few out transgender folks to audition for roles. The fact that we are having this discussion, and have more transgender people visibly working is good news. We have a long way to go, but we’ve started that journey. I hope this issue will encourage more trans women not just as actresses but in positions like director, producer, promoter, writer, and more.