Scarlett Johansson Addresses Her Controversies With Playing a Trans Man & Supporting Woody Allen
It has been a year since Black Widow actress Scarlett Johansson was cast and subsequently removed from the film Rub & Tug, in which she was tapped to play a trans man. The internet made it very clear that it was unacceptable in 2018 for a cis woman to play a trans person. Her initial response was terrible, and while she has gone back and forth, she is finally addressing the issue again in a new interview with Vanity Fair, along with some other mistakes.
There are many media fumbles that the actress discusses in the profile, and the writer, Chris Heath, tries to provide a more balanced look at the actress rather than just taking soundbites to distort things. When discussing her comments defending director Woody Allen, which she sort of doubles down on here, Heath gives her multiple opportunities to clarify her own points and to better explain her side:
I ask her whether any of the criticisms, when she heard them, made her think that they had a point.
“I don’t know—I feel the way I feel about it,” she says. “It’s my experience. I don’t know any more than any other person knows. I only have a close proximity with Woody…he’s a friend of mine. But I have no other insight other than my relationship with him.”
We talk on about this, and I suggest that, as much as there is an argument for the validity of her voicing her own experience, one of the things that makes some people uncomfortable with an opinion like that being expressed is that she is also effectively saying, in 2019, to a woman who has spoken out: “I don’t believe you.”
“Yeah,” she says, and that single word hangs there for a while. “I do understand how that is triggering for some people. But just because I believe my friend does not mean that I don’t support women, believe women. I think you have to take it on a case-by-case basis. You can’t have this blanket statement—I don’t believe that. But that’s my personal belief. That’s how I feel.”
In today’s political and social media world, I do understand the tension of wanting to be honest and authentic to yourself, but also being afraid of cancellation. When it comes to Woody Allen and ScarJo, I really feel like this insular thinking is so peak Hollywood. In no other world would Allen being married to his ex-wife’s step-daughter be seen as an acceptable pairing, but because he is an artist there is this feeling that we have insight into him, when really, all we know is that he made movies and his own daughter has spoken out against him.
Why does that not matter? Even if you want him to be innocent, there are ways to do that without harming Dylan Farrow in the public arena.
In the situation concerning Rub & Tug, the actress seems to show a little more introspection:
“In hindsight, I mishandled that situation. I was not sensitive, my initial reaction to it. I wasn’t totally aware of how the trans community felt about those three actors playing—and how they felt in general about cis actors playing—transgender people. I wasn’t aware of that conversation—I was uneducated. So I learned a lot through that process. I misjudged that… It was a hard time. It was like a whirlwind. I felt terribly about it. To feel like you’re kind of tone-deaf to something is not a good feeling.”
I point out how there’s a danger that people will read that—about how horrible it is to feel tone-deaf—and refer it back to the conversation about Woody Allen…
“Yes, they will,” she says. “It feels like a snake eating its tail, doesn’t it?”
The Rub & Tug controversy followed a similar casting backlash involving Johansson’s role as the lead of Sanders’ Ghost in the Shell. Despite her fumbles, it cannot be denied that Johansson has had an amazing year, and despite not doing this one role, she has Black Widow coming up and is a lead in both Jojo Rabbit and Marriage Story—which should be a reminder that her exit from Rub & Tug did not deny her opportunities. She has plenty of them, but in taking that role and the one in Ghost in the Shell, she would deny marginalized people opportunities.
This statement comes a long way from the “as an actor I should be allowed to play any person, or any tree, or any animal because that is my job and the requirements of my job,” statement she made.
Regardless, I doubt this will have any effect on her career, because if it hasn’t already, it never will.
(via IndieWire, image: VALERIE MACON/AFP/Getty Images)
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