This Is a Super Bad Take About Backlash Against ScarJo’s Trans Role
Right now, with the firing of James Gunn and the atmosphere around it, there are takes coming in from all sides, and as other actors, directors, and all kinds of creatives deal with the aftermath of their tweets, there is no denying that we are all still working to understand what comes next. For the most part, I’m personally taking it on a case-by-case basis. However, sometimes you read a take so bad that it makes your blood boil, and that’s how I felt reading this opinion piece on Deadline.
Peter Bart and Mike Fleming Jr. wrote about the dangers of removing Scarlett Johansson from Rub & Tug, comparing it to Disney firing James Gunn over bad tweets that resurfaced. In the piece itself, Fleming had some really … interesting takes on how the LGBTQ community really ruined it for themselves, because unless a straight person can be in a big budget movie, how can it get made?
“I believe those LGBTQ advocates who claimed victory after shaming Johansson into withdrawing from Rub & Tug don’t realize they have made it nearly impossible to get made films likeBrokeback Mountain and Dallas Buyers Club – the kind that open hearts and minds. At least not with any kind of decent budget and P&A spend. Not when film companies know they might be shamed on social media by groups who now feel empowered to demand who plays the lead role, even if their candidates have no bankable value. So the chance to see their struggles and triumphs played out in anything but a micro budget indie movie or TV show has been extinguished.”
What a patronizing thing to say.
Yes, LGBTQ people, we should just let straight people and cis people tell the stories of our community, portrayed by leads that Hollywood has assigned greatness to, rather than uplift queer voices and actors so that they can tell their own stories. Sounds like a recipe for progress!
Fleming goes on to make the following point: “But let’s face it, Call Me By Your Name would raise hackles now because its leads weren’t gay and Moonlight would have the same problem.” This statement makes me believe that Fleming doesn’t have any gay friends.
First of all, Call Me By Your Name came out like less than a year ago, if you’re going by United States release date. During the #MeToo movement. It’s misleading at best to paint it as though it came out before people started calling out these issues. Second, Call Me By Your Name was directed by a gay man, Luca Guadagnino, based on a book written by a queer man, and the screenplay was written by a gay man. Also, Timothée Hal Chalamet has never addressed his sexuality publicly so why assume he’s straight?
Third, Moonlight, the first all-black and LGBTQ movie to ever win an Oscar, was co-written by a gay black man, Tarell Alvin McCraney, who also wrote the play it was based on. Barry Jenkins, the other co-author and director of Moonlight, is a straight man, but spoke about how important it was to speak with Tarell about the story and said, “What I say is that Moonlight could not have originated with me. It had to originate with Tarell.”
Fourth, it does a real disservice to everyone when straight writers act as though LGBTQ writers are irrational or that all of our issues are the same. While we absolutely want more openly gay actors in Hollywood to have access to all roles, not just ones where they are playing gay characters, there is a universe of difference between a straight cis man playing gay cis man and a cis woman playing a trans man, or a cis man playing a trans woman, and Flemming would know that if he read articles from those trans advocates he invokes in his argument.
What people are addressing about straight actors getting to play gay characters is that gay or queer actors are being told that if they come out, it could hurt that chances because people won’t see them as straight. It is pointing out the double standard.
Fleming admits that it is unfair that this is the reality for trans actors, but also says that:
“The PC followup stories are misguided, the ones about transgender actors and all the opportunities in store for them now that the template has been established that no one but them can be cast in those roles” and that “the transgender community didn’t even know about Jean Marie “Tex” Gill. There was no rival project, maybe because these films don’t get made without stars to propel them. Gill was consigned to the dustbin of history until screenwriter Gary Spinelli or someone else dug up that story and turned it into a Goodfellas-style drama.”
Omg thank you, straight and cis people, for teaching us lowly queers about our own history, because I’m sure the fact that we are marginalized and shut out of the entertainment industry is not at all a factor in why a trans person wouldn’t be able to make this screenplay. We were just so busy watching Paris is Burning for the 500th time to actually write anything. You’re right.
Do you know how many stories about LGBTQ people who are famous have not been made yet? Colette is one of the most well-known queer writers of all time, and the upcoming Keira Knightley movie is the first one coming out about her.
Do you think there are no movies about Sojourner Truth or Harriet Tubman because no one knows who they are? No, it’s because we live in a world where studios decide to make two Jungle Book movies two years apart. Fleming goes on:
The execs I spoke with think we’ll never see another $30 million budget project like this again, because of what happened. Maybe Gill’s story gets told as a micro budget indie or on TV or documentary, but this was a big movie with a start date. “It was a miracle that it got as far as it did with that budget commitment for a challenging subject with no sequel potential,” said one exec. Movies once got graded when they opened. If they are now evaluated and killed in the casting stage with demands that leads be played by unknowns who physically fit lead roles, the result will be something closer to reality TV. Complaints about Dwayne Johnson playing a war vet with a prosthetic leg in Skyscraper or Emma Stone playing part Hawaiian in Aloha? The easy fix is to scrap the prosthetic and mention of ethnicity and keep the characters generic.
Or, they could cast actors who fit those roles. Please, let’s not act as though people who call out for accurate representation are crybabies or being irrational when they say that actors with disabilities are never cast in films to play people with disabilities. The fact that the solution many see is to simply erase any individualism, rather than cast better, is exhausting. Flemming mentions that Pose, a TV show with actual trans actors, exists because of creator Ryan Murphy’s clout, but we may never have another Ryan Murphy if we don’t give LGBTQ people the room to make their own work.
The danger is that execs have decided that if they can’t do anything with the same old Hollywood star formula that they think works for them, then they can’t do it at all. The very raw chicken-ass idea that Scarlett Johansson is necessary to make or break a movie about a trans man is ridiculous. Does she mean that much to Hollywood in spite of all her non-Marvel flops?
It’s physically and emotionally exhausting to listen to straight white men tell me that I always have to bow down to the wishes of powerful industries on the off chance that they will recognize me.
It’s exhausting to listen to straight white men “rationalize” to me why I need to just let things exist as they are because the powers that be will eventually get it right.
It is exhausting to write this knowing that people are going to call me whiny, say I’m “bitching,” and assume that I’m trying to drag these two specific men just to be mean, or because they’re straight and white. I’m not dragging them because of those things, I’m dragging them because they have allowed their straightness and their whiteness to make them believe that they are helping other people by saying, “Hey, you did advocacy for your own representation wrong!”
By casting themselves as the rational voices in this argument, they have put those of us who have been speaking out as irrational and painted those of us who were against ScarJo in Rub & Tug along with people who just wanted to hurt James Gunn, as if those two things are similar in any meaningful way beyond the superficiality of that they both got fired.
But again, whether or not people are right to galvanize around James Gunn and recognize the flaws in how Disney handled his situation has no bearing whether they’re right to talk down to people who were advocating for their rights to be represented by an industry that loves to use their stories for entertainment. The two are unrelated.
It turns liberal advocates into the enemy, because we supposedly should have never been so serious in the first place. It turns us into the enemy, instead the studios who will always be fine, the alt-right who set out to concern troll with weaponized tweets, and the people who made bad choices to begin with. Nope, it’s us, the LGBTQ community and marginalized communities, because we don’t know what’s good for us.
(via Deadline, image: Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images)
Want more stories like this? Become a subscriber and support the site!
—The Mary Sue has a strict comment policy that forbids, but is not limited to, personal insults toward anyone, hate speech, and trolling.—
Have a tip we should know? [email protected]