Scarlett Johansson’s choice to play a transgender man in an upcoming role has been met with scorn from many in the trans community. But columnists have been weighing in too, largely with disapproval.
In an opinion piece for The New York Times, trans author Jennifer Finney Boylan said Johansson’s casting reminded her of Mickey Rooney’s portrayal of Mr. Yunioshi in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” which received backlash for using “yellowface” and caricaturing. Rooney, of course, was a white man playing an asian. And his comedic role has gotten fewer laughs as his part in the 1961 classic continues to grow more dated.
Boylan also criticized past transgender roles played by cisgender men, such as Eddie Redmayne and Jared Leto, who both won Oscars for their performances.
“Second, there’s usually something slightly off when cisgender actors play us. People who aren’t trans don’t see it; they give each other awards and weepily hail their bravery,” she said. “If you haven’t walked in our shoes, you wouldn’t notice the difference. But we have, and we do.”
Some have come to Johansson’s defense. Megyn Kelly hosted a roundtable of media personalities, which included NBC anchor Craig Melvin and two hosts from “American Ninja Warrior.” One of the hosts, Akbar Gbaja-Biamila, disagreed with Johansson’s critics and said that “acting is creating a real behavior in the imaginary world of script.”
Boylan rebuked the discussion, which consisted of only cisgender participants, likening it to “a group that consists only of men to talk about the #MeToo movement.”
Other opinion pieces have noted of Johansson’s previous “tone-deaf” casting in “Ghost in the Shell,” a film based on a Japanese manga.
Her response to criticism over her trans role in “Rub & Tug,” is also drawing, well, more condemnation.
“Tell them that they can be directed to Jeffrey Tambor, Jared Leto, and Felicity Huffman’s reps for comment,” the actress wrote in a statement to Bustle.”
“Her curt and flippant response not only reveals her indifference toward the very people whose stories she seeks to mine, but also an overweening ignorance of Hollywood history,” said IndieWire’s Jude Dry.
“You can see where Scarlett Johansson and most actors would be eager for a role that is both challenging and Oscar bait. I wish she had just said that was the case,” said Sharon Eberson in a piece for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “Instead, her statement would seem to turn a blind eye toward yet another missed opportunity for a trans actor.”
A Salon piece contrasted Johansson’s casting to the television show, “Pose,” which broke the record for the largest cast of transgender actors in series regular roles. The author, Melanie McFarland, advocated for a push for more of such representation in Hollywood. “‘Pose’ also happens a very specifically in-your-face addition to the realm of television shows whose purpose goes beyond mere entertainment,” she wrote.
Johansson’s new role has also been met with opposition from industry figures such as trans actress Trace Lysette. “Oh word?? So you can continue to play us but we can’t play y’all? Hollywood is so fu–ed,” tweeted Lysette earlier this week. “I wouldn’t be as upset if I was getting in the same rooms as Jennifer Lawrence and Scarlett for cis roles, but we know that’s not the case. A mess.”