Scarlett Johansson—who likes to occupy minority roles in films and then say self-protective nonsense when it inevitably causes controversy—is set to star in the upcoming film Rub & Tug, which details the life of trans man Dante “Tex” Gill, famous for operating a massage parlor and brothel in 1970s/80s Pittsburgh. Johansson responded to criticism of her playing the role of a transgender person by stating, “Tell them that they can be directed to Jeffrey Tambor, Jared Leto, and Felicity Huffman’s reps for comment,” in a moment of true tone deaf beauty.
Days later, Chilean director Sebastian Lelio, famous for his Oscar-winning 2017 film A Fantastic Woman—which stars trans actor Daniela Vega—addressed the criticism, telling The Hollywood Reporter:
“It’s true [that] cultural representation has been scarce so far. And it’s also true that the gesture of casting a cisgender actor to play a transgender role can be aesthetically or ethically debatable—but it should never be prohibited.
When I decided to cast Daniela Vega to play Marina in A Fantastic Woman, it was an act of artistic freedom, not political correctness. I wasn’t telling the world that transgender roles should be played by transgender actors. I was only doing what I felt was right for my film.”
This isn’t Johansson’s first casting controversy, of course. For the 2017 U.S. adaptation of the Japanese manga Ghost in the Shell, Johansson played the canonically Japanese cyborg Major Motoko Kusanagi. Producers reportedly attempted to make her “look more Asian,” which she later denied, along with any whitewashing. “I certainly would never presume to play another race of a person,” she , told Marie Claire that year. “Diversity is important in Hollywood, and I would never want to feel like I was playing a character that was offensive. Also, having a franchise with a female protagonist driving it is such a rare opportunity.” Producer Steven Paul came to her (and his own) defense by saying the film was “an international story.”
History certainly repeats itself.