“Foot in mouth” disease is something we all get from time to time and Scarlett Johansson caught a huge case of it when she said that she “should be allowed to play any person, or any tree, or any animal” because she’s an *checks notes* an actor.
Given the controversy over her being cast as Major Motoko Kusanagi in 2017’s live-action adaptation of Ghost in the Shell and her being cast (and subsequent withdrawal from the role) as Dante “Tex” Gill, a transgender man, in an upcoming biopic called Rub & Tug, her comment went about as well as you expected and the subsequent internet dogpile was as brutal as it was hilarious.
Scarlett quickly clarified her comments and played the “taken out of context” card, telling Buzzfeed in a statement that she was merely trying to say “any actor should be able to play anybody and art, in all forms, should be immune to political correctness” but her words came out all cross-eyed.
To be fair, she does acknowledge that “there is a wide spread discrepancy amongst [her] industry that favors Caucasian, cis-gendered actors and that not every actor has been given the same opportunities that [she’s] have been privileged to” so it’s not like she’s totally clueless about the whole thing.
Now as fun as it is to take the piss out of Scarlett (again) for saying something dumb regarding identity politics and “art”, we shouldn’t focus all the memes and jokes on her alone.
Cis actors playing trans people and whitewashing has been around for ages and Scarlett is far from the only actor to dip their toes in those unsavoury pools. Despite minorities and underrepresented communities getting greater awareness these days in media, the sad truth is that Hollywood has a long way to go before it gets to a place where it remotely resembles acceptable.
So with Scarlett’s latest kerfuffle still fresh in everyone’s minds, let’s just take a short trip down memory lane and remember a few notable times where Hollywood decided to cast white, cisgender folks in minority roles that could’ve gone to, you know, actual people from those communities.
Emma Stone in Aloha
No matter how you spin this or how many lines of expository dialogue you shove in the script explaining it, no one is going to buy Emma Stone playing a character who is of Swedish, Hawaiian and Chinese descent.
The cast of Exodus: Gods and Kings
For a film about ancient Egypt set in Biblical times, there’s a noticeable lack of Egyptians in it and no amount of method acting from Christian Bale or Aaron Paul can make up for it.
Jared Leto in Dallas Buyers Club
Whereas Scarlett got blasted for getting cast as a transgender man, Jared Leto got oodles of critical acclaim for playing Rayon, a transgender woman dying of AIDS, and ended up winning an Oscar for his performance. Seems like losing half your body weight for a role really does take attention away from the whole cis actor playing a trans person thing.
Eddie Redmayne in The Danish Girl
Basically the same thing as Jared Leto in Dallas Buyers Club except that Eddie was playing a real life person, Lili Elbe, and he “only” got an Oscar nomination and not the win.
Jeffrey Tambor in Transparent
Again, same situation as Jared Leto and Eddie Redmayne, except that Transparent is a TV show and Jeffrey Tambor is a creep who has since been deservedly cancelled.
Mickey Rooney in Breakfast at Tiffany’s
Yeah, no words can describe how racist and wrong this is.