Scarlett Johansson Is Proof That Hollywood Still Has A Lot To Learn About Whitewashing

Another day, another ScarJo faux pas.

“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.

“I’ve made a huge mistake.”

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.

Well, mostly.

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.

When Harry Met Sally Set The Bar For Romcoms And Ruined The Genre Forever

Every subsequent film tried to have what she's having but couldn't handle it.

We’ve had an almighty slew of romantic comedies over the last few decades. Some have been pretty damn good (like 500 Days of Summer) and many have been goddamn awful.

But the pinnacle of the romcom genre has and will forever be When Harry Met Sally….

It’s been 30 years since the film was released and it set the bar for romcoms ever since. But in its brilliance, When Harry Met Sally… inadvertently – and unintentionally – ruined the genre it celebrated.

Deal with it.

Whereas most romcoms run at a breakneck pace by squeezing the protagonists’ initial “meet-cute” moment to the climatic “you’re the one for me!” finale in a heavily compressed timeline, When Harry Met Sally… unfolds over a decade.

This stretching of time allows both Harry and Sally to believably mature so that when they reconnect at 31, their relationship takes on a different dynamic because they’re completely different people compared to when they first met as 21-year-olds.

Nora Ephron’s fantastic script is given time to remain grounded and naturalistic its exploration into the relationship between men and women is. It also helps that both Harry and Sally are characters who can believably exist in the real world.

But the biggest reason why When Harry Met Sally… set the bar for romcoms is because of how every subsequent film in the genre took inspiration from it.

Nearly every male protagonist appears to be modeled after Harry’s cynical yet funny personality; female protagonists either have Sally’s optimism or are modeled to be the opposite to the male lead; supporting characters are quirky and provide comedic relief; and there’s always a sweeping romantic gesture at the climax not unlike Harry professing his love to Sally.

There’s nothing wrong with emulating When Harry Met Sally… or taking inspiration from it. Imitation is the greatest form of flattery after all. But instead of elevating the quality of romcoms, the movie all but ruined the genre because all subsequent films tried to essentially be the same thing.

Rather than build off When Harry Met Sally…, romcoms instead rehashed the same elements over and over again in an attempt to get their own “I’ll have what she’s having” moment to mixed success.

In a weird way, When Harry Met Sally… was almost too good because it set a benchmark that’s been too high for any subsequent romcom to reach. The genre hasn’t been able to get better because movies are still struggling to match it, let alone surpass it.

Every romcom tried to have what When Harry Met Sally… was having in 1989, but none have been able to handle what it brought to the menu.

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