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Scarlett Johannson is playing a transgender in her next film, and it's really problematic

Her statement only made things worse

Ujjainee Roy @UjjaineeRoy 4 July 2018, 1:46 PM
No, Scarlett Johansson. No

No, Scarlett Johansson. No Image: Getty

Turns out Scarlett Johansson did not learn a whole lot from the Ghost in the Shell's whitewashing controversy. Because she is teaming up with the same director for another role, which does not do any favours to the cause of representation.

Johansson has signed up to play a transgender character in upcoming mob drama Rub & Tug, to be helmed by Rupert Sanders, who also directed her in the 2017 sci-fi film Ghost in the Shell. The film received huge backlash for whitewashing the role of the cybernetic human protagonist, Motoko Kusanagi, who was originally an Asian character in the manga series, which the film is based on.

Johansson will be playing the role of Jean Marie Gill, who later became known as Dante 'Tex' Gill, and was the head of a massage parlour and prostitution operation in the '70s. Jean Marie wanted to be referred to as Mr Gill and had reportedly undergone the initial stages of sex change.

Jean Marie Gill preferred non-feminine pronouns and wanted to be known as Mr Gill

Jean Marie Gill preferred non-feminine pronouns and wanted to be known as Mr Gill

Jean Marie has never identified as a cisgender, and has been referred to as a 'transmasculine' crime boss. A cisgender is basically an individual whose gender identity corresponds with the sex they were assigned to at birth, like Johansson.

The casting of Johansson in the role of a transgender has been referred to as 'cis-washing', and is terribly problematic, especially now, when there is so much being done to promote inclusivity in films. 

April Reign, who started the 2015 #OscarSoWhite campaign tweeted against this move. "Scarlett Johansson received considerable backlash for Ghost in the Shell, when she played a whitewashed Asian character. The movie tanked. Undeterred, she has teamed up WITH THE SAME DIRECTOR to play a trans male character in Rub & Tug," she wrote.

Johansson's response to the backlash is a rather insensitive one. When asked about the negative press surrounding her casting in Rub & Tug, she released a statement saying, "Tell them that they can be directed to Jeffrey Tambor, Jared Leto, and Felicity Huffman's reps for comment."

Tambor, Leto and Huffman are all cisgender people who have at some point played transgender roles in the last few years. In fact, Leto got an Oscar for playing a trans woman with HIV in the 2013 film Dallas Buyer's Club.

Nevertheless, Johansson's response is an insensitive one, and also comes at a very bad time, since trans-acceptance has still a long way to go in Hollywood.

Tambor, who Johansson references in her statement, plays a transgender in the critically acclaimed show Transparent, and has been vocal about the issue of on-screen representation for trans people. 

"To you people out there, you producers and you network owners and you agents and you creative sparks: please give transgender talent a chance. Give them auditions. Give them their stories. Do that. And also one more thing: I would not be unhappy were I the last cisgender male to play a female transgender on television," he had said during his 2016 Emmy speech.

Needless to say, Twitter is quite livid with the odd choice of casting.

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