The Daily Iowan

Leonard: Outrage over Scarlett Johansson’s most recent role misses the bigger picture

Scarlett Johansson’s most recent casting as trans man Dante ‘Tex’ Gill causes unnecessary outrage.

Scarlett+Johansson+arrives+at+the+89th+Academy+Awards+on+Sunday%2C+Feb.+26%2C+2017%2C+at+the+Dolby+Theatre+at+Hollywood+%26amp%3B+Highland+Center+in+Hollywood.+%28Jay+L.+Clendenin%2FLos+Angeles+Times%2FTNS%29
Scarlett Johansson arrives at the 89th Academy Awards on Sunday, Feb. 26, 2017, at the Dolby Theatre at Hollywood & Highland Center in Hollywood. (Jay L. Clendenin/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

Scarlett Johansson arrives at the 89th Academy Awards on Sunday, Feb. 26, 2017, at the Dolby Theatre at Hollywood & Highland Center in Hollywood. (Jay L. Clendenin/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

TNS

TNS

Scarlett Johansson arrives at the 89th Academy Awards on Sunday, Feb. 26, 2017, at the Dolby Theatre at Hollywood & Highland Center in Hollywood. (Jay L. Clendenin/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

Braxton Leonard, [email protected]

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Over the last month, Scarlett Johansson has been at the center of controversy regarding a role she was set to take in Rub and Tug, a film in which she would have portrayed Dante “Tex” Gill, who played a major role in the Pittsburgh crime scene in the ’70s and ’80s and was also a trans man. The announcement of her casting hit a great deal of backlash, primarily by members of the LGBTQ community and specifically the trans community, which ultimately led to the scrapping of her role and, potentially, the whole movie itself.

While I understand how the casting of a straight woman to play a trans man rather than just having a trans individual take the role could seem nonsensical, I don’t think that the uproar surrounding the role was completely warranted.

While members of the LGBTQ community, and specifically trans individuals, are majorly underrepresented in Hollywood, we have to consider the thought process that goes behind casting a role in a major Hollywood film. Typically, when blockbuster movies are being made, the casting is largely based around what is going to sell. This is why big-name actors are typically at the helm of these films, because frankly, names like Johansson sell tickets.

Of course, this speaks to the larger problem being that trans individuals are underrepresented and clearly are at a disadvantage when it comes to getting cast for major roles. None of the big-name actors or actresses in Hollywood, right now, are trans individuals. I think that becoming outraged, specifically when people are cast in roles in which they play trans individuals, not only misses the larger issue at hand but also makes it seem as if the only roles that trans individuals can or should be cast in are ones portraying another trans individual.

In 2005, actress Felicity Huffman starred in Trans America in which she portrayed a pre-operative trans woman. The film was successful, and Huffman was even nominated for an Oscar for her performance. It is important to remember what exactly being an actor entails. People portray a character, portraying someone or something that they often aren’t.

While I understand how in roles such as those where a trans individual is being portrayed, no one could fully understand the character as a real trans individual could. But I think that acting is one area in which actors could pretty much play any sort of characters. They are in fact acting, and that is what is so often most impressive about great performances. The actors completely transform, so much so that the audience truly believes they have become the characters they portray.

No one can say for sure whether Johansson could haveve played the role better than someone else, or better than a trans actor. But I do think that casting directors, as well as filmmakers, know how to do their jobs.

In a perfect world, of course, you would want to give the opportunity to someone who is closer to the role — someone who has a personal connection to it and who could possibly create an even more captivating performance. But there is a lot that goes into a film, and the ultimate goal is to make money by selling tickets. This, of course, is often done by great casting and more specifically, the casting of household names.

Unfortunately, what is ideal is not always reality. Although I fully advocate for more representation of minority groups in Hollywood, getting a real shot at stardom is a drop in the ocean — even for non-minority actors. Instead of being angry at Johansson for the roles that she takes, we should think more about the larger issue: that minority groups, like members of the trans community, are massively underrepresented across the board. Instead of outrage, we should spend time being proactive and trying to promote inclusion in Hollywood.

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