Hours after controversy erupted over Scarlett Johansson’s casting as a transgender male in the upcoming movie Rub & Tug, even more outrage is being voiced because Megyn Kelly Today featured a discussion about the casting but didn’t include any members of the transgender community in the conversation.
The absence caught the attention of Pose actress Angelica Ross, who had this to say on Twitter:
The fact that folks like @megynkelly are on TV being trash about trans actors playing trans roles is PROOF of progress. Acting roles should challenge BOTH the actor & the audience. But again, carry on. They are SHOOK. Trust. Keep shaking the table #ScarJo
— Angelica Ross (@angelicaross) July 5, 2018
The lack of opinion from the transgender community on the show is seen as one more slight after the casting of Johansson as Dante “Tex” Gill, a transgender man who opened several massage parlors in Pittsburgh in the ’70s and ’80s that were actually brothels, per the Hollywood Reporter.
Several transgender actors spoke out against the casting on social media:
Oh word?? So you can continue to play us but we can’t play y’all? Hollywood is so fucked… I wouldn’t be as upset if I was getting in the same rooms as Jennifer Lawrence and Scarlett for cis roles, but we know that’s not the case. A mess. https://t.co/s8gBlBI1Sw
— Trace Lysette (@tracelysette) July 4, 2018
And not only do you play us and steal our narrative and our opportunity but you pat yourselves on the back with trophies and accolades for mimicking what we have lived… so twisted. I’m so done…
— Trace Lysette (@tracelysette) July 4, 2018
Actors who are trans never even get to audition FOR ANYTHING OTHER THAN ROLES OF TRANS CHARACTERS. THATS THE REAL ISSUE. WE CANT EVEN GET IN THE ROOM. Cast actors WHO ARE TRANS as NON TRANS CHARACTERS. I DARE YOU #RupertSanders @NewRegency #ScarlettJohansson https://t.co/RkrW8MeGcG
— Jamie Clayton (@MsJamieClayton) July 4, 2018
One woman pointed out that while she feels the actors taking transgender roles bear some responsibility, the real issue is with those making casting decisions.
It’s the directors, casting agents, writers, producers who have to do better when it comes to allowing cis actors to play trans roles. We are talented, we are here and we are ready to tell our own stories.
— Cassandra James (@cassandrajames_) July 3, 2018
A publicist for Johansson responded to the controversy by citing other cisgender actors who have played award-winning transgender characters in this statement to Bustle: “Tell them that [criticism] can be directed to Jeffrey Tambor, Jared Leto, and Felicity Huffman’s reps for comment.”
That didn’t sit well either.
Scarlett Johansson's response to critiques of her playing a role that could've gone to a trans actor? “Tell them that they can be directed to Jeffrey Tambor, Jared Leto, and Felicity Huffman’s reps for comment.” She learned nothing from Ghost in the Shell. https://t.co/bwmrhcYtI5
— Nancy Wang Yuen (@nancywyuen) July 4, 2018
Scarlett Johansson is a garbage human. Statement from her reps, regarding her being cast as a trans man: "Tell them that they can be directed to Jeffrey Tambor, Jared Leto, and Felicity Huffman's reps for comment." Even most of these actors don't defend that shit anymore. https://t.co/GuQNB9T2qB
— Put ICE in the ground. ⚧Ⓐ🏴 (@eat_cops) July 4, 2018
Another thing to note about Scarlett Johansson’s insensitive statement was that she only pointed out award winning cis performances of trans narratives. Further showing that cis people know that trans stories have value and are worthy of accolade…
— Johnny Sibilly (@JohnnySibilly) July 4, 2018
Hiring a cisgender person to play the role of a transgender person is problematic for a few reasons, Victoria M. Rodríguez-Roldán, director of the Trans/GNC Justice Project at the National LGBTQ Task Force, tells Yahoo Lifestyle. Clearly, it denies the opportunity for a transgender actor to play the role, but it also denies Hollywood itself, she says. “It’s denying access to transgender talent that can probably much more accurately portray the role and the trials, tribulations, and experiences that being a trans person can bring,” she says.
This practice also impacts the people who watch the resulting movies and TV shows. Transgender people may have a harder time identifying with a cisgender person playing a transgender role, Rodríguez-Roldán says. Not only that, it’s important for cisgender people to understand that this isn’t just a role. “It’s part of who we are. It’s our lives,” Rodríguez-Roldán says.
As for the response from Johansson’s publicist, it “simply points out the problem rather than try to address it,” Rodríguez-Roldán says.
It’s worth noting that representation of transgender characters onscreen is low. According to a recent report issued by GLAAD Media Institute, just 17 regular and recurring transgender characters were tracked across broadcast, cable, and streaming television series in the 2017-2018 season. Of those, nine are transgender women, four are transgender men, and four are nonbinary. And again, those are just characters, not members of the transgender community portraying those characters.
The solution is actually simple, Rodríguez-Roldán says: Casting agents should hire more diverse actors. “That means casting more people with disabilities to play characters with disabilities, more people of color to play roles for people of color, and more transgender actors to play transgender roles,” she says. “It’s important to accept the idea that people from that life experience who have talents as actors can best portray that onscreen.”
Read more from Yahoo Lifestyle:
- Actress Judith Light on why she’s an LGBT activist: ‘We are one family, we are one humanity’
- Transgender celeb Laverne Cox talks about her greatest challenge: ‘Getting out of my own way’
- Country star Kelsea Ballerini on success: ‘The overnight sensation thing … doesn’t exist’