Just 10 days after announcing that she’d be starring in the upcoming Dante “Tex” Gill biopic, Scarlett Johansson has dropped out.
The controversial role would have seen Johansson as Gill, a transgender man and massage parlor operator who gained notoriety in the ’70s and ’80s.
There was immediate backlash to her casting, with a number of red flags apparent even in the film’s announcement itself: The story, broken by Deadline, described Gill by his birth name and strongly hinted that the movie would center around the “fiery romance with her [sic] girlfriend.”
In other words, it sounded a lot like this man’s story was about to be turned into a lesbian love drama — which, according to one of Gill’s relatives, he probably wouldn’t have been super thrilled by.
Johansson’s withdrawal from the film illustrates a respectful look at the importance of ethics in entertainment.
Her statement, provided to Out.com, expressed regret for her original defense of the casting and added that she realized she wasn’t approaching the topic with the sensitivity it deserves.
“I have great admiration and love for the trans community and am grateful that the conversation regarding inclusivity in Hollywood continues,” she said, highlighting stats provided by GLAAD showing a drop in trans representation between 2016 and 2017. “While I would have loved the opportunity to bring Dante’s story and transition to life, I understand why many feel he should be portrayed by a transgender person, and I am thankful that this casting debate, albeit controversial, has sparked a larger conversation about diversity and representation in film.”
Certainly, there will be people who view this move as an example of an internet mob, political correctness run amok, or something else of the sort. It’s not.
People have strong opinions about casting decisions all the time. Sometimes the people upset with the casting decisions get it right (sorry, Jake Gyllenhaal, but the “Prince of Persia” role just wasn’t a good fit), and sometimes they get it laughably wrong (in 2006, a lot of people were apoplectic over Heath Ledger as the Joker).
The point is that these things happen, they get talked about a lot, and then they fade.
For some reason, however, not all criticisms seem to be treated equally. At times, particularly when the issue involves roles crossing transgender or racial lines, there’s a backlash to the backlash. It’s almost as though everybody has emotions and opinions about certain things, but certain groups have those emotions and opinions policed more than others.
The simple truth is that sometimes a role just isn’t a good fit for someone. Sacha Baron Cohen dropped out of the Freddie Mercury biopic. Ed Skrein ducked out of the “Hellboy” reboot. Terry Crews dropped out of “Expendables 4.” They all have very different reasons for doing so. It’s fine.
Nobody made Johansson drop out. She did it anyway — and that’s a big credit to her.
As a transgender person, I honestly dread the handwringing we’re about to see from people and how it’ll be weaponized against my community.
Nobody forced Johansson to drop out of the movie. In the coming days and weeks, I feel like that’s important to remember.
Johansson could have, as many actors have before, put out the film anyway. It probably would have made many people cringe, it probably would have been pretty ahistorical, and it probably wouldn’t have done much to advance the cause of trans acceptance — but she could have done it. Maybe she’d have even won an award for it.
What she did instead shows that she listened to people expressing valid concerns and she was thoughtful in considering the issues they were raising. I hope that people give her credit for listening to feedback and responding like a person who wants to learn, grow, and be empathetic.