Scarlett Johansson Sparks Backlash By Saying She’s Allowed To Play Anything — Even A Tree

Photo: Todd Williamson/E!/NBCUGetty Images.
Update, July 14, 2019, 3 p.m. ET: Scarlett Johansson further clarified remarks on Sunday she made about her controversial casting decisions in an interview with As If, saying her comments were taken out of context.
"An interview that was recently published has been edited for click bait and is widely taken out of context," Johansson said in a statement via her rep, E! reports. "The question I was answering in my conversation with the contemporary artist, David Salle, was about the confrontation between political correctness and art. I personally feel that, in an ideal world, any actor should be able to play anybody and Art, in all forms, should be immune to political correctness."
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She continued: "I recognize that in reality, there is a wide spread discrepancy amongst my industry that favors Caucasian, cisgendered actors and that not every actor has been given the same opportunities that I have been privileged to. I continue to support, and always have, diversity in every industry and will continue to fight for projects where everyone is included."
This article was originally published on July 14, 2019, 2 p.m. ET.
Scarlett Johansson recently gave a candid interview in As If magazine, accompanied with a colorful spread of pop art photos. In the interview, Johansson stated that she felt she should be allowed to play anyone or anything she wants to be, including a tree.
In a write-up of the As If interview in The Daily Mail, Johansson did not directly reference the film roles she has received the most criticism for, but she did say she felt the criticism for taking on roles of marginalized characters was overall a trend that she does not appreciate.
“You know, as an actor I should be allowed to play any person, or any tree, or any animal because that is my job and the requirements of my job,” said Johansson.
“I feel like it’s a trend in my business and it needs to happen for various social reasons, yet there are times it does get uncomfortable when it affects the art because I feel art should be free of restrictions,” she continued.
The role she didn’t mention directly was her casting in Rub & Tug. The film follows the true-life story of Tex Gill, a transgender man who became a crime kingpin in the 1970s. Johansson dropped out of the role after facing heavy criticism for agreeing to play the character despite being cisgender herself. This is a phenomena that can have severe consequences for the perception of transgender people, as Laverne Cox explained to Variety in an actor’s roundtable.
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“In this cultural environment, when we see representations of cis people playing us over and over again, that reinforces the idea that trans women are not really women and trans men are not really men and nonbinary people don’t exist," she said. "That is the basis of the discrimination that trans people experience.”
Recently, GLAAD found that only 14 of the 109 major studio releases in 2017 included LGBTQ+ characters. More disturbingly, not a single one of the 109 releases included a character who was transgender.
Johansson also faced criticism for her role in the 2017 film Ghost in the Shell. Since the character was Japanese in the source material, Johansson was criticized for whitewashing the role. Additionally, she received backlash because she took a role that could have gone to an Asian actor in the face of continued lack of representation of Asian people in Hollywood. According to a study by the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, Asians represented only 4.8% of speaking roles across 1,100 popular films released between 2007 and 2017.
Asian-American actress Constance Wu explained explained to The Hollywood Reporter that this kind of “colorblind” casting can be insulting.
“I understand why people want to be like, 'I'm above race; I don't see anything.' But to say that the way the world perceives you has no impact on your character is kind of ridiculous."
In response to Johansson most recent comments about playing a tree, many people on Twitter are criticizing the double standard she is apparently not seeing.
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Others are reminding her defenders that Johansson has already had a long career and shouldn’t feel entitled to any role.
Still, others are pointing out how Johansson’s comments create a very poor comparison of trans people to inanimate objects.
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