We seem to have a certain clash here between the more outraged of the public commentators and reality. Scarlett Johansson has agreed to take a role where she plays a trans man. That is – as opposed to a cis or trans woman – someone born as a woman who identified and largely acted as a man. This is apparently an outrage. Such a role should only be taken by someone who was also born as a woman and identifies as a man. At least, that’s the claim:
Scarlett Johansson has been criticised for taking on the role of a transgender man in a new film.
The Avengers star will play 1970s Pittsburgh crime boss Dante “Tex” Gill, who was born Jean Gill, in Rub & Tug.
According to a local US newspaper obituary, Dante – who died in 2003 – is said to have identified as a man and asked to be called “Mr Gill”.
“There are literally so many trans actors that could’ve been cast in this role,” one person wrote on Twitter.
Sure, there may well be plenty of trans actors out there. One of the points about their being good actors being that we wouldn’t know. Acting being that ability to make people think you’re someone else?
The thing is though that there aren’t that many really rather good actors out there. Ms. Johansson is one of them. It’s also true that there aren’t that many “names” out there. Someone who, by agreeing to be cast, produces all the money to enable the film to be made – greenlighting in the parlance. Ms. Johansson is also one of those.
But, you know, apparently it’s still an outrage:
Johansson has defended the casting, using examples of other actors who have portrayed transgender women.
In a statement to Bustle, her rep said: “Tell them they can be directed to Jeffrey Tambor, Jared Leto, and Felicity Huffman’s reps for comment.”
That’s actually pretty weak as an answer.
Another said, ‘Scarlett Johansson is playing a trans man in her next movie because her ultimate career goal is to take an acting job from a member of each and every marginalized group.’
An that’s verging upon insanity.
We’ve noted that this is the casting of an actor for a part, have we? That part being, in one aspect of the character, transgender. The character is also, in another aspect or two, a madam of brothels closely connected with the Mob underworld. So, why not a cry that the part should be reserved for a retied ex-madam with an interesting – if ex- – set of connections to the Mob underworld? The logic there is exactly the same, after all. That a trans can only be played by a trans. That a madam can only be played by a madam…..what is the difference? The answer that I’m just being ridiculous is true of course – but then so is the original claim.
The necessary thing to recall here is that we really are talking about casting actors. The defining point of which is that they pretend to be something they’re not. And the question is how good are they at the pretending, not how similar are their attributes to those of the character.
Rock Hudson wowed the ladies as a convincing hetero for decades, Clint Eastwood has never shot anyone in anger, Julie Andrews never did flee from the Nazis and the rumour is that Madonna once managed to convincingly outact the scenery.
How much do we have to beat the snowflakes around the head with this? These people are all playing dress up and what matters is how good they are at doing that not any of their other attributes.
Seriously, we might as well start electing Presidents because they play one well on TV.