ScarJo was recently cast as Dante “Tex” Gill, a real-life transgender man who oversaw a massage parlor and sex work business in Pittsburgh in the ’70s and ’80s. A new film about his life, currently titled “Rub & Tug,” is being co-produced by Johansson — and, conveniently enough, stars her as well.
But as the previous tweet not-so subtly suggested, many people aren’t thrilled about Johansson, who is cisgender, portraying Gill, who was transgender. And rightfully so.
Photo by Angela Weiss/AFP/Getty Images.
But wait! Before you argue, “Well, isn’t that what acting is all about — pretending to be somebody you’re not?” hear what a few trans actors had to say about the news. Because if anyone should be heard on this issue, it’s them.
Jamie Clayton, who starred in “Sense8,” wasn’t thrilled.
Trans actors don’t get nearly the same opportunity as cis artists, she argued, which gets at the heart of the issue.
Very few transgender characters make it onto the big screen, period. But even when they do, those characters are often defined solely by their gender identities, fall into harmful stereotypes, or serve no purpose to the plot other than to be the butt of transphobic jokes.
As Lysette and Clayton noted, it’s still rare (read: basically impossible) for trans actors to be cast in cisgender roles. So it’s understandably infuriating when the few opportunities that do arise for them are snatched away by cis Hollywood heavyweights who no doubt have a plethora of scripts to choose from.
Beyond affecting the opportunities for trans actors, though, these casting decisions have real-world ramifications as well.
When cisgender actors are cast in transgender roles, it perpetuates the harmful myth that transgender people are simply “in drag” — that they’re really just pretending or performing, GLAAD’s Nick Adams argued in The Hollywood Reporter:
“Hollywood is having a very difficult time letting go of the idea that putting a male actor in a dress, wig and makeup is an accurate portrayal of a transgender woman. … It’s yet another painful reminder that, in the eyes of so many people, transgender women are really just men. That message is toxic and dangerous.”
“I hope the Scarlett Johansson controversy doesn’t keep the amazing story of Jean Marie Gill aka Dante ‘Tex’ Gill from being told. If Johansson was smart, she’d find a new director, take the role of Tex’s girlfriend Cynthia, and give a trans actor a big break.”
I hope the Scarlett Johansson controversy doesn’t keep the amazing story of Jean Marie Gill aka Dante “Tex” Gill from being told – if Johansson was smart, she’d find a new director, take the role of Tex’s girlfriend Cynthia, and give a trans actor a big break: pic.twitter.com/1eKnZxp89Q