Why Scarlett Johansson's new role is so controversial

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.

Scarlett Johansson (Photo: Getty Images)
Scarlett Johansson (Photo: Getty Images)

The absence caught the attention of Pose actress Angelica Ross, who had this to say on Twitter:

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:

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.

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.

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:

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