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20th of July 2018

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Scarlett Johansson apparently learned nothing from the 'Ghost in the Shell' controversy

Some self-reflection is called for here.Some self-reflection is called for here.Image: Paramount2017%2f05%2f02%2fd1%2fangiehanheadshothighres3.50ab4By Angie Han2018-07-03 23:31:46 UTC

It was a little over a year ago that Scarlett Johansson found herself embroiled in controversy over Ghost in the Shell, in which she plays a Japanese woman in a white woman's (android) body.

Now she and Ghost in the Shell director Rupert Sanders are catching heat again, for a new project that will have Johansson playing a trans man. 

And if the actress' reaction to the pushback is any indication, Johansson clearly learned nothing from the Ghost in the Shell dustup.

On Monday, The Hollywood Reporter and other trades broke the news that Johansson would be starring in Rub & Tug as Dante "Tex" Gill, a massage parlor owner in the 1970s and 1980s. 

Although different accounts have described Gill's identity in different ways, most signs – including Gill's own self-identification – indicate that he was a trans man, not a cis woman posing as a man.

Unsurprisingly, Johansson's casting has gotten some pushback. When word of the controversy reached Johansson, her rep responded to Bustle as follows:

Tell them that they can be directed to Jeffrey Tambor, Jared Leto, and Felicity Huffman's reps for comment.

(Mashable has reached out to Johansson's reps for further comment.)

Johansson's comment refers to three cis actors who won accolades for playing trans characters: Tambor in Transparent, Leto in Dallas Buyers Club, and Huffman in Transamerica. 

In other words, she seems to be saying, it was fine for them to play trans people – so it's okay for me, too. 

It's true that Tambor, Leto, and Huffman were rewarded for playing trans characters. That doesn't mean it's okay for Johansson to play one now. For one thing, there was controversy around those roles, even if Johansson didn't know or care about it.

For another, standards have evolved, as they constantly do in Hollywood. Choices that were considered more broadly acceptable then don't necessarily pass muster now. It'd be equally valid to point out that in more recent years, actors like Matt Bomer and Elle Fanning have been heavily criticized for taking on trans roles in Anything and 3 Generations, respectively.

Casting a cis woman like Johansson as a trans character robs actual trans actors of opportunities that are already difficult for them to come by, and erases actual trans people from narratives that are ostensibly about people like them. Moreover, it perpetuates the insidious belief that trans men and women are simply playing dress-up and are not "real" men and women.

Johansson's is an incredibly dismissive reaction to legitimate concerns, and one that seems destined to backfire. 

Just because Johansson and Sanders don't see the issue doesn't mean there isn't one. You can bet those seeking better representation in Hollywood will continue to speak out in the run-up to Rub & Tug's release – just as we did around Ghost in the Shell.

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