Hollywood: The battle over trans characters
What’s more important—artistic freedom or social justice? That’s the question at the heart of Scarlett Johansson’s decision to withdraw from a role as a transgender man in an upcoming film, said Don Rose in ChicagoTribune.com. When news broke that Johansson would star in Rub & Tug as Dante “Tex” Gill—a larger-than-life trans man who ran a string of brothels in Pittsburgh—the trans community and its supporters erupted in outrage, demanding that a trans actor be given the part. Initially, Johansson defended herself, citing acclaimed performances by non-trans actors Jared Leto, Jeffrey Tambor, and Felicity Huffman in trans roles. Yet “under heavy pressure,” Johansson apologized and backed out of the film. Trans actors certainly deserve more opportunities in Hollywood, but where does this precedent lead? “Should only gay actors,” for example, “portray gays or lesbians?”
That’s both a “simple and complicated” question, said Jonah Goldberg in NationalReview.com. It’s taboo today for white actors to play black characters, “and rightly so.” But “minstrel-show spectacles” were a form of “racist mockery and disrespect,” and that’s not applicable here. Trace Lysette, a trans actress, protested Johansson’s casting on the grounds that it would take work from a trans actor. But it’s hardly “outrageous” for a movie studio to prefer an international star like Johansson “over an obscure transgender actor.” The “social-justice warrior mob,” however, was out for blood, and even managed to pressure BusinessInsider.com into retracting an opinion column defending Johansson’s casting. For all of its grievances, the trans community sure has a lot of cultural power.
Nothing’s more “frustrating” than the argument that “box office success matters more than respecting someone’s identity,” said Samantha Allen in TheDailyBeast.com. How can trans actors become bankable stars when they’re repeatedly passed over for roles? Besides, when you put a famous woman like Johansson in this role, the implicit message is that “transgender men are really women.” Maybe it seems like “hubris” to take offense at having “other people imitate us,” said Jennifer Finney Boylan in The New York Times. But “we deserve to represent our own truth.” When Leto and Eddie Redmayne “were lauded for their courage” for playing transgender women in Dallas Buyers Club and The Danish Girl, respectively, many trans women found those performances “mannered, studied, and implausible.” Of course, if you haven’t “walked in our shoes, you wouldn’t notice the difference.” ■