Last year, owing to widespread criticism, Scarlett Johansson withdrew from playing the lead role in a based-on-a-true-story mob drama called Rub & Tub, owing to the fact that she, a cisgender woman, was set to portray Dante “Tex” Gill, a transmasculine man. This backlash echoed another casting choice made by the actress a year prior, when she played the lead in Ghost in the Shell, a sci-fi film based on a popular Japanese manga and anime. Johansson has mostly stayed quiet in the aftermath of the respective casting brouhahas, but now, in a new interview with As If magazine, she admitted she isn’t thrilled that “political correctness” is policing what actors can and can’t do while choosing roles.
“You know, as an actor I should be allowed to play any person, or any tree, or any animal because that is my job and the requirements of my job,” Johansson explained. “I feel like it’s a trend in my business and it needs to happen for various social reasons, yet there are times it does get uncomfortable when it affects the art because I feel art should be free of restrictions.” She added about political correctness specifically: “I think society would be more connected if we just allowed others to have their own feelings and not expect everyone to feel the way we do.”
While Johansson previously defined her Ghost in the Shell role as “essentially identity-less” upon the film’s release, she was initially dismissive of the pleas to give her Rub & Tug role to a trans actor, saying to critics, “tell them that they can be directed to Jeffrey Tambor, Jared Leto, and Felicity Huffman’s reps for comment.” (The trio have all previously played trans women in film and television.) When Johansson eventually withdrew from the film, she offered an apology for her “insensitive” words.
Update, July 14: In a statement obtained by Vulture, Johansson claims her comments were edited for “clickbait” reasons by As If, and have been “widely” taken out of context. “The question I was answering in my conversation with the contemporary artist, David Salle, was about the confrontation between political correctness and art,” she said. “I personally feel that, in an ideal world, any actor should be able to play anybody and art, in all forms, should be immune to political correctness. That is the point I was making, albeit didn’t come across that way.” Johansson added:
I recognize that in reality, there is a wide spread discrepancy amongst my industry that favors Caucasian, cis gendered actors and that not every actor has been given the same opportunities that I have been privileged to. I continue to support, and always have, diversity in every industry and will continue to fight for projects where everyone is included.