“In light of recent ethical questions raised surrounding my casting as Dante Tex Gill, I have decided to respectfully withdraw my participation in the project,” Johansson said in a statement Friday to Out magazine. “Our cultural understanding of transgender people continues to advance, and I’ve learned a lot from the community since making my first statement about my casting and realize it was insensitive. I have great admiration and love for the trans community and am grateful that the conversation regarding inclusivity in Hollywood continues.”
She continued, “According to GLAAD, LGBTQ+ characters dropped 40 percent in 2017 from the previous year, with no representation of trans characters in any major studio release. While I would have loved the opportunity to bring Dante’s story and transition to life, I understand why many feel he should be portrayed by a transgender person, and I am thankful that this casting debate, albeit controversial, has sparked a larger conversation about diversity and representation in film. I believe that all artists should be considered equally and fairly. My production company, These Pictures, actively pursues projects that both entertain and push boundaries. We look forward to working with every community to bring these most poignant and important stories to audiences worldwide.”
GLAAD President and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis issued a response to Johansson’s statement that read, “Scarlett Johansson’s announcement, together with the transgender voices who spoke out about this film, are game changers for the future of transgender images in Hollywood. Hollywood changed how Americans understand gay and lesbian lives, and TV is starting to do the same for transgender people with authentic transgender portrayals being major hits with critics and audiences. The film industry has a real opportunity to do the same.”
Johansson’s decision follows a week’s worth of backlash from trans actors and advocates, fueled even more by her initial response that was issued via a rep to Bustle. “Tell them that they can be directed to Jeffrey Tambor, Jared Leto, and Felicity Huffman’s reps for comment,” read the statement, referring to the awards won by those three actors in playing trans roles.
“I wouldn’t be as upset if I was getting in the same rooms as Jennifer Lawrence and Scarlett for cis roles, but we know that’s not the case,” Transparent‘s Trace Lysette tweeted at the time. “And not only do you play us and steal our narrative and our opportunity,” she added, “but you pat yourselves on the back with trophies and accolades for mimicking what we have lived… so twisted.”
Sense8‘s Jamie Clayton echoed the sentiment by tweeting, “Actors who are trans never even get to audition FOR ANYTHING OTHER THAN ROLES OF TRANS CHARACTERS. THATS THE REAL ISSUE. WE CANT EVEN GET IN THE ROOM.”
Nashville‘s Jen Richards pointed to her comments regarding Matt Bomer’s casting in the film Anything in explaining another reason for the backlash. As she wrote about Bomer, “Every time a cis man gets applauded for bravely portraying a transgender woman on screen, every time he picks up an award for it while sporting a tuxedo, we’re reinforcing the belief that at the end of the day, a trans woman is still really a man.” The same principles apply to cisgender women playing trans male roles.
Richards now writes, “To exhibit the spirit of generosity I earnestly want to see more of, I am going to take Scarlett Johansson at her word that she listened to feedback, realized that despite her intentions this was going to cause harm, and made the right decision to step down. Well done.”
“Many of us have been consistently working on this issue for many years, both loudly in public and quietly behind the scenes. I have seen hearts opened and minds changed, at all levels of the industry,” she added. “Change is slow, but it happens. Thanks to all of you for amplifying our voices.”