Scarlett Johansson’s casting as Dante “Tex” Gill, a transgender man, for the upcoming film Rub & Tug has irked many trans film-goers and allies online. But for transgender actors and comedians, the decision to put a cisgender woman in the role of a trans man is indicative of Hollywood’s treatment of trans performers as a whole.
On Monday, the Hollywood Reporter reported that Johansson would play the role of Gill, a real-life owner of a Pittsburg massage parlor that was also a prostitution business in the ’70s and ’80s. Critics have since taken issue with Johansson’s role in the film, saying the role should instead go to a trans man instead of allowing another cisgender actor to misrepresent and capitalize off of the transgender experience.
Several trans performers have spoken out about the casting decision, including Transparent‘s Trace Lysette and Sense8‘s Jamie Clayton. Both women pointed out the industry’s lack of opportunity for transgender performers: Cisgender actors frequently take the roles of trans people, such as Jeffrey Tambor in Transparent and Felicity Huffman in Transamerica, they argued. However, transgender actors are limited by Hollywood only play transgender roles—the opportunity for trans actors to play cisgender characters doesn’t exist.
“Oh word?? So you can continue to play us but we can’t play y’all? Hollywood is so fucked… 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,” Lysette wrote on Twitter. “And not only do you play us and steal our narrative and our opportunity but you pat yourselves on the back with trophies and accolades for mimicking what we have lived.”
Oh word?? So you can continue to play us but we can’t play y’all? Hollywood is so fucked… 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. A mess. https://t.co/s8gBlBI1Sw— Trace Lysette (@tracelysette) July 4, 2018
And not only do you play us and steal our narrative and our opportunity but you pat yourselves on the back with trophies and accolades for mimicking what we have lived… so twisted. I’m so done…— Trace Lysette (@tracelysette) July 4, 2018
As Lysette and BuzzFeed News pointed out, many of these cisgender actors have received recognition for their work in trans roles. Huffman won an Oscar for Transamerica, and so did Hilary Swank for Boys Don’t Cry and Jared Leto for Dallas Buyers Club; in 2016, Eddie Redmayne was nominated for The Danish Girl.
Lysette later wrote that she began fielding death threats for her tweets on the casting.
Death threats for being trans and speaking my mind… nothing new— Trace Lysette (@tracelysette) July 4, 2018
Transgender entertainer and Ru Paul’s Drag Race season 9 contestant Peppermint defended Lysette against actor Michael Rappaport’s assertion that trans actors just aren’t trying hard enough, stating that while Johansson might be talented, so are trans performers, and they should be given a chance.
“It’s not about [Lysette]. It’s that we are never included. stories and roles are being created about us and We’re never ASKED. Give Trans actors a chance. Black actors experienced this 100 years ago. Yes she’s talented. But SO ARE WE,” she wrote.
.@MichaelRapaport wow @tracelysette it's not about her. It's that we are never included. stories and roles are being created about us and We're never ASKED. Give Trans actors a chance. Black actors experienced this 100 years ago. Yes she's talented. But SO ARE WE. Dont try it boo— Peppermint (@Peppermint247) July 4, 2018
this is about opportunity. You're not being honest if you think the most successful actors make it without anyone giving them a chance. I Dont think you get it. That's cool. At least we all know where you stand when it comes to Trans folk.— Peppermint (@Peppermint247) July 4, 2018
Clayton elaborated on this sentiment, hammering home the understanding that it would be one thing if trans actors were even allowed to audition for non-trans characters, but the fact of the matter is that transgender performers have few roles in the first place, being only allowed to audition for the sprinkling of trans characters in comparison to the number of non-trans roles available.
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. Cast actors WHO ARE TRANS as NON TRANS CHARACTERS. I DARE YOU #RupertSanders @NewRegency #ScarlettJohansson https://t.co/RkrW8MeGcG— Jamie Clayton (@MsJamieClayton) July 4, 2018
Clayton later clarified that she wasn’t taking aim at Johansson, or stating that she shouldn’t be playing the role of a trans man. However, she wanted to bring attention to the lack of opportunity that trans performers have in the first place.
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Trans male performers, too, have weighed in on Johansson’s casting, being that she has effectively taken the role away from a trans male actor who could use the opportunity to launch his mainstream career.
Ian Harvie, one of the performers suggested by CNN to be cast in Johansson’s role, denounced Johansson’s response to the criticism in which she deferred inquirers to the publicists of other cisgender people who’ve played trans roles.
What does CIS WHITE FEMALE PRIVILEGE looks like?#ScarlettJohansson doesnt feel the need to answer for herself-she redirects her public to other industry people who got it wrong but “won awards”. Is she also enough of an ass to assume that she will win an award, is that what she.. pic.twitter.com/6iBwNoTTiS— Ian Harvie (@ianharvie) July 4, 2018
Harvie went on to suggest that comedian Murray Hill, a trans man, was instead meant to play the role of Gill, “not #ScarJo.”
For the casting agents who cast #ScarlettJohansson .. I swear, transmasculine guy, performer and actor, who lives his life as a man, on stage and off, and who is famous @Murray_Hill was made for the role, not #ScarJo pic.twitter.com/j4uwCbowQh— Ian Harvie (@ianharvie) July 5, 2018
Emmett J. Lundberg, another trans performer CNN suggested for the role of Gill, also advocated for transgender people in trans roles on his Twitter account.
“Don’t let #ScarlettJohansson fool you, we exist,” Lundberg tweeted.
While Johansson may not budge to the comments of trans performers, trans actor Alexandra, trans activist Jen Richards, and icon Laverne Cox are pushing for the Hollywood Reporter to take the conversation around transgender opportunities in entertainment seriously, and host a roundtable in order to elevate the voices and concerns of trans performers.
We should totally do a roundtable discussion with @THR— Alexandra Grey (@1alexandragrey) July 4, 2018
We need to reach all those execs, studios, show runners, and networks who will see it and who have the power to make some moves and really help shift the industry in a more inclusive & diverse direction. Let's do it! #THR
This is a great idea. https://t.co/ezFd08ejmv— Laverne Cox (@Lavernecox) July 5, 2018
“We need to reach all those execs, studios, show runners, and networks who will see it and who have the power to make some moves and really help shift the industry in a more inclusive & diverse direction,” Grey wrote.
H/T BuzzFeed News