File this one under “Lessons Not Learned”. Over the weekend, Scarlett Johansson revived the controversy around her right to play whatever role she wants, be it animal, tree, or trans person. Remember last year when she backed out of the movie Rub & Tug, about a crime boss/transman named Tex Gill? Remember how sloppily the situation was handled? Apparently ScarJo learned absolutely nothing, because when the artist David Salle asked her in an interview about political correctness and art, she doubled down on her stance from last year, repeating: “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. […] 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.”
First of all, playing a tree and playing a trans person are not the same thing because one is a fantasy and the other is a real, lived experience. Be all the trees you want because the forest is not suffering for lack of representation. But trans people exist in the world, they have stories to tell, and right now, they are struggling to tell their own stories. Naturally, this did not go well for ScarJo, who had to, once again, clarify her statement. (Pro tip: If you are constantly explaining yourself, maybe think about sh-t before you speak.) In a statement, 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.”
We got it, Scarlett, you think you should get to play any role but recognize that “political correctness” is preventing you from that. We heard you the first time—it DID come across that way. Sh-t has not changed from last year, when I wrote about her first brush with this topic. In a perfect world, anyone could play any role because everyone would have equal opportunities. But we don’t live in that world yet. That is the nuance she’s missing, that we’re not there yet and marginalized groups are still struggling to represent themselves and tell their own stories. Don’t forget what Billy Porter said— “I can’t get the gay parts, I can’t get the straight parts.” Same applies to trans roles, especially if they’re seen as award bait, where a cis performer would be hailed as SO BRAVE for playing the role.
Also, blaming “political correctness” for anything is what assholes do when what they really want to say is: “I want to do whatever the f-ck I want free of consequences”. A positive conversation about art and political correctness could focus on empathetic storytelling, a recognition that we do not live in a vacuum and our words and actions have an impact on others, and that we can find ways to use our access and our platforms to uplift the voices of others, to empower marginalized people to tell their own stories, and maybe, by doing so, move us closer to that ideal world of equal opportunity. Instead ScarJo goes for the asshole line: Political correctness is getting in the way of me doing whatever the f-ck I want free of consequences.
Scarlett Johansson is not suffering for a lack of opportunity. Saying, “Hey maybe it’s time the trans community gets to tell their own stories,” is not infringing on her rights. It’s just suggesting that maybe this time Scarlett lets the opportunity go to someone else, that she actually participates in supporting others. Back in the first cycle of this story—she keeps making the exact same mistake, it is SO disappointing—she said: “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.”
But is she working with “every community”? Rub & Tug appears to be dead in the water. She is still listed as a producer, but there has been no word on if she intends to help someone else tell this story. Ultimately, she is right, and in an ideal world, anyone could play any role because everyone would have equal opportunity. She could help take a step toward that world by creating an opportunity for someone else who does not enjoy the same access and privilege she does right now. But is she? Will she? Or will she continue to blame political correctness for the world not catering to her every whim?