Scar Jo (aka Scarlett Johansson) recently came under fire for taking a role in the transgender film "Rub and Tug." She was set to play Dante Gill (Tex), who ran a collection of massage parlors in the 1970's and 1980's that became fronts for prostitution. Scarlett Johansson was set to play Dante (Tex). However with all the backlash she faced for playing a transgender in the role she withdrew from the film and in a very classy statement said, " 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."
She wasn't happy about withdrawing from the movie. And the debate began. Once the LGBTQ+ community, Glaad, and transgender activists took to the online world, the pressure was on and it eventually led to Scarlett Johansson withdrawing from the role.
Looking at the transgender community, it is still a very small population--approximately .58% of the United States identifies as transgender (1.4 million people) in 2016.
Glaad recently released that in 2017, LGBTQ+ characters in media representation dropped 40%. And it cited that no transgender character was shown in any major studio release.
While Hollywood has been trying hard to raise awareness of diversity issues in media representation, it seems to follow trends. For a long time it was shows like "The Cosby Show" raising awareness of the black community. Shows like "The George Lopez Show" followed suit years later with awareness for the Latino community and "Will and Grace" and "Ellen" were at the forefront for bringing gay and lesbian awareness. "Orange is the New Black" is the first show I can remember hearing buzz about with the arrival of a transgender actress in media.
However, Hollywood's main goal is to play to the majority of what people want and will pay for or watch.
Historically we also see a trend. Awareness peaks and more and more shows and movies gear towards that trend and desire for education on a particular subject. Then as the trend wanes, it becomes normalized and represented more mainstreamly in Hollywood. Shows like "Modern Family" are perfect examples of that.
Historically speaking, acting has always been one of crossover representation. Dating back to it's earliest roots, woman roles were traditionally played by males. Think Shakespeare and Japanese Kabuki theatre. As time went on, roles traditionally played by men like the movie "Peter Pan" went to woman. Transgender roles have also been played by non transgender actors. Jared Leto and Jeffrey Tambor immediately come to mind in their portrayals. Gay and lesbian actors and actresses have played straight characters. Neil Patrick Harris in "How I Met Your Mother" immediately comes to mind. The musical "Once on This Island" which is traditionally played by characters in the island communities will be played by a mostly white cast at my daughters high school this year. The teacher felt it was important for the students to learn certain lessons and felt the message of the show was needed and relevant to his students he is teaching in a majority white community.
At the heart of every actor or actress is the desire to bring a role to life in the best way possible. They often immerse themselves in a role or person they are portraying. It is also their desire to branch out and challenge themselves in the role they are playing to not only bring awareness to that role but to better understand. How many times do actors and actresses like Sandra Bullock, Julia Roberts, Zac Efron and Reese Witherspoon interview a person they are playing as well as watch video and characteristics and mannerisms of the real life character they are portraying? How many times do they state that their goal was to bring the role they are playing to life in the way the person they are portraying would want it to be portrayed? Or to bring to life what the person (if deceased) was really like?
That is the heart and essence of acting. While both sides of this issue have valid arguments and points, what is the heart of the issue? What is the purpose of the fight? What is the future goal? I'm struggling because on one hand actors and actresses are applauded for branching out of their traditional roles and bringing awareness to communities that have statistically not had a large voice. But this fight against Scar Jo almost seemed to push efforts back instead of move them forward. There wasn't a direction or clear vision that is resonating to the greater world outside of Hollywood. To many outside of Hollywood, they aren't understanding that non transgender actors and actresses played a transgender role, got applauded for their representation of that role, and now the transgender community only wants transgender roles to go to those who are transgender. That seems to be the larger picture coming from this. And if that's the case should women be playing traditional mens roles, should gay men be playing straight characters and should straight woman be playing in lesbian roles? Should we continue to allow actors and actresses to portray themselves in a variety of roles that allow for greater artistic interpretation and variety or should we limit them on gender and sexual orientation? What's your take?