Accepting and Declining Trans Roles – Scarlet Johannson and Acting Trans

Well, I had a video set up to finish being edited, focusing on the news that Scarlet Johannson had accepted the lead role in a movie called Rub and Tug, wherein she’d be playing male transgender mob boss, Dante Tex Gill, which would have teamed her up with her director from Ghost in the Shell, Rupert Sanders.

(I’ll just point out briefly that her whitewashing in that movie’s role was, I’d argue the main reason why it was such a box office failure, as was Gods of Egypt and The Wall. Whitewashing means loss of profit, a lesson Hollywood has yet to learn, and the subject  for another time.)

So, for a while there, it appeared ScarJo was intent on playing a role that would have denied work for a marginalized community as well as enforced a transphobic trope, that transgender people are merely playing dress up instead of trying to live the gender that they really are.

However, thanks to the outrage raised by the transgender community over what would have been a performance of what I call transgender pain porn for an acting award, Scarlet Johannson has dropped out of the role.

This is, without a doubt, a victory for the transgender community, because it means that their voices were heard and that change is possible. It’s a bright spark of hope in some rather dark times, to be sure, because lets face it, the representation of transgender people, to say nothing of non-binary and non-gender conforming people, is absolutely atrocious.

I mentioned transgender pain porn earlier, and for that I feel a definition is in order.

Transgender Pain Porn: A movie, TV, online show that features a cisgender actor or actress in a transgender role whereby said transgender role is shown to be one of misery and suffering, usually ending tragically.

One such example? Hillary Swank as Brandon in Boys Don’t Cry, a transgender man who runs away from home, finds a brief moment of happiness, and is murdered by transphobic people.

Dallas Buyer’s Club, starring accused sexual molestor and abuser Jared Leto, is about a man who contracts HIV and, while setting up a buyer’s club to get medication, befriends Rayon, a transgender woman. This is based on the real life story of Ron Woodroof.

Handled by the powers that be in Hollywood, such films are more an attempt at an Oscar grab, as was Jared Leto’s role in The Dallas Buyer’s Club that earned him an Oscar, than any chance to showcase transgender people living and loving and and exploring all aspects of their lives. What’s more, such roles aren’t even offered to transgender actors and actresses, as Trace Lysette, actress on the Amazon series Transparent, pointed out when news of ScarJo’s casting first dropped.

This was followed by up actress Jamie Clayton, best known for her role in the popular Netflix series Sense8, expressing frustration and not even being able to get into the casting room.

It’s especially frustrating when there are examples such as the Roland Emmerich flop, Stonewall, a movie based on a real, historical event and a majour turning point in the fight for rights for the LGBTQ+ community when Marsha P Johnson, a black, bisexual transgender woman, threw the brick heard round the world that instigated a riot, was replaced by a Indiana white gay man. It cost 13 million to make and brought in only $133 thousand dollars, with Roland Emmerich, himself a gay white man, defending his decision to erase Marsha’s role, saying “”It’s a good thing the film is out there now, but I never quite understood the fuss.”

So hopefully, with ScarJo opting out, things might be turning around, but there is still some things we can do.

For started, do not do as actress and director Justine Batemann do, and berate the critics and a marginalized community for getting a movie cancelled.

As anyone with access to Google can tell you, simply having an actor or actress with marquee value does not guarantee a successful movie. Any number of well established actors and actresses have starred in abysmal box office failures, such as Bruce Willis in Hudson Hawk, or even ScarJo herself in Ghost in the Shell.

You also shouldn’t then delete your initial tweet and a bunch of other, finger waving, lecturing tweets after being educated on how wrong you are. It makes you look like a coward.

 

As for actual constructive actions we can take that aren’t paternalistic-ally condescending, the first is that when such moves are made by Hollywood, we, cisgender people, can align our voices with those of Transgender people and call Hollywood out on this bogus casting. They can’t do all the heavy lifting, no single marginalized group should.

We can listen to them when they tell us why this is wrong and transphobic, as was written in this excellent article by Danielle Soizman for Slashfilm.com where she talked with other transgender actors and actresses and the ugly history of such casting in Hollywood.

We can boycott the films when they come out.

We can support shows and movies that actually strive for inclusion instead of exploitation, as as Janet Mock’s The Pose on FX and Sense8 on Netflix.

And in this case, we can read up more on Dante Tex Gill, in this fine article by Samantha Riedel, and learn more about this interesting person.

Advertisements

Ghost in the Shell And The Continuation Of Whitewashing In Hollywood

So, today the trailer for the Ghost in the Shell Live  Action movie trailer dropped, along with an introduction from Scarlet Johannson herself.

You can check it out here.

Throughout the trailer, about the only thought I had on my mind was that they still had a white woman in the lead roll of the majour, who is a Japanese woman who works for Section 6, a kind of top tier police force that answers to the Japanese government.

Sadly, this whitewashing of Asian characters is nothing new, and is a sad, long tradition in Hollywood that shows no sign of stopping anytime soon.

Heck, merely typing whitewashing movies into Google brings you the following result, and numerous links about the many, MANY examples of whitewashing in Hollywood.

However, here are a few examples, and of ones wherein white actors were cast in the role of Asian characters:

Justin Chatwin as Goku in Dragonball Evolution.

Emma Stone as Captain Allison Ng in Aloha.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tilda Swinton as The Ancient One in Dr. Strange.

The leading cast of 21, based of a true account of 6 Asian MIT students who beat Las Vegas at their own game, making off with millions.

Elizabeth Banks Rita Repulsa in the new Power Rangers Movie.

And now, recently, Scarlet Johannson as the Majour in Ghost in the Shell.

It’s frustrating and tiring to see diversity brushed aside for various reasons, despite the fact that many of the films who whitewash their leading characters more often than not become huge, box office failures. Despite disasters such as the box office receipts for *Aloha (Domestic total gross of 21 million with a production cost of  37 million) and The Last Airbender (domestic total gross of 131 million with a production cost of 151 million), Hollywood seems bound and determined to stick by its reasons for casting white actors in the roles of Asian characters.

However, one point about the casting choice of Ghost in The Shell I wish to talk about is the support of it from Kodansha, the manga publishing company that released Ghost in the Shell way back in 1989.

This does not absolve Paramount Pictures of its racist whitewashing, and the reason why is context.

See, in Japan, there are all kinds of roles for actresses and actors in all matters of entertainment, be it video games, anime, movies, and dramas. There is almost literally no lack of roles for them, and as such, a white woman playing a Japanese character is something unique and interesting over there.

However, in the West, it’s yet another example of whitewashing.

Context is also the reason why Yellow Rangers in the various Sentai shows over 30 years is not racist in Japan. Over there, it’s simply another primary colour among many for the brightly coloured teams that have entertained children for years.

Here in the West, yellow has racial connotations that sprang up from Yellow Peril, a 19th century colonial theory about how East Asians are a threat to the Western world. A browsing of yellow peril on google’s image link shows off where the caricature of the Asian man with the fu manchu mustache, exaggerated slanted eyes, and yellow skin came from.

As such, when Thuy Trang was cast as Trini the Yellow Ranger in the original Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, it was most definitely racially insensitive.

What also concerns me is that a success by Ghost in the Shell could be seen as having a silver lining, that an action movie with a female lead can succeed, and to that I say No.

Stop it.

Progress does not come by having a white woman stand on the back of women of colour. That is what one calls White Feminism, and between this and ScarJo’s other film, Lucy, which features a white woman in peril from evil Asian men, I’ve pretty much lost all enthusiasm for a Black Widow movie.

This casting choice was a mistake, one that continues to be repeated time and time again, and I fear that the only lesson to be learned from it if the movie fails is that women can’t lead action films, not that one shouldn’t whitewash roles.

*Figures taken from boxofficemojo.com.

 

 

Not Your Asian Sidekick, Hollywood

With the release of the first image of Scarlet Johannson from Ghost in the Shell and the teaser trailer of Dr Strange, it’s time to take a look at just what these two are doing to continue the Hollywood tradition of cultural appropriation and whitewashing of Asian roles.

From The Angry Asian Man blog, comes the image of ScarJo from Ghost in the Shell, which recently started filming.

Oh look! Six other Japanese actresses Hollywood could have picked from instead of whitewashing the Majour.

And a great article on The Hollywood reporter summarizing a number of responses to the white washing, yellow face, and cultural appropriation in both Dr Strange and Ghost in the Shell.