Actors Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Scarlett Johansson are the latest victims on a growing list of creative individuals who have been shamed, sometimes into submission, for doing what they do best — taking on a role and portraying characters other than themselves.
For Johnson, the criticism came from fellow actor Katy Sullivan, who is a double amputee from birth.
A letter that Sullivan wrote recently appeared as an article in Deadline. In it, she chided Johnson for accepting a role in which he — an able-bodied person — portrays an above-the-knee amputee in “Skyscraper,” an action/adventure film out in theaters now.
In Sullivan’s point of view, Johnson should decline such jobs in order to make room for an actual amputee to play the part.
“I know you have expressed support of authentic casting recently. And that’s a step in the right direction,” said Sullivan in the letter. “But the step in a better direction would be, the next time you are presented with an opportunity to portray a character whose life experience includes some sort of disability, please consider saying ‘No.'”
In Scarlett Johansson’s case, the criticism came from the LGBTQ+ community at large. Johansson was soundly routed for accepting a role in a film in which she, as a cisgender person, was to portray a transgendered person in “Rub & Tug,” a biopic.
“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 an exclusive statement to Out after the criticisms.
In the statement, she characterized her initial response to the blowback from the LGBTQ+ community as “insensitive,” and noted that though she “would have loved the opportunity to bring Dante’s story and transition to life,” she believes the role should, in fact, be played by a transgendered actor.
“I believe that all artists should be considered equally and fairly,” she added.
I think #ScarlettJohansson is such a brilliant artist. I hate seeing such talent being sacrificed on the altar political correctness.
— James Woods (@RealJamesWoods) July 15, 2018
So, does this mean American Scarlett Johansson can't play a Russian assassin in Avengers 4?
— Geoffrey Miller (@primalpoly) July 14, 2018
From the point of view of some in the LGBTQ+ community — which spearheaded a protest campaign about the film’s casting — a role as a transgendered person is most appropriate for actors who are themselves transgendered.
The sad irony here is that this effort to encourage more inclusion of oft-marginalized groups has a darker flipside.
Typecasting is a hurdle most actors work desperately to avoid. And the push for people from marginalized groups to play roles that mimic their off-screen lives may pigeonhole and limit them.
Also, what about acting? What about playing a role in a convincing, believable way? That’s an art when it’s done well. So are these people now trying to marginalize and limit art, too?
Great actors, regardless of any ability (or disability), gender, sexual orientation, or other personal traits or characteristics, work hard to develop the skill and art of acting — and do it very, very well. And filmmaking is a business. Actors like Johnson and Johansson command mammoth paychecks for very good reason. They put the “butts in the seats.”
The pool of actors who fit the bill as sure box-office draws is small. That pool gets even smaller when the person who’s cast must not only have an established history of bringing financial success to a film, but also must mimic hard-to-find characteristics, such as having only one leg.
In Johnson’s case, the dressing down followed the release of his blockbuster film, “Skyscraper,” which earned an impressive $25.49 million in its domestic debut last weekend (that’s moderate for films in which he appears).
In Johansson’s case, the scathing criticisms came down soon after she’d accepted the role as Dante “Tex” Gill, a female gangster who identifies as a male. The pressure was enough to convince 2016’s top-grossing actor to withdraw from the role.
The pressure was enough to convince 2016’s top-grossing actor to withdraw from the role.
Actors’ off-screen lives regularly bear no resemblance to the characters they portray in films. They are actors, not reality show participants.
Actors of every stripe can and should be afforded the opportunity to play the roles of their choice, and casting directors are well-served to hire the individual or individuals they believe will best advance the goals of the project. And none of them should be shamed for it.
Michele Blood is a Flemington, New Jersey-based freelance writer and a regular contributor to LifeZette.