Scarlett Johansson pulls out of transgender role after backlash (Update)

When Scarlett Johansson was selected to play a transgender role in a forthcoming film called “Rub and Tug” there was an immediate backlash. Today, Variety reports that Johansson has backed out of the role because of the controversy:

“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 told Out Magazine, which first reported the news, in a statement. “Our cultural understanding of transgender people continues to advance, and I’ve learned a lot from the community since making my first statement about my casting and realize it was insensitive…

“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,” the statement continues.

In short, I’m sorry for daring to think I could play a transgender role. Some trans actors had expressed frustration that a box office star like Johansson was being chosen over an actual trans person to play the role in question.

Both of these actresses, whose tweets are mentioned in every story about this controversy, seem to be more upset that they can’t get straight roles rather than that Johansson can get a trans role. In any case, when asked about it at first, Johansson put out a defiant statement: “Tell them that they can be directed to Jeffrey Tambor, Jared Leto, and Felicity Huffman’s reps for comment.” Tambor is the actor who starred in the TV show Transparent. Jared Leto won an Oscar for playing a trans woman in Dallas Buyer’s Club (which should have won Best Picture). But that was apparently the wrong thing to say. It seems that, as of this week, straight actors can no longer take transgender roles.

Scarlett Johansson has a large pile of Avengers money to fall back on, not to mention her good looks and genuine talent. She’ll be fine. But the sudden shift was a lot harder on the conservative columnist at Business Insider who wrote an opinion piece effectively siding with Johansson. Her argument was pretty simple: Actors get paid to pretend, so what’s the big deal if a woman pretends to be a man.

As I noted here, Business Insider pulled the article down after a group of Social Justice Warriors at the company complained that author Daniella Greenbaum wasn’t an “expert” on the topic. An expert on what exactly? Who knows. It didn’t really matter. The bottom line was that Greenbaum didn’t have the correct opinions and therefore had to be punished. To top it off, Business Insider sent around a new set of standards after the fact which ruled out the use of the phrase “social justice warriors” in future opinion pieces. The irony meter was pegged at that point.

Yesterday, Greenbaum announced she was quitting and published her resignation letter on Twitter:

Again, Greenbaum was a columnist who wrote an opinion piece offering her opinion. Her opinion, at least at the time, lined up with the actress at the center of the controversy. And yet, her piece was pulled and she was chastised for her language. She was right to quit and I certainly hope someone sees that she did nothing wrong and offers her a job. The writers at BI who forced her out should be ashamed of themselves but they probably won’t be. On the contrary, they’ll congratulate themselves on having successfully enforced their own safe space. That’s what the left is most proud of these days.

Update: I just noticed that Greenbaum wrote a piece for the Washington Post yesterday about what happened to her:

As has been reported elsewhere, several people within the organization complained to the editor, who responded by scrubbing the ScarJo post from the site and instituting a new policy of requiring “culturally sensitive” work to be reviewed by an executive editor or an editor in chief before it can be published. As the Daily Beast reported, he also suggested that writers and editors talk with a group of employees who would volunteer to be sounding boards on issues of cultural sensitivity.

Given that in these thin-skinned days just about any subject can be called “culturally sensitive,” and given that a committee would basically ensure that my column became a safe space, I had no alternative but to resign

As the definition of what constitutes offensive speech grows ever wider, more and more people who are certain that their views fall somewhere in the mainstream will find themselves backed into corners. Ultimately, even the wokest of the warriors will realize that when it comes to outrunning the predatory mob they’ve created, no space is safe.

Kudos to Greenbaum for saying no to the mob.

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