Frankly, Scarlett, Art Shouldn’t Be Immune to ‘PC’

Creative license doesn’t preclude the public’s right to criticize.

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Scarlett Johansson in Ghost in the Shell (Photo: Paramount Pictures)

Scarlett Johansson has put her foot in it again. Perhaps it’s time for her to close her mouth, listen, and possibly even learn.

Stranger things have happened, like some of the actress’s recent casting coups.

Three years ago, she collided with controversy after being cast as a Japanese manga character in the live-action adaptation of Ghost in the Shell, which was released in 2017. If Emma Stone could play someone who was part native Hawaiian in 2015’s Aloha, was Johansson as Japanese anime heroine Major Motoko Kusanagi so unfathomable? Well …

The actress was preparing to stretch once again for Shell director Rupert Sanders, by portraying Dante “Tex” Gill, a real-life transgender pimp and proprietor of a Pittsburgh massage parlor in the ’70s and ’80s, in the upcoming film Rub & Tug. Naturally, more controversy followed, this time over yet another cisgender actor being cast in a transgender role.

Johansson ended up dropping out of the project last year, presumably because of the backlash, and apparently, she’s still a little bitter. As If magazine recently ran an interview with the 34-year-old in which she responded to those pesky charges of “straight-washing” in the Rub & Tug casting.

“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,” she said.

“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.

“I think society would be more connected if we just allowed others to have their own feelings and not expect everyone to feel as we do.”

Here we go again. Someone defends the right to have an unpopular opinion by rejecting the right of those who hold the popular opinion to strongly — and loudly — disagree. Of course, the latter weren’t having any of what Johansson was trying to sell and reiterated their objections: In an industry where transgender actors don’t have the same opportunities as cisgender actors, they should at least be allowed to play the characters that mirror themselves.

Johansson replied to the resurrected controversy in a written statement, telling The Washington Post, “The question I was answering in my conversation with the contemporary artist, David Salle, was about the confrontation between political correctness and art. 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.”

I like Scarlett Johansson, but she really needs to stick to stretching onscreen because stretching logic to support her point of view is not her strength.

It’s never a good sign when actors take themselves and what they do so seriously that “art” becomes “Art.” As for the continued abuse and misuse of “political correctness”: Objecting to and commenting on statements and actions that diminish minorities and the underprivileged isn’t even remotely political — at least not for me. It’s personal.

People who disagree need to come up with stronger arguments rather than just swatting away complaints and filing them under “Politically Correct.”

Hiring Johansson to play way against type in Ghost in the Shell and Rub & Tug wasn’t about Art. It was about Commerce. She was offered those roles because the creative and business power players behind the films figured she has more commercial potential than an Asian actress or a transgender one. It’s the same rationale the powers that be in Hollywood have been using for decades to pay women less than men and to excuse male-centric moviemaking.

How does Johansson feel about that? I wonder what she’d say if the movie studios started insisting on men playing women’s roles, as they did in the old days of theater, because actors are thought of to be bigger box-office draws. Would she defend it as an artistic privilege or does that defense only work when the casting works in her favor?

By her logic, Art can be as transphobic, homophobic, racist, misogynistic, xenophobic, fat-shaming, and slut-shaming as it wants to be because, well, it’s Art. Why should traditonal Art get to have all the fun? In a world where it’s immune to political correctness, does it become OK for a baker to refuse to make a cake for a gay wedding because baking is a form of Art?

Should we cease criticizing pro-KKK progoganda like the 1915 film The Birth of a Nation because it was Art? Is blackface offensive on Halloween but not onscreen, where it should be protected as Art?

If a comedian were to joke about raping women and getting away with it, would Johansson shrug and say, “Oh, well. It’s Art”? What about a filmmaker who films an actual rape and releases it as Art?

Would we all have to just sit and squirm in silence, stifling our opinions because they’re invalid? After all, Art supersedes everything, even good taste.

Should publications fire all of its reviewers and declare Art a critic-free zone?

Frankly, Scarlett, no damn way! Art is not sacred. It’s no more exempt from criticism than politicians. If people can call out POTUS every time he says something they interpret as being racist or misogynistic or homophobic or zenophobic or whatever, then they get to do the same with Artists. She should learn to deal with it or find a new profession.

In the end, I have no say in what characters Johansson plays. If she wants to portray James Baldwin in an upcoming biopic, she can go right ahead. She’d probably consider it. But she would need to be prepared for the outrage that inevitably would follow.

Welcome to the real world, where creative license will get you on the road, but it won’t protect you from oncoming traffic.

Written by

Brother Son Husband Friend Loner Minimalist World Traveler. Author of “Is It True What They Say About Black Men?” and “Storms in Africa” https://rb.gy/3mthoj

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