‘A Fantastic Woman’ Director Defends Scarlett Johansson Taking Trans Role

The last few days there’s been an outcry over Scarlett Johansson’s casting as a transgender man in the biopic Rub & Tug. Many trans actresses have spoken out against the decision, and Johansson’s cavalier response to their criticism hasn’t done her any favors. But the point most of them are making isn’t about Johansson in particular, they’re the idea of any cisgender playing a transgender because of the lack of opportunities afforded to the latter. Well, someone has come to Johansson’s defense and it’s A Fantastic Woman director Sebastian Lelio.

Lelio directed transgender actress Daniela Vega in the Oscar-winning A Fantastic Woman, a film totally powered by her performance. Speaking with THR, the filmmaker recognizes the concern some in the  community have over the casting, but says it shouldn’t be “prohibited” for Johansson or any other cis to play a trans…

“It’s true [that] cultural representation has been scarce so far. And it’s also true that the gesture of casting a cisgender actor to play a transgender role can be aesthetically or ethically debatable — but it should never be prohibited.”

The director, who also helmed Disobedence starring Rachel Weisz and Rachel McAdams as lovers, says the casting of Vega in A Fantastic Woman wasn’t him making a statement of any kind. She was the right actress for the role…

“When I decided to cast Daniela Vega to play Marina in ‘A Fantastic Woman,’ it was an act of artistic freedom, not political correctness. I wasn’t telling the world that transgender roles should be played by transgender actors. I was only doing what I felt was right for my film.” Vega would go on to win awards for her role in the film.”

“If I said transgender roles should only be played by transgender actors, I would be implying that Daniela Vega shouldn’t play a cisgender role. And I believe she has every right to play a man or a woman.”

He concludes…“When artistic freedom is threatened, that’s a sign that society is becoming authoritarian, or moving towards behaviors and procedures that start to smell like fascism.”

I’ve said before that it looks to me that Johansson is being singled out because of who she is, a classic  Hollywood beauty, and over her casting in last year’s controversial The Ghost in the Shell. Lelio is right that there should be equality of opportunity, that trans should be afforded the chance to play cis and vice-versa, but Johansson is merely wanting to do her job. She should be allowed to do so without being charged as everything that’s wrong with the Hollywood machine.

What do you think?


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