Several transgender actresses including Trace Lysette, Jamie Clayton, Jen Richards, and Laverne Cox have weighed in on Scarlett Johansson’s dismissive response to being lambasted for taking on the role of a trans man in Rub & Tug from Rupert Sanders, the same director who cast Johannson as an Asian woman in the controversial movie Ghost in the Shell.
Transparent’s Lysette responded to a Bustle article in which Johannson cavalierly blew off the concerns of the trans community over her casting in the film about Dante "Tex" Gill, a trans man who ran massage parlors and prostitution rings in ’70s-era Pittsburgh.
When faced with criticism for agreeing to play trans, Johansson, referring to cisgender actors whose performances in trans role have been roundly praised, said through her representative, "Tell them that they can be directed to Jeffrey Tambor, Jared Leto, and Felicity Huffman's reps for comment.”
“So you can continue to play us but we can’t play y’all? Hollywood is so fucked...” Lysette Tweeted in response to Johansson’s stubborn refusal to acknowledge the concerns of trans people. “I wouldn’t be as upset if I was getting in the same rooms as Jennifer Lawrence and Scarlett for cis roles, but we know that’s not the case. A mess.”
And not only do you play us and steal our narrative and our opportunity but you pat yourselves on the back with trophies and accolades for mimicking what we have lived... so twisted. I’m so done...
— Trace Lysette (@tracelysette) July 4, 2018
Sense8 star Clayton offered a similar response.
Actors who are trans never even get to audition FOR ANYTHING OTHER THAN ROLES OF TRANS CHARACTERS. THATS THE REAL ISSUE. WE CANT EVEN GET IN THE ROOM. Cast actors WHO ARE TRANS as NON TRANS CHARACTERS. I DARE YOU #RupertSanders @NewRegency #ScarlettJohansson https://t.co/RkrW8MeGcG
— Jamie Clayton (@MsJamieClayton) July 4, 2018
Cisgender actors playing trans roles, or “transface,” has always been problematic in Hollywood. But since Jared Leto won an Oscar for playing trans in 2013's The Dallas Buyer’s Club, the trans community and allies have been vocal about highlighting the myriad of issues around casting cis people in trans roles. Television shows like Transparent, Pose, The Fosters, Sense8, and Orange Is the New Black have had great success in affording trans actors the dignity of portraying the trans experience. But the movie industry — with the exceptions of the Oscar-winning A Fantastic Woman and the indie Tangerine — has been slow to catch on.
Not to mention that the practice of casting cis actors in trans roles has little literal payoff anymore. Several recent films with cis actors in trans roles, including Matt Bomer in Anything, Elle Fanning in 3 Generations, and Michelle Rodriguez in the offensive The Assignment, were barely afforded theatrical releases after controversy about casting.
Lysette’s Twitter response to Johansson’s casting and disregard for the trans community kicked off a firestorm that spurred white, straight, cisgender actor Michael Rapaport to accuse of Lysette of “whining” rather than creating her own material. Several hours later on the Fourth of July, when he was still arguing about the trans experience, she tweeted again.
Baby you’re still tweeting me? I’m at a bbq and had two plates of food and several drinks since you started carrying this morning... I’ll say this, it’s clear you have no clue what I or other trans talent are capable of. Like I said. I dare them to let us in those rooms. https://t.co/fLCu1WMAIY
— Trace Lysette (@tracelysette) July 5, 2018
Actress Jen Richards (Her Story), sharing an idea from actress Alexandra Grey, put forth an idea to The Hollywood Reporter, which hosts various actors’ roundtables to create an educational forum for trans actors to discuss the issues around “transface.”
Hey @THR, this trans casting issue isn’t going away and there are a roundtable’s worth of us who could lay out all the finer points quite clearly. We’d love the chance to have our voices heard by the industry, and what better place to have that happen than THR? https://t.co/goImne8QTU
— Jen Richards (@SmartAssJen) July 5, 2018
Orange Is the New Black star Laverne Cox then quote-tweeted Richards and wrote simply, "This is a great idea."