The full text of Scarlett Johansson's latest cover story, which appears in the spring/summer issue of As If, has yet to appear online, but it's already become one of Johansson's most controversial—and therefore widely discussed—yet. That's thanks almost entirely to a single sentence, which the Daily Mail published, along with several others, last week: "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," Johansson told the magazine, in a manner described as "point-blank."
That wasn't all that the 34-year-old actress said about "political correctness": "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," she continued. "I think society would be more connected if we just allowed others to have their own feelings and not expect everyone to feel the way we do."
Still, the first sentence alone was more than enough to hit a nerve—particularly for those familiar with at least one of Johansson's recent, equally controversial statements regarding casting. In 2016, she drew criticism for accepting—and defending her choice to accept—the starring role in Ghost in the Shell, a film adaptation of a Japanese anime series, given the lack of roles made available to Asian actors. (Of all Hollywood film and TV productions in 2016, Asian actors only accounted for 3.1 percent of roles.) To many, then, her most recent comment was tantamount to making a comparison between Asian human beings and trees.
Now, two days after once again sparking outrage, Johansson has made a statement clarifying her comments. "An interview that was recently published has been edited for clickbait and is widely taken out of context," she told Variety. "The question I was answering in my conversation with the contemporary artist David Salle was about the confrontation between political correctness and art," she said. (Salle, who first rose to prominence in 1980s New York, is best known for his nonnarrative paintings and prints composed of juxtaposing images.)
"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," Johansson continued. "That is the point I was making, albeit didn't come across that way."
In her statement, Johansson also took the opportunity to speak more generally about the film industry's tendency to value white, cisgender actors such as herself. (Johansson was the highest paid actress of 2018.) "I recognize that in reality, there is a widespread discrepancy amongst my industry that favors Caucasian, cisgender actors and that not every actor has been given the same opportunities that I have been privileged to," she said. "I continue to support, and always have, diversity in every industry and will continue to fight for projects where everyone is included."
As for what the actress has coming up next, that no longer includes the lead role of a transgender man in Rub & Tug, which, like Ghost in the Shell, is directed by Rupert Sanders. Still, Johansson originally defended her choice to accept that role, too: "Tell them that they can be directed to Jeffrey Tambor, Jared Leto, and Felicity Huffman's reps for comment," she told Bustle in the days after she was announced to play the role, referring to cisgender actors who have previously portrayed transgender characters onscreen.