If you’re wondering whether or not Scarlett Johansson realizes what the public’s perception of her has been for the past couple of years, the answer is probably yes.
In June 2018, when it was announced that Johansson was cast to play Dante “Tex” Gill, a transgender man who ran a string of massage parlors that were fronts for prostitution, in a film called Rub & Tug, she received plenty of backlash. The actress received even more backlash when she defended herself as a cisgender woman playing a role perhaps best suited for a trans masculine actor, issuing a statement via representative that said, “Tell them that they can be directed to Jeffrey Tambor, Jared Leto, and Felicity Huffman’s reps for comment,” referring to three cis actors who had previously played trans roles.
In an interview with As If magazine, she also said, “You know, as an actor I should be able to play any person, or any tree, or any animal, because that’s my job and the requirements of my job.” The internet took the “tree” comment and ran with it, spawning memes and tweets that highlighted just how misguided she was to compare human beings to inanimate objects in that context. She had already been accused of whitewashing when she starred in the 2017 film Ghost in the Shell, which was inspired by a Japanese manga series yet featured a white actress in the lead role, so the flak she received for defending her Rub & Tug casting was not exactly a surprise.
Eventually Johansson withdrew herself from Rub & Tug, and issued a statement to Out magazine about her decision to leave the project a few weeks after she was cast. “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. 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,” she said at the time.
Now, while gearing up for the 2020 awards season, where she is likely to be considered for her role in Noah Baumbach’s Marriage Story, Johansson has almost no choice but to comment further on the statements she made about diversity in the past. In her Vanity Fair cover interview, the actress was of course asked about the backlash she received about the casting controversy, and the comments she made in response to the backlash. “In hindsight, I mishandled that situation. I was not sensitive, my initial reaction to it,” she apologized.
“I wasn’t totally aware of how the trans community felt about those three actors playing—and how they felt in general about cis actors playing—transgender people. I wasn’t aware of that conversation—I was uneducated. So I learned a lot through that process. I misjudged that…. It was a hard time. It was like a whirlwind. I felt terribly about it. To feel like you’re kind of tone-deaf to something is not a good feeling,” she went on.
While the Philadelphia press that covered Gill during his lifetime used female pronouns and referred to him as “the woman who prefers to be known as a man,” in today’s terms Gill would certainly not be identified as a cisgender woman .
However, the interviewer decided to bring up one more misjudgment Johansson has made since the 2018 Rub & Tug saga—her defense of Woody Allen, whose daughter Dylan Farrow alleges that he molested her when she was seven years old, in September 2019. “How do I feel about Woody Allen? I love Woody,” she told The Hollywood Reporter. “I believe him, and I would work with him anytime. I see Woody whenever I can, and I have had a lot of conversations with him about it. I have been very direct with him, and he’s very direct with me. He maintains his innocence, and I believe him,” she went on.
When Vanity Fair noted that people will likely connect her “tone-deaf” comment to her defense of Allen, Johansson had a tepid reply. “Yes, they will. It feels like a snake eating its tail, doesn’t it?”