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The brief bravery of Scarlett Johansson

Perhaps the actress would be better off playing a tree than a person with convictions

Only 16 percent of Americans reported knowing or working with someone who is transgender, according to a 2015 GLAAD survey. I’m not sure that the issue has ever been studied, but I’m comfortable conjecturing that more than 16 percent of Americans have either heard of Scarlett Johansson, or enjoy going to the occasional movie. These numbers are important to remember when considering a particularly vacuous ‘controversy’ from last summer and its recent re-emergence this weekend.

Johansson found herself at the center of a curious conversation last July. Like every actor in the film industry, she is frequently paid to portray individuals aside from herself. English language speakers used to refer to this behavior as ‘acting.’ The job in question was to act in a film called Rub and Tug. The problem? The character Johansson was slated to play was transgender, and the actress is not. Inquisitive minds may wonder whether the task of portraying someone who is not yourself and not like yourself fits within the job description of an actor? Hope you didn’t dare wonder that out loud.

I did, last summer, in a column for Business Insider, where I was then a political columnist. It didn’t go very well for me. It didn’t go very well for Johansson either, who had dared to accept a transgender role. After immense — and, If I may bait the censors again, highly unwarranted — criticism, she pulled out from the film, turning down the role in recognition of some perceived social sin. Fast forward a year. No one has seen Rub and Tug: not because it was made with some lesser actor following Johansson’s exit, but because in the wake of the scandal, the film has not been made at all. What a victory that must be for the transgender community, who remain essentially invisible to so much of the American public. The kind of exposure Scarlett Johansson could have brought to this minority group is incalculable. Instead, nothing.

But trans people weren’t the only losers in this equation. We all were. As the left continues to reform and reshape every single industry in its own image, we are failing to meet their efforts with proper fortitude. Instead, society seems to increasingly give into a mob that gorges itself upon its victories. Just last week, Johansson gave an interview in which she said, among other things, ‘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.’ Hear, hear. She went on to say, ‘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.’

Pretty strong comments considering it was just a year ago that she pulled out from a film in the face of criticism. Two days later she was back to paying lip service to the far left, claiming the interview had been ‘edited for click bait and is widely taken out of context.’ She quickly noted ‘in reality, there is a widespread discrepancy among my industry that favors Caucasian, cisgendered actors and that not every actor has been given the same opportunities that I have been privileged to.’  Johansson made sure to add that she continues to support, ‘diversity in every industry and will continue to fight for projects where everyone is included.’

Strange, because it’s clear that in some projects, white, cisgendered Americans need not apply. The best quip of the day, however, comes from my former colleague at Commentary, Abe Greenwald. The only thing Johansson should not be allowed to play, he tweeted,  is ‘a person with convictions.’ My line of the day is simple: thank you. It’s a pleasure to write for an outlet that doesn’t seek only to publish lukewarm politically-correct propaganda.

Daniella Greenbaum Davis is a Spectator columnist and senior contributor to the Federalist.


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