Scarlett Johansson at the Ghost in the Shell premiere in Tokyo / Dick Thomas Johnson / Wikimedia Commons
If you’re not living under a rock, you’ve probably heard about the string of controversies sparked by the actions and words of famed Hollywood actress Scarlett Johansson.
Johansson first started to raise questioning eyebrows in 2015, when she was cast in Ghost in the Shell, a film in which she played a Japanese woman trapped inside the (android) body of a white woman. The film was based on Japanese manga by the same name, in which (you guessed it!) the character Scarlett played is Japanese. To make matters worse, word got out that Paramount and Dreamworks tried out using visual effects to make Scarlett and other white actors look more Asian...yikes.
It seems pretty obvious that whitewashing is problematic and harmful, not to mention the fact that it stands to take away representation from ethnicities and cultures that are already criminally underrepresented on screen. However, it is not something that is unique to Scarlett Johansson’s IMDB profile. Whitewashing is a time honoured Hollywood tradition, as old as the institution itself, and many other white actors have taken on roles they really shouldn’t have. Remember when Emma Stone played a part-Hawaiian, part-Chinese woman in Aloha?
There is one key difference between Scarlett Johansson and Emma Stone, though. Emma has used Aloha as a learning experience, and has apologised for the mistake she made, saying “I’ve learned on a macro level about the insane history of whitewashing in Hollywood and how prevalent the problem truly is. It’s ignited a conversation that’s very important.”
Scarlett, on the other hand? With regards to the controversy, she has merely doubled down on the arbitrary specifics of the role - saying that she wasn’t taking a role from a Japanese actress, because the physical body of her character was supposed to be an android (Oh, of course!). She told Marie Claire that she “certainly would never presume to play another race of a person” - so I guess that clears everything up!
More recently, in an interview with As If magazine, Scarlett addressed the controversial roles she has taken on in the past (Not just Ghost in the Shell, but also the role of a trans man in Rub & Tug, which she was essentially forced out of due to backlash). “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,” she said.
The Internet predictably responded to this quote with equal measures of outrage and memes. Personally, I couldn’t help but just feel incredulous. I wondered how she could be so tonedeaf. How could she be so oblivious when people had been trying to educate her on why her casting in Ghost in the Shell was wrong for four years now?
Then, as if all of that wasn’t enough, just this month, she stirred up another controversy. In an interview with the Hollywood Reporter, Johansson came out strongly in support of Woody Allen, who has long been accused of sexually abusing Dylan Farrow, his adoptive daughter. Scarlett didn’t just say she had no regrets about working with Woody (three times!), she really went for it, outlining that she knew about the allegations, and has actively decided to ignore them.
"I love Woody (...) 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 said.
Let’s not get it twisted, though. Yes, she has repeatedly made headlines for her questionable actions and comments in the last few years, but Scarlett Johansson is by no means struggling. As of 2016, she was declared to be the highest grossing actress of all time. Her new film Marriage Story was one of the most well reviewed at the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival, she stars in Taika Waititi’s upcoming satirical film Jojo Rabbit, and in 2020 she’s finally getting her own Black Widow origin story, another Marvel blockbuster to tuck under her belt.
Clearly, her whitewashed roles and offensive comments have had almost no impact on her career. And I guess that’s the question we need to grapple with: should they have? Do we have a responsibility to stand up for what we believe in and boycott all Scarlett Johansson films? Is it fair to the other cast and crew working with Scarlett to refuse to watch any films featuring her? Or, as consumers who have virtually no say in the goings on of Hollywood, should we simply go along to the movies we want to see and ignore the ones we don’t, regardless of the cast? I’m genuinely asking, I have no idea what the right call is.
Before all of these very public blunders, I only knew of Scarlett Johansson as the charming and beautiful actress who was known for calling out sexist questions in press interviews, and who was (at that point) the only female hero within the Avengers ranks.
I’ve never hated her. On the contrary, I want to like her! I want to go to the cinema to see Black Widow! I’m simply astounded by the way she has shoved her fingers into her ears and ignored the very loud chorus of “Hey, please don’t do that, Scarlett.”
I don’t think she’s irredeemable. As wrong as some of the things she has said and done have been, I don’t think it’s too late to recover, learn and apologise. She still might. She just has to start listening.Support Villainesse