It would be more honest for Johansson to simply say that she feels entitled to play any role because whiteness has taught her it’s acceptable for her to do so.
This article was originally published on Medium
In a cover story with As If magazine, actress Scarlett Johansson groaned that she “should be allowed to play any person, or any tree, or any animal… There are a lot of social lines being drawn now, and a lot of political correctness is being reflected in art [and] art should be free of restrictions.”
The challenging of whiteness usually comes with the same clichéd responses and, oftentimes, white people defending their nonsense don’t perceive it as such because of its wholly ingratiated state. It’s the “I don’t see color” or “love conquers all” response. It’s most reminiscent of the familiar “I don’t care if you’re black, white, brown or purple.” Here, Scarlett Johansson uses a person, tree, or animal instead.
This wording is passive-aggressive — another staple of this kind of rhetoric, where to avoid singling out, they generalize or employ dog whistles to hide who exactly they are targeting or have issues with. Johansson goes on to discuss her work in “Under the Skin” to bolster the complaint she has against diversity and inclusion. She states, “I know how to pretend that I’m cold. I can pretend that I can’t feel my feet or toes.” The implication being that if she can pretend she can’t feel her feet or toes, naturally she can pretend to be Asian, trans, or any other role she sets her mind to.
This kind of thinking undermines the important strides being made, that must be made, for all of us. It takes a vital issue about underrepresentation in films for marginalized groups — who already experience scarcity in roles they are offered — and trivializes it to nothing more than a desire to look “politically correct.” Just because whiteness favors shadows over substance, shallowness over depth does not mean our values are synonymous.
The reason it seems unfair to her is because Scarlett didn’t get what Scarlett wanted. It’s the same as any white person who cries reverse discrimination when a Black person is hired for a position or accepted into a school they applied for and were rejected from. People rightfully called out her superficial stance on social media.
Attempting to hide her entitlement by claiming anyone should have an opportunity to play a role is also disingenuous because not many people’s opportunities are more limited than someone like hers thanks to racism, colorism, misogynoir, and so on. This logic does nothing for a person who is already at a disadvantage at every step of the process.
Whiteness has convinced white people that they can do anything they want — play any role, appropriate any culture, demand attention and respect — that they, for no other reason than being white, are automatically allowed access everywhere they desire to be. This is a falsehood — a destructive one which often leads to the type of violence that is a response to the perception that marginalized groups are “taking over,” but that also has to do with white people coming face to face with the realization that they are not the center of the universe.
Due to the criticism she received, Scarlett Johansson responded by stating that her quotes were taken out of context.
“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. That is the point I was making, albeit didn’t come across that way”
“I recognize that in reality, there is a wide spread discrepancy amongst my industry that favors Caucasian, cis gendered actors and that not every actor has been given the same opportunities that I have been privileged to,”
“I continue to support, and always have, diversity in every industry and will continue to fight for projects where everyone is included.”
So, she attempted to clarify her statement faulting “political correctness” as the reason why she can’t whitewash or genderwash a role by essentially reiterating her original point and doubling down on the idea that “political correctness” is the reason she can’t get the role she wants. And she will “continue to fight for projects where everyone is included” – especially her. It would be more honest for Johansson to simply say that she feels entitled to play any role because whiteness (and the history of it) has taught her it’s acceptable for her to do so.