Glenn Close, Once Nominated For An Oscar For Playing A Man, Responds To Scarlett Johansson Controversy
A complicated conversation is unfolding in Hollywood about gender, sexuality, and acting. Most recently, Disney was on the receiving end of criticism when they cast a straight actor to play its first openly gay character. This came on the heels of a larger controversy surrounding Scarlett Johansson, who eventually stepped aside from the role of Dante "Tex" Gill, a trans man, in the movie Rub & Tug after receiving backlash.
Ahead of her new movie The Wife, actress Glenn Close was asked for her thoughts on the issue by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association for its podcast, The HFPA in Conversation. Close played a similar role in the 2011 film Albert Nobbs, albeit it was a little more complicated. Her character was fictional, and according to the Advocate, could be considered transgender “depending on how you view the character and his world circumstances.” That being said, she has some poignant thoughts on Johansson’s decision to step aside.
“My thinking right now is that people who are producing and directing properties like that need to go out of their way to get trans actors jobs,” she said. “But they also should have the opportunity to cast the best person. Acting is a craft… I think personally that anyone should be able to play anyone. But I do understand the frustration.”
In theory, Close's words ring true: Anyone should be able to play anyone. As of right now; however this ethos in practice seems to only apply to cisgender actors. Hollywood is yet to be overwhelmingly open to trans actors appearing on screen at all, let alone playing cis characters of the gender with which they identify. Cis actors, however, have in the past been heartily rewarded for playing trans characters. In 2006, Felicity Huffman was nominated for Best Actress for playing a transgender woman in Transamerica. In 2014, Jared Leto won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his role as a trans woman in Dallas Buyers Club. In 2016, Eddie Redmayne was nominated for Best Actor for playing a trans woman in The Danish Girl. Meanwhile, a trans actress has never been nominated for an Oscar.
The resistance to Johansson's casting rose due to frustration at this imbalance. Trans actors should at the very least be the first choices for trans characters, something Johansson realised in her decision to step aside from Rub & Tug.
“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,” she said in a statement to Out. She later added, “While I would have loved the opportunity to bring Dante’s story and transition to life, I understand why many feel he should be portrayed by a transgender person, and I am thankful that this casting debate, albeit controversial, has sparked a larger conversation about diversity and representation in film.”
Refinery29 has reached out to Johansson and Close for additional comment.