Film & TV

The Mob Comes for Scarlett Johansson Again — and Wins Again

Scarlett Johansson (Kyle Grillot/Reuters)
The Hollywood A-lister had nothing to apologize for.

Political correctness kills art, rendering it bland. Which is why it was encouraging when Hollywood A-lister Scarlett Johansson said that — as an actress — she should be able to play “any person, or any tree, or any animal.”

No doubt Johansson would make a very sexy tree, and a very bold badger besides, but her claim to be able to play “any person” sparked furious controversy. I mean, just who does she think she is?

This is not the first time the world’s highest-paid actress — a person who pretends to be others for a living — has had a run-in with woke culture. Earlier this year, Johansson reluctantly withdrew from a film in which she was slated to play a transgender man. She had stood by her decision at first following an outcry from LGBTQ activists, but then bowed to pressure. “I am grateful that the conversation regarding inclusivity in Hollywood continues,” she told Out. “I am thankful that this casting debate, albeit controversial, has sparked a larger conversation about diversity and representation in film.”

And after a furious backlash from her recent comments, she has capitulated again, explaining that her remarks had been “edited for click bait” and “widely taken out of context.” She reiterated that she, of course, understands the needs and demands of the LGBTQ community.

As National Review’s Rich Lowry put it, “the mob always, or usually, wins.”

Of course, to those of us who live outside the confines of woke culture, this is all extremely silly. But it is worth unpacking nonetheless, if only to show how such twisted logic and bully-boy tactics will continue to damage the creative industries, ruining not only films, but comedy, literature, and music too.

The argument — more screamed than expressed — is that because Johansson is not transgender, when she accepts the role of a trans person she is both insulting the trans community by appropriating their lived experience and robbing them of the opportunity to play themselves.

The sheer narcissism of this is breathtaking. Films are premised on the concept of people pretending to be others in order to tell a story. In other words, the focus isn’t supposed to be on the actors. When the actual subject is on screen, we call it a “documentary” or a “reality show.”

As for appropriation — well, frankly, where does it end? Must all Jewish characters be played by Jews? Must one-legged Spanish kings be played by one-legged Spanish kings? And in the context of the trans debate, are trans people to be excluded from playing “cis” people?

If the argument is simply for greater representation, then why not make the sky the limit for actors from tiny minority groups? Why suggest that trans people must be shoehorned into roles that align perfectly with their own stories?

For example, the Huffington Post recently ran a story about the transgender (male to female) baritone who played the title character in Mozart’s Don Giovanni. That’s a man who identifies as a woman playing a man. That’s the spirit!

But sadly, the activist outrage machine isn’t interested in remedying its own contradictions, taking such issues into consideration, or making any sort of compromises. As long as it remains hungry for enemies, the beautiful heads will keep on rolling as art gets worse and worse.

Madeleine Kearns is a William F. Buckley Fellow in Political Journalism at the National Review Institute. She is from Glasgow, Scotland, and is a trained singer.

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