Film Forward

Transgender Actors Are Speaking Out About Why Hollywood Casting Needs To Change

Scarlett Johansson's new role is sparking conversation.

The ways we watch TV and movies have evolved, and it's time for the talent in front of and behind the camera to do the same. Film Forward speaks on the initiatives to diversify the film industry and the stories it tells. New articles premiere every second Thursday of — and throughout — the month.

The controversial news that cisgender actress Scarlett Johansson will be playing a transgender man in an upcoming film has inspired trans actors to speak out about the difficulties they face getting roles in Hollywood, and why things need to change.


According to Entertainment Weekly, Johansson will play real-life figure Dante "Tex" Gill in a film called Rub & Tug, to be directed by Rupert Sanders. Adding to the controversy is the fact that Johansson and Sanders previously collaborated on last year's live-action Ghost in the Shell remake — in which Johansson was cast as a character depicted as Asian in the source material.  

Many have also criticized Johansson's response to the backlash. Her rep reportedly said in a statement to Bustle, "Tell them that they can be directed to Jeffrey Tambor, Jared Leto, and Felicity Huffman's reps for comment." It's a reference to cis actors who have played trans characters and received awards recognition.

Transgender actress Trace Lysette, who appears on the Amazon series Transparent, took to Twitter to speak out about the limited options available to trans actors in Hollywood. "So you can continue to play us but we can't play y'all?" she asked, adding, "I wouldn't be as upset if I was getting in the same room as Jennifer Lawrence and Scarlett for cis roles, but we know that's not the case."

Lysette also called out the trend of giving cis actors awards for their portrayal of trans characters, arguing that many in Hollywood "pat yourselves on the back with trophies and accolades for mimicking what we have lived."

Actress Jamie Clayton, known for her role on the Netflix series Sense8, also shared her thoughts on the issue, tweeting, "Actors who are trans never even get to audition FOR ANYTHING OTHER THAN ROLES OF TRANS CHARACTERS." She called this the "real issue" and challenged Hollywood, "Cast actors WHO ARE TRANS as NON TRANS CHARACTERS. I DARE YOU."

Orange is the New Black star Laverne Cox retweeted Clayton, and she also shared a tweet from trans activist Jen Richards, who suggested that The Hollywood Reporter should host a roundtable discussion of the issue so that trans people can have their voices heard. "This is a great idea," Cox tweeted.

Another tweet from Cox which didn't mention Johansson directly, but is still relevant to the current conversation, relates to the FX series Pose, which features the largest cast of transgender actors as series regulars in television history. Cox argued that "there are no excuses for not hiring trans actors for trans roles & as leads in films and TV."

Clearly, Hollywood has a long way to go when it comes to transgender representation. Hopefully, as the public outcry over such casting decisions grows louder, talented trans actors will start to receive the opportunities they've waited far too long for.

(H/T: Vulture)

Cover image: Kathy Hutchins / Joe Seer /


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