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The latest round of useless apologies comes to us courtesy of Scarlett Johansson. In an interview with David Salle in As If, she was asked her perspective on that overly controversial aspect of Hollywood entertainment, casting. Her comments were splashed across the internet, and she was roundly critiqued for being insensitive to the LGBTQ community. Again. This is not ScarJo’s first rodeo with being faulted for her professional interaction with LGBTQ ideology.
In 2018, she was hit with backlash after accepting the role of Dante “Tex” Gill, a transgender 1970’s Pittsburgh crime boss. In response, she gave up the part, saying “she realized it would be insensitive to take up the role.” Then as now, she should never have apologized. But after having been mocked for playing a “canonically Asian character” in Ghost in the Shell in 2017, she wasn’t taking any chances.
She’s played roles she was told not to because they didn’t align with the actress’ identity, she’s turned down roles that didn’t match her identity, and she knows first-hand how both of those decisions played out. All this casting controversy makes Scarlett Johansson the perfect person to talk to about who should play was part. Artist David Salle thought so, too.
In As If, between shots of Johansson looking fine in multi-thousand dollar designer dresses, Salle asked Johansson her views on trends in acting, and this is where the fluffy conversation about fashion, set-life, and art took a controversial turn:
Are we seeing an acting trend today?
Hmm… We live in such a weird time that is sort of identity-less in a lot of ways. I don’t know if there’s a trend in performance, but there’s certainly trends in casting right now. Today there’s a lot of emphasis and conversation about what acting is and who we want to see represent ourselves on screen. The question now is, what is acting anyway?
Right. Who gets to play what roles…
You know, as an actor I should be allowed to play any person, or any tree, or any animal because that is my job and the requirements of my job.
Yes. Must you only represent yourself, your gender, your ethnicity, or can you, in fact, play beyond these categories?
There are a lot of social lines being drawn now, and a lot of political correctness is being reflected in art.
Does that bore you? Annoy you? Buck you up? Cheer you on? I know it’s complicated, there’s probably not one answer.
You know, I feel like it’s a trend in my business and it needs to happen for various social reasons, yet there are times it does get uncomfortable when it affects the art because I feel art should be free of restrictions.”
She’s not wrong. Creating art should be free of restrictions. Artists need to feel open, to be liberated, to be honest and truthful. Artists express their understanding of their inner world and the world around them. In acting school, actors learn how to use their inner life to play any role. This is an essential part of the actor’s toolbox, and the industry is cut-throat. Work is not even remotely guaranteed, a solid career like Johansson’s is like the Holy Grail. People work their entire lives to achieve it, and most don’t. If actors were to limit themselves to playing roles that are only identified with their identity, no one would get enough work to make the profession even remotely viable.
The internet turned on Johansson, as it has done consistently for the entirety of her career, from Lost in Translation, to her work with Woody Allen, to the present:
After the retaliation, Johansson claimed her words were taken out of context. She apologized for those words, and backtracked what she said, as reported in Variety:
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,’ she said. ‘I continue to support, and always have, diversity in every industry and will continue to fight for projects where everyone is included.
There’s nothing wrong with apologizing if you mean it. But this trend in celebs apologizing for speaking their mind just because people don’t like what they said is absurd. The apology is not believed, instead, it is treated as an admission of guilt and further admonishment is heaped on.
Johansson’s apology was called out as bogus and disingenuous. It was believed to have been given for her own status, standing, and career advancement, not because she really believed she had said something worthy of apology.
She didn’t apologize with insincerity, but because she didn’t want to deal with this mess again. Why would she? It’s been three years of discussions about what she’s allowed to do in her professional life based on other people’s ideas of what her identity gives her permission to do.
The conversation with Salle was simply that, a discussion about the identity madness that has overtaken entertainment. Johansson should never apologize for stating her perspective or being open to dialogue about those things that are affecting her industry and work. The only way out of this mess where people are taken down for expressing their honest beliefs is through.
Everyone needs to stop apologizing as a form of appeasement. The apology doesn’t placate anyone, instead, it gives the scolds more power. The way to deny that power is to deny them the satisfaction of a guilty admission. Refuse to apologize when you believe you’ve done nothing wrong. Stop apologizing.