By producing the top movies of each year, Marvel Studios either makes superstars out of its film’s actors or considerably rises the profile of actors who are already big names. Most of them are beloved in Hollywood, but several of them, including Jeremy Renner, Chris Pratt, and Scarlett Johansson, are polarizing figures. For Johansson, between her taking roles that are not best suited for her to making several controversial statements, the actress could very well be the most disliked Marvel actor after Renner.
‘Ghost in the Shell’ controversy
Johansson’s most controversial role to-date is Major Mira Killian / Motoko Kusanagi in Paramount’s Ghost in the Shell. The movie received a negative reception because of the casting of Johannson and other non-Asian actors. Critics said that the movie was whitewashed. The film even revealed at the end that Johansson’s character was initially a young Japanese girl.
Director Rupert Sanders defended Johannson’s casting, stating, “There are very few actresses with 20 years’ experience who have the cyberpunk ethic already baked in. I stand by my decision—she’s the best actress of her generation.”
Johansson herself stated that she didn’t believe the film was guilty of whitewashing and told Good Morning America that she would never portray a character of a different race. The Media Action Network for Asian Americans said that the actress was “lying” when she said that.
The ‘Rub & Tug’ controversy
Back in 2018, Johansson dropped out of the upcoming film Rub & Tug, vacating the role of kingpin Dante “Tex” Gill. The actress stirred controversy because beause Gill, a real-life figure, was a transgender man, whereas Johansson is a cisgender woman.
The backlash faced by the actress was immediate and it worsened once she and her team released a tone-deaf statement. In the statement, Johansson pointed to straight, cisgender actors playing transgender actors on-screen before. Bustle reported that the statement read, “Tell them [critics] they can be directed to Jeffrey Tambor, Jared Leto, and Felicity Huffman’s reps for comment.”
She later walked back her comments, saying that she learned more about why she shouldn’t be in the film and why her initial statements were insensitive. “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 stated. “Our cultural understanding of transgender people continues to advance, and I’ve learned a lot from the community since making my first statement about my casting and realize it was insensitive. I have great admiration and love for the trans community and am grateful that the conversation regarding inclusivity continues.”
If she starred in Rub & Tug, the film would have been another collaboration with Rupert Sanders, who directed the controversial Ghost in the Shell adaptation.
Despite the Ghost in the Shell and Rub & Tug controversies, in 2019, the actress seemed to still believe she should play any character “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,” she told As If magazine “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.”
Support of Woody Allen
Johansson has a well-documented history of working with Woody Allen. She appeared in the embattled director’s Match Point, Scoop and Vicky Cristina Barcelona.
Despite the public sexual abuse allegations that came against him in later years, Johansson said in 2019 that she would still work with the director.
“I love Woody,” she told The Hollywood Reporter. “I believe him, and I would work with him any time. I see Woody whenever I can, and I have had a lot of conversations with him about it (the allegations against him). I have been very direct with him, and he’s very direct with me. He maintains his innocence, and I believe him. It’s hard because it’s a time where people are very fired up, and understandably,” she added. “Things needed to be stirred up, and so people have a lot of passion and a lot of strong feelings and are angry, rightfully so. It’s an intense time.”
Like her prior controversial remarks, she issued another statement to clarify what she initially said. While speaking with Vanity Fair, Johansson responded to the idea that her comments were insensitive to victims of abuse who come forward.
“Yeah, I do understand how that is triggering for some people. But just because I believe my friend does not mean that I don’t support women, believe women,” she said. “I think you have to take it on a case-by-case basis. You can’t have this blanket statement—I don’t believe that. But that’s my personal belief. That’s how I feel.”
Despite how the general public feels about Johansson, it is clear thats he will be a Hollywood figure for many years to come. Whether she will continue to make comments and take on roles that stir fierce backlash is yet to be seen.