Scarlett Johansson’s Most Controversial Movie Roles, Ranked

Most people would agree that Scarlett Johansson is an accomplished actress. She’s also one of Hollywood’s highest-paid actresses to boot. Yet when it comes to casting controversies, she can’t seem to avoid them. 

It first cropped up when Johansson starred in the movie Ghost in the Shell, playing a role that many felt should have been played by an Asian actor. From that sprang still another controversy over a movie that still hasn’t been made. Now she’s under fire again for saying essentially that she should be able to play any role she wants. 

The actress says her remarks about casting were taken out of context, so we’ll break down what she said, and rank the roles that made waves.

Scarlett Johansson’s controversial comments about casting

Scarlett Johansson | Mike Windle/Getty Images

As reported by the Washington Post, Johansson gave an interview to As If magazine, talking about how she was frustrated over getting blowback from playing certain 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,” Johansson said. “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.”

Social media was quick to decry Johansson, with many responses such as this one, from screenwriter Stephanie Mickus. 

“Yes, ScarJo, you should be able to play a tree. Because there aren’t countless sentient trees desiring to act yet struggling to get cast in roles. But there ARE ton of LGBTQIA l/non binary actors who have vocalized that they would love to represent those characters.”

Johannson has since come out to say she was misquoted.

Scarlett Johansson faced criticism for wanting to play a trans man in ‘Rub & Tug’

Last year, it was announced that Johansson wanted to play Dante “Tex” Gill: a trans man who ran a massage parlor and prostitution ring in Pittsburgh in the 1970s and ’80s. There was pushback asserting that a trans actor should have a chance to pay the part. Johansson responded by saying: “Tell them that they can be directed to Jeffrey Tambor, Jared Leto, and Felicity Huffman’s reps for comment.” She was referring to cisgender actors who had previously portrayed transgender characters and have won awards for doing so. 

The movie, to be directed by Rupert Sanders, seems to be in limbo. Some have argued that Johansson’s name would help get the movie made. But Johansson dropped out of the movie and walked back her statements, saying:

“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.”

Scarlett Johansson white-washed the lead role in ‘Ghost in the Shell’ 

This was the movie that sparked the controversy, an adaptation of an anime comic. It was directed by Sanders, and that led to her interest in Rub & Tug. People argued that an Asian actress should have played the leading role, saying that Johansson’s casting whitewashed the part in a similar way to Natalie Wood playing the Puerto Rican Maria in West Side Story

Johansson said at the time: “I certainly would never presume to play another race of a person. Diversity is important in Hollywood, and I would never want to feel like I was playing a character that was offensive.” 

Scarlett Johansson controversially acted in Woody Allen movies

Johansson acted for writer/director Woody Allen in three movies: Match Point, Scoop and Vicky Christina Barcelona, receiving strong reviews particularly for Match Point. All of these movies were made before Allen’s adopted daughter Dylan Farrow published a letter in The New York Times in 2014, accusing him of molesting her. She called out Johansson and others specifically for looking the other way. Allen has adamantly denied any wrongdoing. 

Johansson said in an interview: “It’s not like this is somebody that’s been prosecuted and found guilty of something, and you can then go, ‘I don’t support this lifestyle or whatever.’ I mean, it’s all guesswork.”

Some people pushed back against Johansson for calling out James Franco over alleged indiscretions when she had worked with Allen.