Op-Ed

Minorities hurt their cause when they chide certain actors for portraying them

Eddie Redmayne portrays transgender icon Lile Elbe in “The Danish Girl.”
Eddie Redmayne portrays transgender icon Lile Elbe in “The Danish Girl.”

Scarlett Johansson was slammed recently by trans actresses Trace Lysette and Jamie Clayton when she accepted the role of a transgender character in the crudely titled “Rub and Tug.” Soon after, Dwayne Johnson was publicly chided in an open letter by paralympian actress Katy Sullivan for playing an amputee in the new film “Skyscraper.”

The messages of these actresses were the same: Stop portraying us. In Johansson’s case, it worked. On July 13 she told Out Magazine that she had decided to “respectfully withdraw my participation in the project.” Many applauded her response, but I didn’t see cause for celebration.

People don’t watch movies because everything in them is real, we watch them to be entertained and, occasionally, moved. And we usually only buy a ticket in the first place if someone we love is starring.

It’s easy to be idealistic, but I dare the studio behind “Rub and Tug” to let Lysette headline the movie in Johannson’s place. After you get past the first wave of supporters, it will be crickets at the box office.

Trans roles on the big screen only help the LGBTQ community if people actually see these films and learn to care about the people and stories.

I was incredibly moved by Eddie Redmayne’s performance as trans icon Lile Elbe in “The Danish Girl.” Not because Redmayne is really transgender, but because he made me believe his character was. And his performance brought me to tears. That wouldn’t have happened if an unknown was starring in that role because I wouldn’t have purchased that ticket in the first place.

Trans actors like Lysette or actors with disabilities like Sullivan who want to be cast in major roles need to do what every other actor in Hollywood does: Earn the spotlight — and not by forcing someone else out of theirs. They should prove their talent and gain a massive following of their own. They’ll be offered roles like these in droves.

Otherwise, Hollywood is going to hear their message all too well — and not in the way they hope. If big studios foresee headaches and controversies from green-lighting certain roles or films, they will back away. Even if they don’t — the big-name actors offered such roles will.

Studios have a decision to make every time they produce a movie. After all is said and done it always comes down to money. Few actors pack theaters better than Johansson or Johnson. When the aggrieved actors’ star power shines as bright as theirs, they will be offered the big roles, too.

In the meantime, they should respect the stories the stars are trying to tell.

Daryl Austin is a small business owner and writer from Orem, Utah.

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