Scarlett Johansson: ‘I would never presume to play another race of a person’

Prince Harry visits Help for Heroes Recovery Centre

Scarlett Johansson covers the March issue of Marie Claire. I still hate her Kate Gosselin hair, but at this point, I think I’m used to it? Like, if Scarlett came out and suddenly had a lob, I would be floored. Anyway, Scarlett’s promoting Ghost in the Shell, the movie where she plays a Japanese character named Major Motoko Kusanagi. That was the character’s name in the original source material, but since ScarJo is a white woman playing this character, they changed the name to just “Major.” Allegedly, producers were concerned about the whitewashing complaints so much, they might have CGI’d Scarlett a bit to make her look “more Asian,” because Hollywood. I bring this up because Scarlett addresses the controversy for the first time in this interview, in between talking about breast pumps and such. Some highlights:

Her appearance at the 2015 Oscars: “I had to bring my breast pump, because I was nursing and every ounce is like liquid gold,” says the actress, who had given birth to her daughter, Rose, five months earlier. After the ceremony, she reunited with it in the company of mutual friends Kelly Ripa and her husband, Mark Consuelos, but not for long. “Somehow, Mark got ahold of my breast pump—in a bag with all the milk, ice packs in there, and shit. He grabbed it out of my hand,” Johansson recalls. He was just trying to help, she explains, “but our cars got separated. Apparently, Kelly looked over, and she was like, ‘Wait a minute—is that Scarlett’s breast pump? We’ve got to get it back!’ because she knew how panicked I would be. We finally ended up at the same party three hours later, and Mark was like, ‘I’m so sorry.’”

On motherhood: “It’s very humbling. How’s your boobs? Are they square? That was always my favorite.”

On the controversy surrounding her casting as the lead in Ghost in a Shell: “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. Also, having a franchise with a female protagonist driving it is such a rare opportunity. Certainly, I feel the enormous pressure of that—the weight of such a big property on my shoulders.”

On being the highest-grossing actress in Hollywood history: “Just because I’m the top-grossing actress of all time does not mean I’m the highest paid. I’ve had to fight for everything that I have. It’s such a fickle and political industry.”

On being reluctant to discuss the wage gap: “Some people felt I should talk about my personal struggle in order to shed a spotlight on the greater issue. Maybe I’m being presumptuous, but I assumed it was obvious that women in all positions struggle for equality. It’s always an uphill battle and fight. My experience with my close female friends and family is that the struggle is real for everybody. Everyone has been discriminated against or harassed—sexism is real.”

On her daughter watching her in movies: “I don’t think she’s allowed to see any of the movies I’ve made, other than Sing. I’ll be happy when she’s old enough to show her movies where I kicked some a**.”

On no subject being off-limits with her friends: “I want to talk about what’s happening with your vagina. I want to know why it hates you or whatever. I want to compare and contrast notes. I want to talk about sex and all that stuff.”

On celebrities being vocal about politics: “[I believe] that it is really important to hear people in various positions of power voice their opinions, their story. Why not? Why can’t I have the voice? Why can’t I use my platform? What’s the point of having it if you don’t use it? If you don’t want to get involved, please, the noise is loud enough. But if you’ve got something to say, say it.”

[From Marie Claire]

I think her answers about the wage gap and sexism are on-point – she shouldn’t feel like it’s her duty or responsibility to become the face of an issue if she doesn’t want to be. Plus, I think it’s discouraging when we expect so much from women like Scarlett and Jennifer Lawrence and Amy Adams and yet we don’t expect the men to say anything, whether it’s the men getting paid more or the men deciding who gets paid more.

As for what Scarlett says about whitewashing… no. Do better, Scarlett. You’re going to get a lot of questions about whitewashing in the next few months, and your answer needs to be more than “I would never want to feel like I was playing a character that was offensive.” It needs to be more than a deflection to “at least this is female-driven franchise” too. That is white feminism – the belief that if it’s good for a white woman, no one should have any complaints. This could have been a franchise for a Japanese woman or a Japanese-American woman too and it wouldn’t have been a racial minefield.

Prince Harry visits Help for Heroes Recovery Centre

Photos courtesy of Marie Claire.

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69 Responses to “Scarlett Johansson: ‘I would never presume to play another race of a person’”

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  1. Darkladi says:

    This is more about the casting than about her choice. Let’s talk about them. She isn’t presuming to play another race. They presumed and hired her.

    • detritus says:

      The studios are ultimately the ones responsible.

      Write and don’t give them your money. In my field one written letter is considered to count for over 200 similar opinions, because most people can’t be bothered. So those letters and emails count, and so do your dollars. Make these missteps expensive.

      The only thing movie execs hate more than having to pick someone outside their friend group, is losing money.

      But, ScarJo knew the name of the character, she took it knowingly. there’s more than enough bad choices in this to pass around a share of the blame.

    • starkiller says:

      Did the casting agents also twist her arm and force her to take the role? I very much doubt that. She chose to take it of her own volition. I’m normally a ScarJo apologist, but I can’t excuse this.

  2. Mia4S says:

    Swing and a miss on the whitewashing issue Scarlett. Eh, she’s never struck me as all that bright or aware. I’m not surprised.

    “Highest grossing” actor and actress is an utterly meaningless title these days. She’s there only because of the Avengers movies and anyone could have played that role. Now it’s equally meaningless for men and women so the wage gap still is in play but ultimately it’s all about the franchises, not the actors.

  3. grabbyhands says:

    Also, having a franchise with a female protagonist driving it is such a rare opportunity. Certainly, I feel the enormous pressure of that—the weight of such a big property on my shoulders.”

    Oh, you poor, precious snowflake! You know what else is a rare opportunity? Having a WOC play the lead in a movie about a WOC. But thank god, you are ready to bear the weight!!! I mean, like-how else would anyone even KNOW about this character otherwise, right?

    The struggle is real, you guys.

  4. QueenB says:

    ugh what she does not understand is that her white feminism makes it even worse.

  5. ell says:

    i like scarlett, but she needs to stop taking roles meant for non-white actors. there’s nothing revolutionary anymore about young, white women being leads in action films and/or tv shows. we’ve had plenty of those now (although i admit that some are still very sexualised which is annoying), and yes it’s brilliant, but we need to move forward e.g. more/better roles for poc and older actresses of any race.

    on a different note, i love that top, is it dolce & gabbana?

  6. detritus says:

    CGIing her face to make it look more Asian? Nooo. Guys, no. just no.
    Find an Asian lady. I believe in you. I’m not watching this mess and I love sci fi and action.

    I like the rest of what she said, but it’s hard to concentrate when she says such dumb stuff. Practice critical thinking ScarJo. Just because the director told you that, doesn’t mean it’s true or correct. If you came up with it on your own, try again, you are wrong.

    • Erinn says:

      I don’t know why I’m surprised by her response, but somehow I am. I’m not even a fan of hers. But I really honestly thought that she would have thought up some sort of clever, or at least more understanding response to the white washing questions. The backlash started almost a full year ago (at least) – how the hell has she not come up with something better than deflecting to “oh but look! I’m a woman lead in an action movie!”

      Honestly – she could have just said something like “I was really excited to take the role – it was a job that I really wanted to do, and I took it. After hearing the reasons why my casting upset people I realize that I wasn’t as aware as I should have been regarding the damage whitewashing in the film industry does. Going forward I plan to advocate for diversity, and do more research on the roles I am being considered for”.

  7. Ebon says:

    The studio’s fault? Sure, but she accepted it and it’s not like she’s starving and needs every penny. Lbr, she knows what she is doing. She’s racist and doesn’t care about any women but white women.

  8. Alix says:

    “…play another race of a person”? That’s some awkward phrasing there.

    • mkyarwood says:

      She’s not the brightest fork in the drawer — I think this comes through in her ‘acting’, the worst, most boring monotone voice in the world. But, make sure you don’t say that around her boy stans. THEY WILL FLAY YOU FOR HER BOOBS’ SAKE.

  9. Sephiroth says:

    Ok I’ve always been a fan of Ghost in the Shell series and believe me, I’m your typical Otaku. However I approve Scarlet to play Matoko just because she kicks ass.

    And if we wanna get deep about the race stuff, Matoko is a cyborg, and not a human born of any race. Besides all we want from a real live Matoko is badasness; whether she’s being played by an Indian, Hawaiian, British, Korean, Nigerian, Japanese, etc…


    • Sanduuu says:

      Thank you! I have looked into this and Makoto’s race is never mentioned…because she is a raceless cyborg.

    • KHLBHL says:

      It’s “Motoko” not “Matoko.”

      …..wouldn’t a GitS fan know how to spell the main character’s name at least?

      I too am a huge GitS fan. If you really understand GitS, you should know that it’s not just about cyborgs and guns and all the flashy, superficial things in a typical sci-fi movie or TV series. There is deep-rooted mythology stemming from Japanese culture and the post-WWII Japanese experience. That’s not something to be taken lightly. If you look at this only from the perspective of “ass-kicking,” you don’t get GitS.

      “[Ghost in the Shell] ties directly into Japan’s cultural themes of rebirth and regeneration, particularly when it comes to how Japan itself went through a rebirthing process of its own national identity post World War II.” There is also commentary about nuclear anxieties. This is very explicitly a Japanese movie, especially culturally, even when the protagonist doesn’t fit your stereotyped idea of what an Asian person looks like. So no, a white woman should NOT play this role.

      Here is the full article on that:

      But “ass-kicking” is probably also Hollywood’s priority, and if that’s any indication, the film will suck anyway because the producers/writers don’t get the philosophy behind GitS.

    • detritus says:

      If you are a fan of the series then you know her ‘body type’ was made to blend in. With common features. Common to Japan.

    • Chewbacca says:

      You’re misspelling her name and anyone who watches GitS and doesn’t see that it’s a Japanese story about Japanese people is blind. Everybody has Japanese names, it takes place in japan and there’s simply no denying that. The visual aesthetic is also very much Japanese cyber punk. I never understand the need to pretend otherwise with something like Ghost in the Shell.

  10. Ramona says:

    The problem I have with journalists is that they’ll ask her about wage equality and white washing and later have access to the director or producer and not do the same. The Producers Roundtable by Hollywood Reporter was predicably lacking these questions even though they cant wait to trott them out during the Actresses Roundtables.

    With the whitewashing, was she aware of the storys origin? The majority of actors block out the source material or background, so I would bet she only learnt about this after the furore hit mainstream media. The shame here lies with the producers who commissioned a script adaptation and determined her casting.

    • Bex says:

      100% with you on that one- actresses get asked about their experiences in every interview now (usually for the headlines as I think Amy Adams said) their answers scrutinised, and while that advocacy is great the people who really have the power to have things on a systemic level never have to answer for anything. I found the producer roundtable so frustrating for that reason. They were soft balled.

      I do think Scarlett has to bear some of the blame for this one though. The whitewashing conversation isn’t new, and she should’ve done her research, or at least admitted that she should’ve done her research in this interview.

  11. Valois says:

    “Also, having a franchise with a female protagonist driving it is such a rare opportunity. ”
    Yes, Scarlett, it was only about feminism, purely altruistic motives here. Obviously.

    Aside from that, I don’t see GotS becoming a franchise. One sequel – maybe. But it’s coming out in a super packed month with several stronger contenders, I don’t really see it being more than a mild success at best.

  12. Nina says:

    Ugh, I still wish they’d hired an actor of Asian descent to play the part. ScarJo is becoming such an obvious go-to actor when it comes to casting women for lead roles in sci-fi-inflected flicks. I wish they’d gotten Grace Park, actually. She may not be a huge name, but she currently does a lot of butt kicking in “Hawaii Five-O”, and has done loads of sci-fi stuff on TV.

  13. JulP says:

    “Also, having a franchise with *AN ASIAN OR WOC* protagonist driving it is such a rare opportunity.” There, fixed that for ya Scarlett.

    I get the comments here arguing that it’s the casting director or producer’s fault, but Scarlett is one of the most successful actresses in Hollywood and certainly didn’t need to take this role. The fact is that actresses like Scarlett (and Rooney Mara, Emma Stone, Zoe Saldana, etc.) really don’t care about these issues, they only care about furthering their careers. I suppose I can’t blame them, but if that’s the case, don’t insult our intelligence by making up some half-assed excuse after the film has been made.

  14. JaneDoesWork says:

    This bothers me so much. “I would never presume to portray a race of another person.” What she’s saying here is a. this is a character, not a real person (so in her mind its okay) and b. that she’s portraying that character and she’s white, so the character is too. Neither of these things changes the fact that they took an asian character and made it white. Period. She totally deflects from that. At least Rooney Mara and Emma Stone owned it and apologized and realized that they were contributing to the problem. Scarlett and Matt Damon think its okay because they attend protests.

  15. Lucy says:

    Problematic fave. I know she’s not the only one to blame but still, do better, ScarJo!!

  16. browniecakes says:

    On the ‘no subject is off limits’ Scar and Gweneth should start a club.

  17. L says:

    Wow! she looks gorgeous in the second pic. ❤️

  18. Clare says:

    I feel like Scarlett has a history of being a little tone dead and ignorant – she comes off as much smarter than some of the other actresses in her age group, but this isn’t the first insensitive job she has taken (presumably for the paycheck?)

    Remember when she went head to head with Oxfam (and was, I think, asked to step down as an ambassador) because she signed an endorsement deal for a product made in Palestinian occupied territories? Instead of taking the time to educate herself and consider that an international aid organisation wasn’t out to get her (or anyone else) she stuck to her guns and got her paycheck. I feel like she is doing the exact same thing here.

    My point – The pie eyed ‘but..but…I would never do such a thing!’ while taking on a clearly Asian character…bullshit.

    • theothercleo says:

      Yes, I remember that. She had a deal with Sodastream. The whole thing was a mess and her explanation was terrible. If I remember correctly she “disagreed” with Oxfam on the issue, she felt like the organization should stay out of this “political” issue and (i think it was a few months later?) said in an interview that the controversy was due to anti-Semitism. I think her actual words were worse than that but I don’t really have the time to research it right now.
      Oh, and remember her comments about Dylan Farrow’s letter?
      As you said, Scarlett often comes accross as smarter than a lot of other actresses and she uses her celebrity to support good causes (like her speech at the women’s march) but I’m not going to pretend that she’s above playing an asian character.

    • Bridget says:

      No, she disagreed with OxFam – she’s an American of Jewish heritage, and clearly Pro-Israel (which is a pretty common political leaning here, BTW).

  19. anna says:

    Lmao she’s such a self involved asshole. Whenever she has a controversy she always gives the most tone deaf answers it’s kind of amazing.

  20. Sam says:

    Why is anyone shocked? Scarjo has always been problematic. And to everyone saying it’s a studio problem….Scarjo could have turned down the role. No one forced her to take it. And now she’s turning it into some white feminism BS. No thank you.

  21. Zuzus Girl says:

    “highest-grossing actress in Hollywood history” I find THAT offensive as hell because she’s a terrible actress who always sounds like she has a mouth full of marbles.

  22. Ayra. says:

    No matter how much I actually like Ghost in the Shell, I hope this flops. I hope producers who continuously whitewash movies have their movies flop too. Don’t play with my childhood Hollywood.

  23. QQ says:

    2017 You Guys, she is gonna say this in THEEE 2017 , like we don’t got good walking talking breathing Asian Actresses that could and would….

    Sigh is a shame cause I like her hair/makeup and this spread generally but she sounds ( once again I should say) Like a F*cking Entitled moron

  24. Miss Grace Jones says:

    I deeply, deeply despise this woman and everyone who continuously gives her a pass because she spews white feminist crap sometimes. After the Oxfam thing, after her shaming a sexual abuse victim and defending her abuser Woody Allen and now after CHOOSING to play the role of a Japanese character as if she’s some frail helpless penniless actress with none of all of that ‘strong feminist’ image she likes to claim people are still falling all over themselves to defend her? Disgusting.

  25. Mel says:

    Isn’t that the same “argument” Tilda Swinton used when she was exchanging the emails with Margaret Cho?
    We all know how all that went down. The studio PR should have prepared her better for that question that, as some people mentioned, she is bound to get several times during promotion of the film.
    I mean, once the movie is done, what can she do?
    Probably eat her humble pie and try to better herself for next time.
    I also COMPLETELY agree with the people who noted that it’s time studios execs are held accountable. Nobody ever asks them the tough questions about diversity and representation.
    Maybe one question in passing, that will more than likely be deflected, and then lets move on.
    Do we need to unleash Jake Tapper on them or what?!
    I was so offended when anonymous Oscar voter talked about #OscarSoWhite and how it’s just that the films are better this year. Like, somehow, the odds are even to begin with!
    Women directors for instance are asked to “over perform” at the box office if they want to have another shot. Meanwhile, DC is producing duds left and right and NO ONE is questioning whether there will be another Batman by that same director or if the Suicide Squad guy will get another movie to direct.
    That goes without saying, all minorities are impacted.
    It all goes back to Jessica William’s mama’s powerful message about how she could NEVER settle for “average”.
    Once again, what’s done is done ScarJo, you cannot use a time machine. But do NOT get defensive. You have a chance to use your platform to make amends and make the discussion move forward. Do not waste it.

  26. detritus says:

    ScarJo is looking a little Sarah Paulson on the top photo.

  27. HappyMom says:

    She’s friends with Kelly Ripa and Mark Consuelos?? That’s the most shocking thing in this whole interview.

  28. Neo says:

    Ug, more I’m a good person therefore what I do is good logic. I would never presume to play a character of a different race therefore when I stole a role from a Japanese actress, it’s really that the character was white all along. She and Tilda should start a club or something. They can call themselves OWWA, Oblivious White Washers Anonymous.

  29. Trashaddict says:

    This is definitely not her finest moment. If she’s really committed she should take her earnings and put them into producing movies with diverse casts. But I did see Scarlett at the Women’s March and she spoke intelligently, convincingly and compellingly about how much Planned Parenthood had helped her and her friends.
    She made Madonna look pretty flat. If she wrote the speech herself, it definitely marks her as NOT a dummy. If she had the brains to know a speechwriter was in order for this occasion, again: NOT a dummy.
    Or she has a really outstanding agent. For me, the speech was a bright spot in a shockingly bad situation.

  30. Amide says:

    She has always been the worst kind of tool.