Scarlett Johansson’s decision to play the transgender man Dante “Tex” Gill in the upcoming film Rub & Tug by Ghost in the Shell director Rupert Sanders has been criticized widely online in the few days since the news broke. Johansson has responded to the criticism by citing instances in which non-transgender people have played transgender characters, like Jared Leto in Dallas Buyers Club and Felicity Huffman in the 2005 film Transamerica.
It’s true that non-transgender actors have been playing transgender characters for decades, but much of the debate centers around whether or not they should. Every transgender role given to a non-transgender actor, after all, is a role that could have been given to a transgender actor – and it could be argued that transgender actors are more qualified to play transgender characters than anyone else.
According to a 2015 study conducted by the National Center for Transgender Equality cited on the official GLAAD website, transgender people are three times more likely to experience unemployment than the non-transgender population in the United States. In addition, most movie and television viewers can probably list more non-transgender actors in transgender roles than transgender actors in transgender roles.
Rub & Tug is scheduled to begin production in February of 2019. In the meantime, you can watch Laverne Cox playing a trans woman in Orange is the New Black on Netflix. Jamie Clayton appeared as a trans woman in Sense8 and Elliot Fletcher appeared as a trans man in season seven of Shameless – two shows that are also available on Netflix. Five transgender actors appear in the television series Pose, which is currently airing on FX.