Recent years have not been kind to how Hollywood works. There has been outpouring criticism, for starters, over its brow-raising casting decisions.

Perhaps, this is one of the most controversial and polarizing topics the people in charge are forced to deal with.

The emergence of such a problem is partly the result of audiences becoming more aware of social inequalities, and how those intersect with preconceived norms of the entertainment industry.

Case in point: In 1999, almost no one batted an eye when actress Hilary Swank, a cisgender — a person whose gender identity matches the sex they were assigned at birth — played Brandon Teena, a transgender man who was brutally raped and murdered out of transphobia. She even won an Oscar for it.

However, times have changed. People are now more willing to speak out when they see injustices play out in our culture, not the least of which cinema.

One such injustice is recent news of Scarlett Johansson's casting in an upcoming film called Rub & Tug, where she'll play a transgender man. Many are furious about the decision.

Scarlett Johansson, Whitewashing, And Ciswashing

Johansson is no stranger to controversial casting, however. In 2017, she played Major Mira Killian/Motoko Kusanagi in Rupert Sanders's Ghost in the Shell, an adaptation from the Japanese manga of the same name.

Time magazine has an excellent timeline covering the controversy, which now stands as one of the most recognizable examples of whitewashing in Hollywood: when white actors play non-white roles.

The controversy was rather short-lived and confusing, however. The original creator later said he approved of the casting, claiming the character isn't human and therefore, has no concrete race. Rub & Tug is a different story, though.

Amid Johansson's second casting debacle, many use the term "ciswashing," or when cisgender actors play transgender roles despite the abundance of transgender actors in Hollywood more than willing to step into those characters. Johansson herself has formally addressed the controversy, but rather than appease, her statements make the situation worse.

"Tell them that they can be directed to Jeffrey Tambor, Jared Leto, and Felicity Huffman's reps for comment," Johansson's representative told Bustle in behalf of the actress.

Tambor, Leto, and Huffman, all cisgender actors, have earned critical merit for playing transgender characters in the past. Huffman was nominated for an Oscar in Transamerica, Leto won the award for Dallas Buyer's Club, and Tambor won a number of Emmys for Transparent. Ironically, he was booted out of the show after he was alleged to be sexually abusing his transgender co-actors.

Transgender actress Trace Lysette was among those who accused Tambor of sexually abusive behavior. She recently took to Twitter and discussed Johansson's casting, expressing dismay over the fact that cisgender actors can play transgender roles, but not vice versa.

"Not only do you play us and steal our narrative and our opportunity but you pat yourselves on the back with trophies and accolades for mimicking what we have lived... so twisted. I'm so done..." wrote Lysette.

The Plight Of Transgenders In Entertainment

As controversy brews over casting transgender roles with cisgender actors, it should be noted that transgender visibility in pop culture and entertainment has made strides in recent years with shows such as Transparent, American Horror Story, and the new Ryan Murphy show Pose.

As Johansson's casting makes clear, however, there's more work to be done.

Photo: Gage Skidmore | Flickr

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