ArticlesScarlett Johansson and White Privilege

“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.” – Scarlett Johansson, July 2019.

ScarJo is neither an idiot or a racist, but her annual insistence that she ought to have, as an actress, whatever role she seeks makes me question her naivete. As People of Color, can we keep forgiving white people of not understanding? There was a time I believed we should have. I’d tried seeing things from the white perspective; dabble in their realm of manifest destiny, but something about it kept bothering me. Freedom. White people in America like to talk about freedom. Their version of it is an ideal thing, as something chosen like fruit from a concession stand. ScarJo saw acting roles like fruit and wondered what was so wrong about enjoying herself from filling her plate? She alluded to this freedom as female empowerment.

I used to think that kind of ignorance was a natural trait of privilege. After all, white people utter accidental insensitive things all the time. This doesn’t make them bad people, but it does make the ones who won’t change their idea of “freedom” after being criticized numerous times a bit suspect. Which, in an age of information and the abundance of so many different community voices, makes all white Americans in modern times suspect.

“Diversity is important in Hollywood and I would never want to feel like I was playing a character that was offensive.” – Scarlett Johansson, March 2017

In the world of acting, barriers aren’t being shattered fast enough.

Freedom, to an aspiring Person of Color actor (or a transgender one), means equality. When a white actor asks “look at all the fruit on my plate, look at yours, what’s the big deal?” they’re dismissing the reality that their plate has a variety of fruit and a Person of Color’s have only…cantaloupe. This is “freedom”? When a Person of Color goes to the strawberry or banana crop, white people suddenly accuse us of stealing all the fruit.

But this is a very old point and not the new one.

Scarlett Johansson is a microcosm. She reminds me of a lot of white people who take things and don’t apologize for it. They are not naive about the racial dynamics at play even as they feign it. Yes, jobs should be given to the best qualified, but that idea of fairness, that definition of freedom is only logical in a perspective where no one else was swept under the rug so that someone like Scarlett could skip ahead of the line to fight for that job over other white actresses. Yes, Scarlett’s worked hard and she’s talented, but somewhere out there is an Asian, black, Latina, transgendered-version of Scarlett who is equally as workaholic and talented. Rarely do roles like the upcoming Little Mermaid pop up (where a black lead is cast) and even when that happens, white people raise hell.

I began saying I didn’t think Scarlett Johansson is an idiot or a racist. I still don’t believe she’s those things, because it’s not a white person’s job to step aside. As long as systems are funded, controlled and looked after by white people, diversity will always be limited. It’ll go only so far as giving white women a majority of the female lead roles and People of Color typecasts. White people want things to be this way, because that’s how they see things. It’s not because they’re evil, it’s how they perceive what the world should be. Even when their hearts are of good-intention, even when they’re throwing People of Color scraps of “diversity”, in the end, it’s just the outcome of the Scarlett Johanssons of the world saving us poor oppressed minorities from evil white people. They tell their narrative, they cast their own actors. It’s no wonder ScarJo and company feel like they can be whatever they want to be. This is the viewpoint of who rules Hollywood. It’s their entitlement.

Louis Leung

Louis Leung is a proud self-published author who enjoys writing novels that revolves around controversial Asian-American themes that normally wouldn't be accepted by mainstream publishing.

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