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It’s long been evident that Hollywood has a major diversity problem. And with the film industry’s history steeped in racism, it definitely does not help when white actors continue to feel entitled to play roles meant for Black people as well as other people of color.

On Sunday, actress Scarlett Johnansson came under fire for comments she made during a recent interview with As If Magazine about being “allowed to play” any role.

“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,” Johansson said. “I feel like it’s a trend in my business and it needs to happen for various social reasons, yet there are times it does get uncomfortable when it affects the art because I feel art should be free of restrictions.”

In 2018, Johansson faced backlash from the LGBTQ community for agreeing to play a transgender man in the movie “Rub & Tug.” She went on to reluctantly remove herself from the role. One year earlier in 2017, she faced another controversy for playing an Asian character in the movie “Ghost In The Shell.”

Many people called the actress out for her comments on social media:

Johansson tried to walk back her comments claiming media outlets edited them for “clickbait.” Then she went on to pretty much say the same thing again:

“An interview that was recently published has been edited for click bait and is widely taken out of context,” Johansson said in a statement. “The question I was answering in my conversation with the contemporary artist, David Salle, was about the confrontation between political correctness and art. I personally feel that, in an ideal world, any actor should be able to play anybody and Art, in all forms, should be immune to political correctness.”

While one of the main issues that came to light following her comments was the lack of representation of transgender actors in film, there is also the lingering topic of Black representation, as well.

And though Johansson went on to claim that she does support and fight for diversity, if white actors, who are usually preferred over Black and brown actors, can play anyone, how is that diverse?

Over the years, many white actors and actresses have played Black people in movies, such as Angelina Jolie, who played a real-life Black woman in “A Mighty Heart;” Joseph Fiennes, who played Michael Jackson in “Elizabeth, Michael and Marlon;” and Jeanne Elizabeth Crain, who played a mixed-race Black woman in “Pinky.”

Johansson’s logic could also be applied to the too-many-to-count incidents where actors like Judy Garland, Fred Astaire, Bing Crosby, Robert Downey Jr. and more have donned blackface in films that continued to perpetuate stereotypes of Black people.

And as Johansson continues to believe she should be able to play anyone, Black actors continue to struggle for opportunities in film that are all too often given to white people.

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The Common Good Forum & American Spirit Awards 2019
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