It’s an odd publicity approach for the world’s highest-paid actress, spending every other interview speaking in support of a Hollywood pariah. If she really doesn’t “know more than any other person knows”, wouldn’t the best approach be to diplomatically decline to comment?
“I’m not a politician and I can’t lie about the way I feel about things,” she told Vanity Fair. “I don’t have that. It’s just not part of my personality. I don’t want to have to edit myself, or temper what I think or say. I can’t live that way. It’s just not me. And also I think that when you have that kind of integrity, it’s going to probably rub people, some people, the wrong way. And that’s kind of par for the course, I guess.”
A string of such confounding public statements has tainted Johansson’s profile in recent years. Gone is the delightfully husky-voiced presence who charmed audiences with breakout roles in Terry Zwigoff’s Ghost World (2001) and Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation (2003); instead you’ve got a 35-year-old who responds to well-meaning criticism like a disgruntled ageing comedian or conservative shock jock.
In 2017, she found herself at the centre of a Hollywood whitewashing scandal with her role in the big-budget remake of Japanese cult manga and anime Ghost in the Shell. Johansson’s response to the criticism, with Asian-American actors citing their lack of on-screen opportunities, was a simple line to placate the backlash. “Diversity is important in Hollywood,” she claimed, “and I would never want to feel like I was playing a character that was offensive.” Sure collected that pay cheque, though.
A year later she found herself in a repeat situation after laying claim to the lead role in a movie titled Rub & Tug, based on the true story of a transgender man. While she eventually backed out of the project, her initial response to detractors was to issue a hasty statement through her no-doubt despairing publicist: “Tell them that they can be directed to Jeffrey Tambor, Jared Leto and Felicity Huffman’s reps for comment,” it read, a testy brush-off allying herself with actors who’d previously, however ignorantly, taken trans roles.
In the new Vanity Fair article, she at least acknowledged she “mishandled that situation”.
“I was not sensitive, my initial reaction to it. I wasn’t totally aware of how the trans community felt about those three actors playing – and how they felt in general about cis actors playing – transgender people. I wasn’t aware of that conversation – I was uneducated. So I learnt a lot through that process … To feel like you’re kind of tone-deaf to something is not a good feeling,” she said.
I’m sure we can all sympathise with the strain of being a star, constantly confronted with a microphone and forced to authoritatively discuss issues beyond your “I went to musical theatre school” comprehension. But there seems a lesson for famous-types in Johansson’s public mea culpa: if you’ve got a loud platform, learn about things before speaking on them. Also, read the room: no one wants to hear how cool Woody Allen is right now, stop it.