'A Fantastic Woman' director talks ScarJo casting row

'A Fantastic Woman' director talks ScarJo casting row

In picture: Scarlett Johansson. Reuters file photo.

Director Sebastian Lelio, whose film "A Fantastic Woman" bagged the Best Foreign Language Film Award at the Oscars, has expressed his views on the controversy surrounding the casting of Scarlett Johansson as a transgender in newly-announced film, "Rub & Tub".

The Chilean filmmaker's movie, about a transgender woman whose life is turned upside down after the death of her older lover, featured trans actor Daniela Vega in the lead.

Lelio, in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, noted that though there are fewer opportunities for the trans actors in the industry, no actor should be prohibited from taking up any role.

"It's true (that) cultural representation has been scarce so far. And it's also true that the gesture of casting a cisgender actor to play a transgender role can be aesthetically or ethically debatable — but it should never be prohibited," he said.

The 44-year-old director said that filmmaking decisions should only be taken in the context of artistic freedom and not as political correctness.

"When I decided to cast Daniela Vega to play Marina in 'A Fantastic Woman', it was an act of artistic freedom, not political correctness. I wasn't telling the world that transgender roles should be played by transgender actors. I was only doing what I felt was right for my film," Lelio said.

"Whenever the decision to cast Daniela Vega is interpreted as an authoritarian gesture, a gesture that tells people what to do, I always raise my hand and say ‘No.’ I’m not commanding anyone to do anything, I'm exercising my artistic freedom," the director added.

Lelio said that all actors, whether trans, straight, gay or lesbian, should have the right to play all kinds of roles.

"If I said transgender roles should only be played by transgender actors, I would be implying that Daniela Vega shouldn't play a cisgender role. And I believe she has every right to play a man or a woman," Lelio said.

Trans actors Trace Lysette and Jamie Clayton recently criticised Johansson's casting in "Rub & Tub".

In the film, to be directed by Rupert Sanders, Johansson will portray Jean Marie Gill, who succeeded in Pittsburgh's 1970s and 1980s massage parlour and prostitution business by assuming the identity of a man, Dante 'Tex' Gill.

Johansson's representatives had responded to the criticism by alluding to the performances of Jeffrey Tambor, Jared Leto, and Felicity Huffman, who all have played trans characters despite being cisgender. 

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