Scarlett Johansson gained herself a new fan this week.
Talk show host Rush Limbaugh defended the 33-year-old actress this week after it was announced she would be appearing in the upcoming Rub & Tug, a biopic in which Johansson would play transgender crime boss Dante “Tex” Gill. For anyone unaware, the conservative shock jock clarified on a Monday broadcast of his radio show that she is an actor who is acting.
“The transgender actor lobby is livid!” Limbaugh said around the 88-minute mark. “I saw this on one of my tech blogs. The tech blogs are livid. The long knives are out for Scarlett Johansson. She’s got no business playing a transgender because she isn’t one. I said, ‘Wait a minute. It’s acting.’”
“I mean, none of these people are who they really are,” he added. “I mean, somebody playing a farm wife is not really a farm wife. They’re acting.”
Limbaugh further referenced the 1976 movie Marathon Man, in which Dustin Hoffman plays a grad student kidnapped by a Nazi dentist, to make his point. (The host, however, misidentified the film as The Boys From Brazil.) There’s a scene in the film where Hoffman’s character was set to have his teeth extracted and the actor reportedly stayed up for 72 hours to get into the scene.
As Limbaugh recounted, co-star Laurence Olivier gave the young thespian some advice: “What are you doing this for? It’s acting. We’re acting here, just act like you’ve been up 78 hours [sic]. That’s the talent.”
But as actors like Her Story’s Jen Richards have argued, casting cisgender people in trans roles subliminally reinforces the idea that transgender individuals are not who they say they are. Having Johansson, an actress known for her sex appeal, play Gill encourages the audience to see the character as a woman—not a man.
While the issue may seem relatively benign to outsiders, Richards said conflating trans identity with a costume has extremely dangerous impacts.
“It will result in violence against trans women,” she claimed in a series of August 2016 tweets on Matt Bomer starring as a trans woman in the indie film Anything. “And that is not hyperbole, I mean it literally. Cis men playing trans women leads to death.”
It will result in violence against trans women. And that is not hyperbole, I mean it literally. Cis men playing trans women leads to death.
— Jen Richards (@SmartAssJen) August 28, 2016
That’s why actresses like Jamie Clayton (Sense8) and Trace Lysette (Transparent) have vocally opposed Johansson’s casting, even facing down death threats for speaking up.
Limbaugh claimed, however, that the controversy illustrates the clash between feminism and trans rights. Pointing to the failed takeover of London Pride by a trans exclusive radical feminist (TERF) group this weekend, he predicted the two factions would “turn on each other.”
“Feminism and transgenderism are incompatible, if you stop and think about it,” Limbaugh alleged. “Feminism and transgenderism are incompatible, but the left has decided to roll ’em all up under the gay rights banner.”
Pride in London, which organizes the annual LGBTQ march, apologized after 10 members of “Get the L Out” pushed their way to the front of the July 8 parade. As INTO reported on Monday, members of the TERF group handed out fliers comparing the movement for trans acceptance to “conversion therapy,” while claiming transgender people further rape culture.
Limbaugh claimed this “had to happen.”
It’s telling that Limbaugh—who referred to confirmation surgery as a “chop-a-dick-off-a-me operation”—is one of the few public figures to defend Johansson. Another is former Fox News host Megyn Kelly. Although the actress has declined to comment publicly on the backlash, it’s unlikely that being a conservative media darling is what the Obama and Hillary Clinton supporter had in mind.