Representation in Hollywood. We've heard this phrase thrown around for years and assumed Hollywood was changing its ways for the better to be more inclusive. Although it may seem like this from the outside as a result of grand gestures and seemingly diverse films, the reality is far different.
Last year, USC's Annenberg Inclusion Initiative released a detailed report which found that between 2007 and 2017, there was no concerted effort on Hollywood's part to be inclusive since there was no shift in the types of characters featured in each year's top 100 movies.
This means that although films like "Black Panther" and "Crazy Rich Asians" feature casts full of actors from minority backgrounds, the overall picture is bleaker.
Scarlett Johansson has become a key figure at the center of this debate and is back in the news for discussing her views on representation in Hollywood. Following an interview, she was quoted saying, "you know, as an actor, I should be able to play any person, or tree, or any animal, because that's my job and the requirements of my job" by the publication, As If. The actress has garnered significant criticism regarding the characters she is chosen to play. These include the lead role in the Japanese manga adaptation of "Ghost in the Shell" and signing on to play a trans character in a feature film. She walked away from the latter role after a major backlash took hold of the industry.
Trevor Noah, perfectly equipped to speak on the issue, discussed it at length with his studio audience during his "Between The Scenes" segment during a recent episode of The Daily Show. He explained the issue as the following: although Johansson claims there shouldn't be any restrictions on what roles she can and cannot play, the problem lies within this belief. For too long, Hollywood has created stories to be told for and by certain people, leaving others to play stereotyped versions of how they are seen. This is why "Crazy Rich Asians" was such a hit: it represented Asian-Americans without placing the characters into stereotypical roles.
And this is where Scarlett Johansson misunderstands the importance of representation. Yes, she can play any role she wants to and that's the point. The imagery of representation is powerful in two ways. First, it serves to inspire people when they see themselves on the screen. Second, and most importantly, representation shapes how we view society.
If we only view society through stereotypes and static representation, we will never evolve.
So Scarlett Johannson here's to you and hoping you will step up to the plate in the future to turn down roles that aren't ideally suited for you while promoting an actor who can finally play their dream breakout role.