The following article includes allegations of child abuse and sexual assault.
It’s no mystery why Scarlett Johansson has topped Forbes‘ list of highest-paid actresses in the world more than once. For starters, her resume includes some of Hollywood’s biggest and best movies. What’s more, her wildly successful career has spanned multiple decades. Acting since childhood, she gave breakout performances in The Horse Whisperer and Ghost World before putting the world on notice with her award-nominated roles in Lost in Translation and Girl with a Pearl Earring.
Today, she’s one of the world’s most recognizable stars and even has a universal nickname she hates. She’s also become a bit of a controversy magnet. It seems that every year or so, Johansson’s name pops up in all the wrong places. She’s been criticized for hypocritical statements and actions, making thoughtless career moves, and supporting one side over the other in massive conflicts. To better understand these issues and the woman in front of them, we dive deeper into the actress’ past troubles and explore the shady side of Scarlett Johansson.
Woody Allen hasn't lost Scarlett Johansson's support
In 1992, Woody Allen was accused of molesting his seven-year-old adopted daughter, Dylan Farrow. Despite denying the allegations against him, the famed director lost his battle for custody of the young girl and was denied visitation rights. Approximately 20 years later, Farrow’s story was shared in a Vanity Fair piece. Two months later, Allen received the lifetime achievement award at the Golden Globes.
Since then, many actors have come forward to express their regret in working with the director. Greta Gerwig said in The New York Times that she would never again act in one of his movies. Peter Sarsgaard and Jeff Daniels said the same on MTP Daily. And in a Facebook post (via People), Elliot Page called To Rome With Love “the biggest regret of my career.” Scarlett Johansson, who appeared in three of Allen’s films. evidently feels differently about the matter.
When asked in 2019 if she would work with the director for a fourth time, she told The Hollywood Reporter, “I love Woody,” adding, “I believe him, and I would work with him anytime.” A couple of months later, she addressed some of the backlash she received for publicly supporting Allen. “Just because I believe my friend does not mean that I don’t support women, believe women,” she said in a Vanity Fair interview. “I think you have to take it on a case-by-case basis. You can’t have this blanket statement — I don’t believe that. But that’s my personal belief. That’s how I feel.”
Scarlett Johansson put a pin in it
Though she never mentioned him by name, Scarlett Johansson’s comments at the Women’s March in 2018 sure seemed to be aimed at James Franco. (A rep for Johansson confirmed to USA Today that she was referring to Franco.) “How could a person publicly stand by an organization that helps to provide support for victims of sexual assault while privately preying on people who have no power,” she asked from the stage. “I want my pin back by the way.” Franco, who wore a Time’s Up to The Golden Globes, was accused of inappropriate behavior by multiple women. He has denied the allegations.
Without context, Johansson’s comments were on point, but many critics were quick to point out that she appeared to feel differently in a 2014 interview with The Guardian. “I think it’s irresponsible to take a bunch of actors that will have a Google alert on and to suddenly throw their name into a situation that none of us could possibly knowingly comment on,” she said at the time after being named in Dylan Farrow’s open letter for appearing in Woody Allen films (via Vanity Fair). “It’s not like this is somebody that’s been prosecuted and found guilty of something.”
Some, like Piers Morgan, remarked on an apparent double standard in the actor’s speech. “[Johansson] wasn’t quite so repulsed by child rapist Roman Polanski or Woody Allen, who married his wife’s adoptive daughter & whose own adoptive daughter says he abused her at 7,” he tweeted.
Scarlett Johansson landed in troubled waters
Scarlett Johansson was named the Global Brand Ambassador for the popular water carbonator brand, SodaStream, in 2014. The match between the Israel-based company and the Jewish-American superstar actor seemed perfect on the surface. Johansson starred in a pair of commercials that were slated to air on Super Bowl Sunday but were apparently banned for going at Pepsi and Coca-Cola.
Then things got a little messy because, at the time, the organization produced some of its products from the territory of Ma’ale Adumim in the contested West Bank. Johansson released a statement on the matter to HuffPost. “I never intended on being the face of any social or political movement, distinction, separation or stance as part of my affiliation with SodaStream,” the statement read. “SodaStream is a company that is not only committed to the environment but to building a bridge to peace between Israel and Palestine, supporting neighbors working alongside each other, receiving equal pay, equal benefits and equal rights.”
With this move, Johansson’s eight-year relationship with Oxfam was jeopardized. And then, as The Guardian reported, she “quit her ambassador role,” citing “a fundamental difference of opinion in regards to the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement” in her statement. Oxfam responded with its own statement. “Ms. Johansson’s role promoting the company SodaStream is incompatible with her role as an Oxfam Global Ambassador,” it read. “Oxfam believes that businesses, such as SodaStream, that operate in settlements further the ongoing poverty and denial of rights of the Palestinian communities that we work to support.”
There was shell to pay for Scarlett Johansson
Scarlett Johansson’s involvement in Ghost in the Shell has been cited as an example of whitewashing in Hollywood. After Johansson, a white actor, had been selected to play the lead in an adaptation of the Japanese manga, an online petition to get DreamWorks “to reconsider casting Scarlett Johansson” was created. When asked about the controversy in 2017, the actor denied any wrongdoing. “I certainly would never presume to play another race of a person,” she said in a Marie Claire interview. “Diversity is important in Hollywood, and I would never want to feel like I was playing a character that was offensive.”
The Media Action Network for Asian Americans (MANAA) released a statement on Facebook “condemning the ‘white-washed’ casting.” In regards to Johansson’s statements about not knowingly playing a character of another race, MANAA suggested she had lied. “Apparently, in Hollywood, Japanese people can’t play Japanese people anymore,” MANAA President Robert Chan said. “There’s no reason why either Motoku or Hideo could not have been portrayed by Japanese or Asian actors instead of Scarlett Johansson”
While Johansson and the filmmakers argued that the story was universal, the film took place in Japan and the majority of the cast were Japanese. As ScreenCrush reported, there were even rumors of using post-production visual effects to “shift her ethnicity,” though these plans were ultimately abandoned.
Another casting misfire for Scarlett Johansson
After completing Ghost in the Shell, Scarlett Johansson and director Rupert Sanders were all set to team up once again, this time with Rub & Tug, a film about the real-life Dante “Tex” Gill, a transgender man. According to Bustle, fans weren’t happy that another cisgendered actor landed a trans part, and they definitely weren’t feeling Johansson playing another marginalized character. In response, the actor released a terse statement through a representative. “Tell them that they can be directed to Jeffrey Tambor, Jared Leto, and Felicity Huffman’s reps for comment,” she said to the outlet, pointing out that other actors had played trans characters.
“Oh word?? So you can continue to play us but we can’t play y’all?,” Trace Lysette tweeted (via Deadline). “I wouldn’t be as upset if I was getting in the same rooms as Jennifer Lawrence and Scarlett for cis roles, but we know that’s not the case.” Not long afterward, Johansson made the decision to back out of the role. “While I would have loved the opportunity to bring Dante’s story and transition to life, I understand why many feel he should be portrayed by a transgender person,” she said in a statement to Out magazine. “I am thankful that this casting debate, albeit controversial, has sparked a larger conversation about diversity and representation in film.”
In 2020, the New York Daily News reported that Rub & Tug would instead be developed as a series and would star a trans actor.
Scarlett Johansson barked up the wrong tree
After the casting controversies with Ghost in the Shell and Rub & Tug, Scarlett Johansson said many of the right things. “In hindsight, I mishandled that situation,” she said of the latter issue to Vanity Fair. “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 learned a lot through that process.”
Yet, just months earlier, Johansson appeared to push all her chips in the controversial pot. “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,” she said in an As If interview (via Daily Mail). “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.”
Later, Johansson clarified those comments. “The question I was answering in my conversation with the contemporary artist David Salle was about the confrontation between political correctness and art,” she said to the Los Angeles Times. “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.”
The timing of Scarlett Johansson's Marchesa gown
When Scarlett Johansson showed up to the 2018 Met Gala in a Marchesa gown, some raised their eyebrows. Perez Hilton, for example, asked, “What kind of statement is the Time’s Up advocate trying to make here anyway??” After all, Marchesa was co-founded by Georgina Chapman, Harvey Weinstein’s estranged wife. Supporting both of these organizations may seem inconsistent, but Johansson was likely clear of any controversy here.
In her statement about the matter (via Us Weekly), the actor avoided connecting her dress choice to anything to do with the Times Up movement. “I wore Marchesa because their clothes make women feel confident and beautiful,” she said. “It is my pleasure to support a brand created by two incredibly talented and important female designers.” Later, at the American Red Cross gala, however, actor Celeste Thorson provided a more pointed explanation for why she chose the label. “It created the opportunity to discuss why women should be recognized as autonomous individuals, independent of a man’s misconduct,” she said, according to The Hollywood Reporter. “It’s disturbing when women are penalized for the crimes of an abuser.”
As stories from Weinstein’s victims poured in, Chapman put herself on the right side of history. “My heart breaks for all the women who have suffered tremendous pain because of these unforgivable actions,” she said in a statement to People. “I have chosen to leave my husband. Caring for my young children is my first priority and I ask the media for privacy at this time.”
Scarlett Johansson has 'made a career out of' missteps
After wading into controversial waters like an aquatic dancer, Scarlett Johansson has had many teachable moments. She’s come out the other side with maybe a few less unforgiving fans but also wiser and more patient. She understands, perhaps better than anyone, how the public might react to controversy. “I’ve made a career out of it,” she said in a 2021 interview with The Gentlewoman. “I can be reactive. I can be impatient. That doesn’t mix that great with self-awareness.”
Yet, Johansson isn’t ready to apologize for making the odd misstep in the public sphere. “I’m going to have opinions about things, because that’s just who I am,” she explained. “I mean, everyone has a hard time admitting when they’re wrong about stuff, and for all of that to come out publicly, it can be embarrassing. To have the experience of, Wow, I was really off mark there, or I wasn’t looking at the big picture, or I was inconsiderate.”
As talented and famous as she may be, she isn’t infallible. “I’m also a person,” she said. “I don’t think actors have obligations to have a public role in society. Some people want to, but the idea that you’re obligated to because you’re in the public eye is unfair. You didn’t choose to be a politician, you’re an actor.”
If you or someone you know has been the victim of sexual assault, you can call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673) or visit RAINN.org for additional resources.
If you or someone you know may be the victim of child abuse, please contact the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline 24/7 at 1-800-4-A-Child (1-800-422-4453) or contact their live chat services at www.childhelp.org/hotline.
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