Scarlett Johansson’s complicated history with representation in Hollywood was back in the news this month after a cover story interview with As If magazine quoted the actress as saying, “You know, as an actor I should be able to play any person, or any tree, or any animal, because that’s my job and the requirements of my job.” Johansson became one of the biggest faces of Hollywood’s whitewashing problem after starring in the Japanese manga adaptation “Ghost in the Shell.” The actress generated further outrage by signing on to star as real-life trans figure Dante Tex Gill in the feature film “Rub & Tug,” a role she walked away from due to industry backlash.
“The Daily Show” host Trevor Noah spent some time during his July 17 episode addressing Johansson’s recent comments and attempting to explain what the actress isn’t understanding about Hollywood representation. Johansson later clarified her comments and accused the publication of misrepresenting her, saying, “The question I was answering in my conversation with the contemporary artist, David Salle, was about the confrontation between political correctness and art. 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.”
Noah took issue with Johansson’s belief that “any actor should be able to play anybody.” As the late night host told his audience. “I understand why you might want to get defensive as a person. I can even understand why some white people might feel like they’re under attack in and around these conversations. But I think what’s often lost is when Scarlett goes, ‘I should be allowed to play an animal or a tree or anything,’ and it’s like, yes, but that’s exactly what people are saying: For so long, Hollywood and the people who define storytelling in America have defined it as stories to be told for an by white people. And so the roles that have generally been reserved for black people have been the stereotype of criminal, maid, slave. That’s pretty much it.”
Noah added that “we take for granted how much representation means to human beings, I think in two ways. One: in an inspirational front, and two: just how it shapes society.” The host’s example included how Muslims are often associated with terrorists, an idea that Hollywood propagates.
“You’d think that a place that considers itself so liberal would try to find a place to represent people. There are middle Eastern stories that run the gamut,” Noah said “There’s a show on Hulu called ‘Ramy,’ it shows you what it’s like to be a Muslim family living in America. It’s authentic, and those stories are so important, not in a charity way, but in a ‘great TV, great stories, great inclusivity’ kind of way.”
Noah’s segment ended with him telling Johansson that many people’s issue with her statement is that she’s failing to understand she has the “luxury” to play any part while actors of color are often relegated to playing stereotypes. Watch Noah’s full segment in the video below.