Scarlett Johansson has been one of the highest-paid, most in-demand actors in Hollywood for years.
Best known for her roles in films like “Lost in Translation,” “The Avengers,” and “Marriage Story,” the 36-year-old actor became the highest-grossing female movie star of all time in 2016 and was the highest-paid female actor in both 2018 and 2019, per Forbes.
Her astronomical success, however, hasn’t been without its controversies, out of which Johansson recently said she’s “made a career.”
In recent years, the Manhattan-born actor has been accused of whitewashing in a live-action remake of a Japanese manga series and criticized for accepting the role of a transgender man in “Rub & Tug.”
Johansson, an outspoken supporter of feminist movements like Time’s Up and #MeToo, also raised eyebrows for being the first celebrity to publicly wear a design by Harvey Weinstein’s ex-wife after numerous women accused the disgraced producer of sexual assault and rape. She later defended Woody Allen amid Dylan Farrow’s sexual abuse allegations.
The “Black Widow” lead has previously apologized for “mishandling” certain situations but remains steadfast in many of her divisive comments and actions. “I’m going to have opinions about things, because that’s just who I am,” she recently told the UK magazine The Gentlewoman.
Here’s a timeline of Johansson’s past controversies.
January 2015: Johansson faced accusations of whitewashing in ‘Ghost in the Shell
When Steven Spielberg’s DreamWorks acquired the rights to a live-action adaptation of “Ghost in the Shell,” a Japanese franchise based on Masamune Shirow’s manga series, the project was poised to be a major success.
That is, before a PR mess got in the way.
Johansson signed on to play the lead role of Major, a cyborg soldier with a human brain and a cybernetic body based on Major Motoko Kusanagi, Shirow’s main character.
Fresh off her roles in “Lucy” and “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” the supposition seemed to be that Johansson would draw big numbers to the box office, according to The Verge’s Jeremy Fuster.
The casting decision led to a public outcry though, with many fans asserting that an Asian actress should front “Ghost in the Shell” since the story is set in a fictional city in Japan and was written by a Japanese artist.
The excitement surrounding the Rupert Sanders-directed adaptation of “Ghost in the Shell” rapidly dissolved into scrutiny of Hollywood’s whitewashing problem, or casting white actors in non-white roles.
Johansson’s role as Major was only the latest example of an existing pattern, as other white actors like Tilda Swinton (“Doctor Strange”) and Emma Stone (“Aloha”) had been accused of whitewashing as well.
The controversy became apparent when people online used a “Ghost in the Shell” marketing campaign to create scathing memes about whitewashing.
Matters worsened in April 2016, when ScreenCrush reported that “Ghost in the Shell” producers tested visual effects on Johansson to make her appear more Asian. The tests were immediately rejected after being reviewed, a source told the outlet, adding that Johansson had no involvement.
Paramount Pictures released a statement acknowledging the tests but said they ultimately weren’t used in the film.
“A test was done related to a specific scene for a background actor which was ultimately discarded. Absolutely no visual effects tests were conducted on Scarlett’s character and we have no future plans to do so,” the statement read.
Months later, Steven Paul, a producer on the film, defended the decision to cast Johansson as Major, explaining to Buzzfeed News that Sanders’ “Ghost in the Shell” adaptation takes place in “an international world.”
“I don’t think it was just a Japanese story. ‘Ghost in the Shell’ was a very international story, and it wasn’t just focused on Japanese; it was supposed to be an entire world,” he said, continuing, “That’s why I say the international approach is, I think, the right approach to it.”
Rather than discussing Major’s race when confronted with a question about the controversy during an interview with Marie Claire, Johansson said she’d “never presume to play another race” and pivoted the conversation topic to what a ground-breaking opportunity it is for a woman to lead a franchise.
“Diversity is important in Hollywood, and I would never want to feel like I was playing a character that was offensive,” she said.
Johansson continued, “Also, having a franchise with a female protagonist driving it is such a rare opportunity. Certainly, I feel the enormous pressure of that — the weight of such a big property on my shoulders.”
She defended her role in “Ghost in the Shell” again days ahead of the film’s release on a 2017 episode of ABC’s “Good Morning America.” Pointing out that Major has a human brain inside of a machine body, Johansson argued that the character is “identity-less.”