Anthony Lane criticized for ‘creepy’ Scarlett Johansson profile

Scarlett Johansson at the London premiere of "Captain America: The Winter Soldier in London."
(Carl Court /AFP/Getty Images)

New Yorker film critic Anthony Lane is catching heat for his recent profile of Scarlett Johansson, which detractors say fawns over the actress without bothering to comprehend her.

Johansson has two films coming out on the same day (April 4): “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” and “Under the Skin,” and has recently been linked to separate controversies involving SodaStream and Woody Allen.

As critics of Lane’s profile point out, he devotes much of it to cataloging Johansson’s allure, describing “the honey of her voice” and declaring that she “looks tellingly radiant in the flesh” or seems to be “made from champagne.” And yet, these critics say, the profile tells readers very little about Johansson as an actress or an individual.

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Slate’s Katy Waldman, for example, criticizes Lane’s “inappropriate-uncle creepiness” in the profile.

The problem with the piece, Waldman writes, “is not [just] that it salivates over ScarJo, but that it refuses to treat her as a human subject, with qualities of mind. (If this is because Lane didn’t have much time with Johansson, maybe the magazine shouldn’t have run the piece.) When Lane isn’t characterizing Johansson as strangely blank and opinionless, he’s trafficking in the dream of the remote, unknowable Woman — a flat projection of male desire.”

She adds, “The worst part, however, is that Lane wants it both ways: He pants over ScarJo as the generic representative of a certain erotic fantasy and then has the chutzpah to critique her, slyly, for lacking substance.”

Esther Breger of the New Republic similarly writes, “Lane’s piece, the worst profile I can remember reading in The New Yorker, can be reduced to one basic takeaway: Anthony Lane thinks Scarlett Johansson is radiant, and wants to tell you all about it.”

Breger, whose post is titled “Anthony Lane’s Scarlett Johansson Profile Turns The New Yorker into a Men’s Magazine,” also writes, “Try to imagine The New Yorker running this about Matthew McConaughey, or Michael Fassbender. Sadly, this kind of fawning isn’t unusual, as far as profiles of attractive actresses go … but I prefer my glossy-mag sexism sans highbrow pretensions.”

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Kay Steiger of Talking Points Memo doesn’t mince words either, calling Lane’s profile “gross.” It’s also indicative of another issue, she says: the dearth of female editors at major magazines.

Steiger writes, “There’s been much made of the statistics VIDA Count puts out every year that counts the bylines of women writers at major national literary publications. (The New Yorker published 436 men and 176 women in 2013 — about 28.7 percent.) But to me, the Lane profile points to a deeper problem: editors. It’s hard to say who edited this piece of writing, but I think it’s a decently safe bet that it wasn’t an editor who saw a problem with objectifying Johansson this way.”

At the time of writing, Lane’s profile is listed as the fourth most popular story on the New Yorker website.


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