Following significant backlash, Scarlett Johansson has dropped out of the forthcoming Rupert Sanders film Rub & Tug, which would have seen the actor taking on the role of real-life crime boss and transgender man Dante “Tex” Gill.
Johansson faced significant criticism when her part in the film was first announced. This only intensified when her representative waved off concerns with a glib statement that those sceptical of her casting with a statement saying “they can be directed to Jeffrey Tambor, Jared Leto, and Felicity Huffman’s reps for comment,” referring to cisgender actors playing trans characters in Transparent, Dallas Buyers Club and Transamerica, respectively.
Besides ignoring the fact that the casting in each of those projects were also met with vocal criticism, it was a phenomenally bad look to respond to legitimate concern with such a hostile and disdainful public statement.
Rub & Tug will tell the true-life story of Gill, a mobster who ran a chain of massage parlours in Pittsburgh during the seventies and eighties which were (of course) actually brothels. Gill was infamous not only for his involvement in this criminal enterprise, but also his status as a trans man.
While depiction of trans characters and issues in media is on the rise, it is still relatively rare to have trans actors playing such parts, with Orange is the New Black star Laverne Cox being a rare exception.
In a not-so-surprising development, Johansson has now pulled out of the film entirely, releasing a far more measured statement. “In light of recent ethical questions raised surrounding my casting as Dante Tex Gill, I have decided to respectfully withdraw my participation in the project. Our cultural understanding of transgender people continues to advance, and I’ve learned a lot from the community since making my first statement about my casting and realise it was insensitive.”
The statement continues, “I have great admiration and love for the trans community and am grateful that the conversation regarding inclusivity in Hollywood continues. According to GLAAD, LGBTQ+ characters dropped 40% in 2017 from the previous year, with no representation of trans characters in any major studio release.
“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, and I am thankful that this casting debate, albeit controversial, has sparked a larger conversation about diversity and representation in film.”
Johansson previously came under fire for her role in Sanders’s Ghost in the Shell, which was accused of “whitewashing” a previously-Japanese character. This actually became a plot point within the film, albeit one not particularly sensitively or successfully handled.