Scarlett Johansson has exited the film Rub and Tug after her casting as a trans man sparked backlash.
The film is based on the true story of Dante “Tex” Gill, a crime lord who ran a string of massage parlors as well as a steroid ring in the 1970s. No sooner was Johansson cast as Gill did the flood of outrage come pouring forth.
In a statement to Out magazine, Johansson recognizes that, as a cisgender woman, her playing a trans man was “insensitive,” which backtracks her initial, flip response to the outrage that people “can be directed to Jeffrey Tambor, Jared Leto, and Felicity Huffman’s reps for comment.” Here’s what she said:
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 realize it was insensitive. 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, who’s no stranger to controversial casting (see, or don’t see: Ghost in the Shell), made a wise move in backing out of this project. The lack of stories of marginalized communities on the big screen is one thing. But not hiring trans actors to even play trans roles is most definitely a problem–regardless of what some people may think. The argument that a big name like Johansson is the only way a film like this would get funded should always be countered with “how can trans actors reach the celebrity of someone like Johansson without being cast?” Yes, it’s an actor’s job to transform into what the role calls for. However, taking opportunities from members of a community who don’t have many is worth calling out.