Brow Beat

Scarlett Johansson Withdraws From Rub & Tug Role as Trans Man

Scarlett Johansson at the premiere for Avengers: Infinity War.
Scarlett Johansson. Jesse Grant/Getty Images

After a warranted online backlash for Scarlett Johansson’s casting as a trans man in an upcoming movie, the actress has announced she will no longer be participating in the film.

“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,” she said in a statement to Out.com. “I am thankful that this casting debate, albeit controversial, has sparked a larger conversation about diversity and representation in film.”

Johansson was cast to star in the movie Rub & Tug, the story of Dante “Tex” Gill and his massage-parlor-turned-brothel in 1970’s Pittsburgh. Gill, who died in 2003, was designated female at birth, and it’s not clear exactly how he preferred to be identified, but ScreenCrush’s E. Oliver Whitney argues that the evidence suggests he “lived as a transmasculine person.” Casting Johansson, a cisgender woman in the part caused an uproar of criticism, to which Johansson bluntly replied: “Tell them they can be directed to Jeffrey Tambor, Jared Leto, and Felicity Huffman’s reps for comment,” she said in a statement. Johansson was also at the center of controversy for playing the lead in the live-action version of Ghost in the Shell, originally a Japanese anime, which the movie attempted to explain by revealing that her character was a Japanese woman whose consciousness had been transplanted into a white body.

All three actors are cisgender people who were allowed to play transgender characters. Johansson also addresses this remark in her latest statement, which can be read in full below:

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. I believe that all artists should be considered equally and fairly. My production company, These Pictures, actively pursues projects that both entertain and push boundaries. We look forward to working with every community to bring these most poignant and important stories to audiences worldwide.