Scarlett Johansson Drops Out of 'Rub & Tug' Trans Film Following Backlash


“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,” said Johansson in a statement.

Scarlett Johansson has dropped out of Rub & Tug, the movie that would have seen her play a transgender man.

“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,” said Johansson in a statement to Out.com.

“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,” the actress continued. “I have great admiration and love for the trans community and am grateful that the conversation regarding inclusivity in Hollywood continues.”

Rub & Tug tells the story of Jean Marie Gill, who was assigned female at birth but who assumed the identity of a man, Dante “Tex” Gill, and operated a massage parlor and prostitution business in Pittsburgh in the 1970s and ’80s. While it is unclear how Gill, who died in 2003, identified, an obituary in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette notes that he ran his parlors while “insisting that she was a man and telling everyone she wanted to be known as ‘Mr. Gill.'”

When the project was announced on July 2, along with Johansson’s casting, there was an immediate online backlash. The majority of commenters argued that the role should have gone to a trans performer.

The next day, the website Bustle.com reported that Johansson, in a statement provided by a rep, said, “Tell them they can be directed to Jeffrey Tambor, Jared Leto and Felicity Huffman’s reps for comment.” The Hollywood Reporter was unable to confirm the statement, which references cisgender actors that have previously played award-winning trans roles. 

Trans actors shared their criticisms of the casting, with Transparent actress Trace Lysette, tweeting, “I wouldn’t be as upset if I was getting in the same rooms as Jennifer Lawrence and Scarlett for cis roles, but we know that’s not the case. A mess.”

Rub & Tug would have seen Johansson reteam with director Rupert Sanders, with whom she worked on 2017’s Ghost in the Shell, a project that also sparked controversy over Johansson being cast as a character who is Japanese in the original manga series.

New Regency was set to produce the movie, along with Joel Silver’s Silver Pictures, Tobey Maguire’s Material Pictures and Johansson’s These Pictures banners.

In response to her decision to drop out of the film, GLAAD president Sarah Kate Ellis said in a statement, “Scarlett Johansson’s announcement, together with the transgender voices who spoke out about this film, are game changers for the future of transgender images in Hollywood. Hollywood changed how Americans understand gay and lesbian lives, and TV is starting to do the same for transgender people with authentic transgender portrayals being major hits with critics and audiences. The film industry has a real opportunity to do the same.”

Read Johansson’s full statement to Out.com 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.

July 13, 12:10 p.m. Updated with GLAAD’s statement.



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