According to Deadline, Scarlett Johansson is reportedly teaming back up with Ghost in the Shell director Rupert Sanders to shoot Rub & Tug, a crime biopic detailing the story of 1970s Pittsburgh “crime boss” Dante “Tex” Gill.
However, casting decision has come under heavy fire due to the main character being identified as a transgender man. According to the archived obituary from Pittsburgh’s Post-Gazette, Gill worked as a blacksmith, presented as male, and insisted they were a man for years. Gill married a woman in Hawaii, and lived as a man in Pittsburgh while running a string of massage parlors as a front for a major prostitution ring. Gill was eventually arrested and served seven years in federal prison for tax evasion.
Johansson accepting the role led to backlash over a cis individual playing a transgender character, a topic which has been in the news frequently over the past few years. According to The Guardian, many fans pointed out that this is not Johansson’s first “appropriation” role, citing her casting in Ghost in the Shell as similarly problematic since the original manga series featured a Japanese heroine.
Social media exploded in outrage over the casting decision, saying that casting Johansson as Dante “Tex” Gill means a transgender actor has once again been cut out of the opportunity to play a trans character.
Bustle reached out to the actress for a comment, which was not responded to before their story ran, but an update revealed that Johansson later replied via her representative, saying,
“Tell them that they can be directed to Jeffrey Tambor, Jared Leto, and Felicity Huffman’s reps for comment.”
Johansson refers to three cisgender actors who were highly praised for taking on roles depicting transgender women in film or television; Jeffrey Tambor, who won an Emmy for Transparent; Jared Leto, who won an Oscar for Dallas Buyer’s Club; and Felicity Huffman, who was given an Oscar nomination for Transamerica.
Bijan Stephan of The Verge commented,
“That execs not only cast Johansson in this role, but also did not research the character sufficiently enough to realize he vocally preferred male pronouns (and according to his obituary, ‘may have’ even taken steps toward physically transitioning) is the entire problem. All parties are complicit here in furthering the disenfranchisement of LGBT people on-screen: the studio for offering the role to Johansson, Johansson for accepting it, and the screenwriter and producer for misgendering the character in the first place.”
Comments on Twitter also spread the blame:
The Verge closed their own story by pointing out that there was a fierce bidding war for the rights to Sanders’ Rub & Tug with Johansson already attached.