Scarlett Johansson has pulled out of the film Rub & Tug after receiving backlash over her decision to the role in the first place. Amid a major casting controversy, the 24-year-old actress has decided to back out of the role of the lead character, Dante “Tex” Gill, who is transgender. Johansson issued a statement to Out magazine, revealing she decided to step away from the film out of respect for the trans community and transgender actors who have trouble finding work.
“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.”
Johansson went on to say that while she would have “loved” the opportunity to bring Dante’s transition story to life, she understands why transgender actors and advocates feel the role be portrayed by a transgender person. Johansson also said she is “thankful” that the controversial casting debate has “sparked a larger conversation about diversity and representation in film.”
While Johansson’s statement seems sincere, TMZ points out that her withdrawal from the film is a major turnaround from when the news of her controversial casting first broke several weeks ago. At the time, Johansson’s rep hinted that it was unfair to target Scarlett for taking the role when stars like Jeffrey Tambor, Jared Leto, and Felicity Huffman have all won acting awards for successfully playing trans characters.
Rub & Tug is based on the true story of Dante “Tex” Gill, who was born a woman but identified as a man. Gill, who ran a prostitution ring out of his Pittsburgh’s massage parlor in the 1970s and ’80s, died in 2003 at age 72.
Fifteen years after his passing, Gill’s cousin, Barry Paris, told The Wrap he would probably be “laughing” over the hoopla about the movie role. But Paris did admit his late cousin probably would have preferred to be played by a man.
“I’d say it’s a toss-up, but I think it’s slightly more likely he would have liked to be played by a man because he identified as a man,” Paris explained to The Wrap. “I’m sure he would have liked to have been played by a transgender man, but in his day that was very rare.”