Scarlett Johansson Quits ‘Rub & Tug’ Transgender Role After Receiving Widespread Criticism

Actress Scarlett Johansson at 71st annual Tony Awards.
Evan Agostini / AP Images

Actress Scarlett Johansson received overwhelming backlash after taking on the role of trans male Dante “Tex” Gill in new film Rub & Tug, causing her to drop out, reports the Independent.

Johansson explained her decision to quit to LGBT+ news outlet Out Magazine.

“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.”

The movie is based on the true story of a crime kingpin who was born a woman but identified as male and is a fact-based portrayal of prostitution in the 1970s and 1980s. Gill, who was born Lois Jean Gill, runs a prostitution ring out of his massage parlor in Pittsburgh. Those who criticized the decision to cast Johansson in the role wondered why a trans person hadn’t been cast for the part.

Transgender actress Jamie Clayton, known for her part in hit TV show Sense8, expressed her opinion on Twitter.

“Actors who are trans never even get to audition FOR ANYTHING OTHER THAN ROLES OF TRANS CHARACTERS. THATS THE REAL ISSUE. WE CANT EVEN GET IN THE ROOM. Cast actors WHO ARE TRANS as NON TRANS CHARACTERS. I DARE YOU.”

Another Twitter user, transgender actress Trace Lysette, who appeared on Amazon’s Transparent, also voiced her outrage on the matter, saying “Oh word?? So you can continue to play us but we can’t play y’all? Hollywood is so fu**ed… 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.”

GLAAD president and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis made a statement on Friday, celebrating those who had stood up to the casting decision and supporting Johansson’s decision to back out, writes Variety.

“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.”

However, not everyone who joined in the debate criticized the casting decision. Barry Paris, Gill’s cousin, told The Wrap that Gill, who died in 2003, would laugh if he heard the debate around the actor playing the part.

“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 told 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.”

This isn’t the first time Johansson has received backlash for a role. In the 2017 film Ghost in the Shell, she was accused of “whitewashing” the role, which was originally based on a Japanese anime.

After Johansson’s exit from the role as Gill, it is unclear as to where production stands on the film.