Scarlett Johansson quits controversial movie role following LGBT backlash

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Kayleigh Dray
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Scarlett Johansson has confirmed that she will not be playing a transgender character on the big screen after all.

Scarlett Johansson was originally set to star in the upcoming film Rub & Tug, which tells the true story of a transgender man, Dante “Tex” Gill.

Gill was assigned female at birth, but later embraced his true identity as a man and went on to succeed in Pittsburgh’s massage parlour and prostitution, according to The Hollywood Reporter. And, while the obituary for Gill misgendered him by referring to the crime boss as a “her”, it did state that “she may even have undergone the initial stages of a sex change that made her appear masculine… [and] insisted she was a man.”

However, the actress has now – following a social media backlash – announced her decision to step down from the role.

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

“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.”

Johansson continued: “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.” 

Responding to the news in a statement on Twitter, GLAAD said: “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.”

When the casting decision was originally announced, social media users quickly voiced the opinion that it is problematic for Johansson to play the transgender character.

“I cannot get over how selfish Scarlett Johansson is,” one user tweeted.

Another wrote: “No offence to Scarlett Johansson but there are many beautiful trans women in the world, and I MEAN MANY…so ask Hollywood to keep looking!”

And still one more said: “Literally the LEAST you could do when making a movie about trans people is to cast a trans person in the role that was written for them.

“Scarlett Johansson needs to stop naively choosing roles, and studios need to do better.”

At the time, though, Johansson refused to apologise for accepting the role of Gill. Indeed, in a statement obtained by Bustle at the time, the actress said (via her representative): “Tell them they can be directed to Jeffrey Tambor, Jared Leto, and Felicity Huffman’s reps for comment.”

Rub & Tug will be directed by Rupert Sanders, who previously worked with Johansson on Ghost in the Shell.

It’s worth mentioning that the 2017 action film, which was based on a popular anime movie, similarly sparked criticism when it was confirmed that the white Johansson had been cast as a character of Japanese descent. Indeed, fans of the original began a petition to recast the actress shortly after her role in the film was made public.

In 2017, Johansson responded to the backlash, telling Marie Claire she “certainly would never presume to play another race of a person.”

“Diversity is important in Hollywood, and I would never want to feel like I was playing a character that was offensive,” she said.

“Also, having a franchise with a female protagonist driving it is such a rare opportunity,” Johansson added. 

“Certainly, I feel the enormous pressure of that — the weight of such a big property on my shoulders.”

Image: Getty

This article, originally published on 4 July, has been updated.


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Kayleigh Dray

Kayleigh Dray is Stylist’s digital editor-at-large. Her specialist topics include comic books, films, TV and feminism. On a weekend, you can usually find her drinking copious amounts of tea and playing boardgames with her friends.