In a bizarre interview, Scarlett Johansson revealed she is still a little miffed about the casting controversy surrounding “Rub & Tug,” the project she exited last year after facing backlash from the transgender community. The actress was set to play Dante “Tex” Gill, a transgender man who became infamous in 1970s Pittsburgh for operating massage parlors that served as fronts for sex work. The project, which Johansson was developing with director Rupert Sanders, was highly criticized by the LGBTQ community because of the history of cisgender actors playing trans roles while trans actors struggle to find opportunities.
“You know, as an actor I should be allowed to play any person, or any tree, or any animal because that is my job and the requirements of my job,” the actress was quoted as saying during an interview with As If magazine, excerpted by Daily Mail. “I feel like it’s a trend in my business and it needs to happen for various social reasons, yet there are times it does get uncomfortable when it affects the art because I feel art should be free of restrictions. I think society would be more connected if we just allowed others to have their own feelings and not expect everyone to feel the way we do.”
Naturally, Johansson’s comments raised many eyebrows, especially considering it’s such a reversal from the 2018 statement she made when exiting the project. “I have great admiration and love for the trans community and am grateful that the conversation regarding inclusivity in Hollywood continues,” she said at the time.
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In a new statement given to EW through her representative, the actress said the latest comments had “been edited for click bait” and “widely taken out of context.”
“The question I was answering in my conversation with the contemporary artist, David Salle, was about the confrontation between political correctness and art,” she said. “I personally feel that, in an ideal world, any actor should be able to play anybody and Art, in all forms, should be immune to political correctness. That is the point I was making, albeit didn’t come across that way. I recognize that in reality, there is a wide spread discrepancy amongst my industry that favors Caucasian, cis gendered actors and that not every actor has been given the same opportunities that I have been privileged to. I continue to support, and always have, diversity in every industry and will continue to fight for projects where everyone is included.”
This is not the first time Johansson has had to reverse course. Her immediate reaction to the backlash was much less tempered than either of the more formalized statements made through her reps. “Tell them that they can be directed to Jeffrey Tambor, Jared Leto, and Felicity Huffman’s reps for comment,” she initially responded, referring to the award-winning cis actors who have played trans in the past.
Johansson is also no stranger to casting controversies. She previously faced similar backlash when playing the lead in Paramount’s “Ghost in the Shell” adaptation. The character was Japanese in the source material.