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Scarlett Johansson Admits She ‘Mishandled’ Transgender ‘Rub & Tug’ Casting Controversy

Johansson's casting as transgender man Dante “Tex” Gill sparked controversy in July 2018.

Scarlett JohanssonGovernors Awards, Arrivals, Dolby Theatre, Los Angeles, USA - 27 Oct 2019

Scarlett Johansson

Michael Buckner/Variety/Shutterstock

Over a year after exiting Rupert Sanders’ crime biopic “Rub & Tug” because of a casting controversy, Scarlett Johansson now admits in a new interview with Vanity Fair that she “mishandled” the situation. “Rub & Tug” was set to star Johansson as Dante “Tex” Gill, a transgender man who became infamous in 1970s Pittsburgh for using massage parlors as prostitution fronts. Johansson’s casting as a transgender man led to outrage on social media, with prominent trans actresses Trace Lysette and Jamie Clayton openly criticizing Hollywood for its continual rejection of transgender actors in both trans and cisgender roles

Johansson originally responded to the backlash by defending her casting and controversially pointing to other cisgender actors who played trans characters in film and television. Johansson’s statement read: “Tell them that they can be directed to Jeffrey Tambor, Jared Leto, and Felicity Huffman’s reps for comment.” By suggesting that it’s not an issue for cisgender actors to play trans character on screen only put Johansson under more fire. The actress now tells Vanity Fair her initial reaction was a mistake.

“In hindsight, I mishandled that situation. I was not sensitive, my initial reaction to it,” Johansson said. “I wasn’t totally aware of how the trans community felt about those three actors playing — and how they felt in general about cis actors playing — transgender people. I wasn’t aware of that conversation — I was uneducated.”

Johansson continued, “I learned a lot through that process. I misjudged that. It was a hard time. It was like a whirlwind. I felt terribly about it. To feel like you’re kind of tone-deaf to something is not a good feeling.”

Johansson’s original statement was released July 3, 2018 and she officially exited “Rub & Tug” on July 12. Johansson marked her exit from the project by telling 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.”

The “Rub & Tug” controversy followed a similar casting backlash involving Johansson’s role as the lead of Sanders’ “Ghost in the Shell.” Head over to Vanity Fair to read more of Johansson’s new interview.

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