Scarlett Johansson Faces Backlash Over Transgender ‘Rub & Tug’ Role and Her Response Defending Casting

Johansson is starring as prostitution ring leader Dante “Tex” Gill in the new film from her "Ghost in the Shell" director Rupert Sanders.
Scarlett Johansson
Scarlett Johansson
Carl Timpone/BFA/REX/Shutterstock

Scarlett Johansson’s latest film role was confirmed July 2 by Deadline when it was announced the actress would be reuniting with her “Ghost in the Shell” director Rupert Sanders for the crime biopic “Rub & Tug.” The story centers around the life of Dante “Tex” Gill, who became infamous in 1970s Pittsburgh for operating massage parlors that served as fronts for prostitution. Gill was ultimately arrested and served seven years in prison for tax evasion.

While the idea of Johansson playing a crime boss is exciting, many fans took to social media to express problems with the casting since Dante “Tex” Gill was a transgender man (see embedded tweets below). ScreenCrush dove deep into Gill’s real life and confirmed the crime boss lived as a “transmasculine person,” pointing to old newspaper articles that described Gill as “the woman who prefers to be known as a man.” Johansson is a cisgender actress, which is the reason for the casting backlash.

Bustle reached out to Johansson for a comment about the casting backlash and got the following response from her representative: “Tell them that they can be directed to Jeffrey Tambor, Jared Leto, and Felicity Huffman’s reps for comment.” The rep said the comment came directly from the actress herself.

Johansson’s statement refers to three cisgender actors who all earned rave reviews and accolades for playing transgender women in film or television. Jeffrey Tambor won an Emmy for his lead role on Amazon’s comedy series “Transparent,” while Jared Leto won an Oscar for “Dallas Buyer’s Club” and Felicity Huffman earned an Oscar nomination for “Transamerica.”

Johansson’s defense of the casting implies hiring cisgender actors in transgender roles is not an issue, especially since cisgender actors have long been rewarded for being cast in transgender roles. As numerous social media users observed, casting Johansson as Dante “Tex” Gill deprives a transgender actor the opportunity to play a character who matches his gender onscreen, which is already rare to begin with in Hollywood.

“Rub & Tug” isn’t the first time Johansson and Sanders are coming under fire for problematic casting. The duo’s “Ghost in the Shell” became synonymous with Hollywood’s whitewashing problem when Johansson was cast in the lead role of a Japanese manga adaptation.

Before taking on “Rug & Tug,” Johansson will finish production on Taika Waititi’s “Jojo Rabbit.” The actress can be seen as Black Widow in next summer’s “Avengers” sequel. IndieWire has reached out to Johansson for further comment.

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