Scarlett Johansson drops out of film after getting backlash for playing a transgender man

Scarlett Johansson drops out of film after getting backlash for playing a transgender man

Last week Scarlett Johansson announced she would play a transgender man in the film Rub & Tug. The project tells the true story of Dante 'Tex' Grill, who was born a woman, as Jean Marie Gill. Gill was a larger-than-life figure who succeeded in Pittsburgh's massage parlor and prostitution business in the 1970's and 1980's.

However, the announcement got a fierce backlash. Critics slammed Scarlett, a cisgender white woman, for playing a transgender man, when transgender representation is so low in Hollywood. According to Gill's 2003 obituary, he insisted people refer to him with male pronuns, and "may even have undergone the initial stages of a sex change that made [him] appear masculine."

To make matters worse, Rub & Tub would reunite Scarlett with Ghost In The Shell director Rupert Sanders. When Ghost In The Shell came out, critics accused of Scarlett of 'whitewashing' for playing Motoko Kusanagi. In the original manga, the character is a cyborg with a Japanese woman's memories. One Twitter user joked ScarJoe's "ultimate career goal is to take an acting job from a member of each and every marginalized group."

In response, Scarlett defended her choice, with her representative issuing this statement to critics: "Tell them that they can be directed to Jeffrey Tambor, Jared Leto, and Felicity Huffman's reps for comment."

All three of those cisgender white actors famously played transgender characters in award-winning movie and television projects (Transparent, Dallas Buyer's Club, Transamerica). In addition, Hilary Swank (Boys Don't Cry) and Eddie Redmayne (The Danish Girl) played transgender characters in movies to great critical acclaim. If they got a backlash, it wasn't as big as this one, so it's understandable why the actress would feel frustrated.

On Friday morning Scarlett issued a statement to announcing that she is dropping out of Rub & Tug:

"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. 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. 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."

Well, that statement appears to be the perfect response. Transgender actors need more representation in major studio releases - and the part of Dante 'Tex' Grill is a juicy one.