Scarlett Johansson is exiting “Rub & Tug” in the wake of backlash over her role as a transgender man.
In a statement to Out magazine, Johansson explains why she decided to walk away from the project after trans actors such as Trace Lysette (“Transparent”) and Jamie Clayton (“Sense8”) slammed her role as yet another example of Hollywood casting cisgender actors in trans roles while ignoring trans actors.
“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,” says Johansson, 33, in her statement.
“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,” she adds.
“According to GLAAD, LGBTQ+ characters dropped 40 per cent in 2017 from the previous year, with no representation of trans characters in any major studio release,” her statement continues. “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.”
Johansson’s decision was met with applause on Twitter:
Controversy was immediate after it was announced that Johansson landed the lead role in “Rub and Tug”, portraying Dante “Tex” Gill, a transgender crime boss who was born a woman but lived as a man, using his massage parlour as a front for prostitution during the 1970s and ’80s.
Trans actresses Lysette and Clayton were among those who took to Twitter to criticize Johansson’s casting in the role, with Lysette insisting that “Hollywood is so f**ked,” while Clayton added that “actors who are trans never even get to audition.”
See the stars’ tweets and some of the social media reaction below:
Johansson’s casting in the film, from “Ghost in the Shell” director Rupert Sanders, was confirmed by The Hollywood Reporter, leading to immediatle backlash.
Despite the criticism, Jean-Marc Vallee was quick to defend those working on the movie, with him insisting that “it’s not about aiming for an astronaut because your character is an astronaut.”
The Canadian director, who worked with Jared Leto on “Dallas Buyers Club”, continued, according to CBC: “[It] doesn’t mean that because I am casting this type of role that I need to go to this type of person. This is the nature of acting. It’s pretending.”
However, Johansson fuelled the controversy after Bustle reached out to her for comment, leading her to issue a dismissive response via a rep: “Tell them that they can be directed to Jeffrey Tambor, Jared Leto and Felicity Huffman’s reps for comment.”
Johansson’s statement only made the backlash grow (Tambor, Leto and Huffman have all won acclaim for playing trans characters in, respectively, “Transparent”, “Dallas Buyers Club” and “Transamerica”). In fact, many pointed to Tambor in particular, noting that he was forced off “Transparent” after allegations of sexual misconduct involving a trans co-star and his trans assistant.
Check out this sampling of Twitter outrage over Johansson’s comment: