Scarlett Johansson Exits Transgender Role in ‘Rub & Tug’ After Casting Backlash

Scarlett Johansson
Scarlett Johansson Kevin Mazur/Getty Images

ScarJo out! Scarlett Johansson has opted to exit the film Rub & Tug in response to widespread backlash against her casting as a transgender man. The 33-year-old would have played Dante “Tex” Gill — a real-life figure who operated a massage parlor in Pittsburgh in the 1970s and 1980s — but activists and fellow actors criticized her involvement in an era when so many trans actors have trouble finding work.

“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,” Johansson said in a statement to OUT Magazine, which first reported the news, on Friday, July 13.

Johansson’s decision marks a reversal from her representative’s initial reaction to the controversy. “Tell [critics] that they can be directed to Jeffrey Tambor, Jared Leto, and Felicity Huffman’s reps for comment,” the rep said in a statement to Bustle on Tuesday, July 3. (Tambor, Leto and Huffman are all cisgender actors who played transgender characters in Transparent, Dallas Buyers Club and Transamerica, respectively.)

Now the Avengers actress has issued a mea culpa. “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,” she said in her latest statement. “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.”

She added: “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.”

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