The future of Rub & Tug has been cast in doubt following Scarlett Johansson’s exit over criticisms of her portraying a transgender man in the film. Based on the true story of businessman/crime kingpin Dante "Tex" Gill, the movie would have reunited Johansson with her Ghost in the Shell director Rupert Sanders. The real Dante Gill was a bigger than life character who, while transitioning from female to male, went toe-to-toe with the mob and became a crime boss of 1970s Pittsburgh via his empire of illegal massage parlors.
Johansson's intention to portray Dante Gill in Rub & Tug met with almost immediate outcry from the transgender community, who accused the film of ciswashing. After initially defending her decision to star in the movie, citing other examples of cisgender actors playing transgender characters, Johansson later bowed out with a statement apologizing for her earlier "insensitive" statements. Many in the LGBTQ community hailed the move as a "game changer" for the future of trans images in films.
But now it appears that without Johansson's name attached to the film, Rub & Tug is in danger of not being made at all. The Wrap reports that, according to sources with insider knowledge, it's unclear if the movie will go forward even though Sanders remains attached. Johansson's own production company These Pictures was set to produce, but it's not known if they will remain involved, now that the actress has left her role. Joel Silver’s Silver Pictures is also involved with the movie, but the company did not respond when asked to provide an update on their commitment.
The question of representation in media has become a hot subject in recent years, with more Hollywood studios making a push to include actors of different ethnic backgrounds as well as more women and LGBTQ individuals in prominent roles in films and TV series. However, controversies still often arise, especially when it comes to issues of whitewashing and ciswashing. Johansson herself was embroiled in a prior whitewashing backlash over her casting in the sci-fi movie Ghost in the Shell, which was based on a Japanese manga and saw Johansson playing a character who was originally Asian.
While Hollywood at large strives to get it right in terms of diversity, many smaller film productions find themselves in a bit of a bind when it comes to weighing inclusiveness vs. the realities of financing. Most would agree that casting a transgender actor as Dante Gill in Rub & Tug would send a great message and would ultimately be the right thing to do. However, the film only received financing because Johansson's name was attached to it, and without her it's very possible the money can no longer be raised to put the film in production. Perhaps there is still a way to cast a transgender actor as Gill in Rub & Tug, giving some worthy performer a chance at a break-out role. But the only way that happens is if some company is willing to take a big risk on a film that lacks a name star.
Source: The Wrap