Scarlett Johansson responds to the backlash after the announcement that she was cast as transgender criminal kingpin Dante "Tex" Gill in the biopic Rub & Tug with Ghost in the Shell director Rupert Sanders. However, her response to the backlash didn't necessarily indicate she understood the criticisms of her taking the role, as she believes the backlash is hypocritical.
Based within Pittsburgh's criminal underground in the 1970s, Rub & Tug focuses on the rise and fall of kingpin Dante "Tex" Gill. Born Lois Jean Gill, Gill was a transgender man whose life of crime was based around a massage parlor front that notably specialized in prostitution and an anabolic steroid ring for the Pittsburgh Steelers. However, after using the LGBTQ community to help support his budding underground empire, his defiance of both the mob and law enforcement led to a life of violence, corruption, and death. Now, Johansson is facing backlash over her casting due to the fact that she is not a transgender man - which she believes is hypocritical, considering the fact that other cisgender actors have also played transgender characters in the past.
Following the backlash, Bustle reached out to Johansson for an official comment, and her personal rep responded with a quote from Johansson herself. She said, "Tell them that they can be directed to Jeffrey Tambor, Jared Leto, and Felicity Huffman's reps for comment," referring to other cisgender actors who have starred in transgender roles. Jeffrey Tambor earned a Golden Globe for his performance as a trans woman in the Amazon original series Transparent (though, it should be noted Tambor was fired from Transparent earlier this year after accusations surfaced he had harassed trans women on the project's set), Felicity Huffman earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress in a Leading Role for her performance as a trans woman in Transamerica, and Jared Leto won an Academy Award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role for his performance in Dallas Buyers Club.
The backlash surrounding Johansson's casting has to do with the lack of transgender roles, and those roles not going to people within the actual transgender community. Though there have been exceptions - namely with Laverne Cox in Orange is the New Black, Daniela Vega in A Fantastic Woman (which recently took home the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film), and Mya Taylor in Tangerine - advocates for equal employment opportunity are not satisfied with trans roles going to cisgender actors. As for Johansson specifically, the backlash is especially potent given that she and Sanders recently collaborated on the adaptation of Ghost in the Shell, which received its own form of backlash due to the whitewashing of Johansson's character.
While the whole point of the performing arts is to be a transformative experience for actors in bringing characters to life, the backlash isn't without merit. As the LGBTQ community makes strides to create equal footing in the mainstream, handing over roles aimed at those within the LGBTQ community to individuals who do not identify within said community feels dated and unnecessary. Acting is just as much about entertainment as it is about representation, so perhaps the negative response to Johansson isn't completely unwarranted.