Scarlett Johansson has formally exited the biopic Rub & Tug after the backlash to her being cast in the film as criminal kingpin Dante "Tex" Gill, a transgender man. The Oscar-nominee and Black Widow actor initially dismissed the criticisms of her being cast to play Gill, citing the previous occasions in which cisgender actors had been cast as transgender characters (including relatively recent examples like Jared Leto in Dallas Buyers Club and Jeffery Tambor on Transparent). Since then, however, Johansson has changed course and has now backed out of the film altogether.
This isn't the first casting controversy to involve Johansson in recent years. In fact, she and Rub & Tug's director Rupert Sanders previously came under fire for their live-action Ghost in the Shell movie, which starred Johansson as a Japanese woman whose mind is placed into a robotic body modeled after the physical appearance of a caucasian woman. However, this time around, Johansson has decided to heed the criticisms of her casting and withdraw from the project, well ahead of filming getting started.
In an exclusive statement issued to Out, Johansson explained "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". She went on to add "I’ve learned a lot from the community since making my first statement about my casting and realize it was insensitive". The A-lister further noted that, in a study conducted and released by GLAAD, it came to light that the number of LGBTQ+ characters featured in major studio releases dropped by 40% in 2017, suggesting this was another factor in her decision to pass on Rub & Tug.
GLAAD president and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis issued a separate statement, in response to Johansson's decision to step down from Rub & Tug (per Variety):
"Scarlett Johansson’s announcement, together with the transgender voices who spoke out about this film, are game changers for the future of transgender images in Hollywood. Hollywood changed how Americans understand gay and lesbian lives, and TV is starting to do the same for transgender people with authentic transgender portrayals being major hits with critics and audiences. The film industry has a real opportunity to do the same.”
As Ellis noted in her statement, TV has been far more progressive than mainstream film when it comes to transgender representation. Netflix TV shows Orange is the New Black and Sense8 have featured transgender characters played by transgender actors for years, while Pose recently premiered on FX and includes a predominantly transgender cast, in addition to transgender creatives behind the scenes. The story of Dante Gill is certainly an interesting one that deserves to be done justice on the big screen, and now Rub & Tug's crew have a chance to do just that by casting an actual transgender actor to bring him to cinematic life, similar to what the aforementioned TV series have done.
We will bring you more details on Rub & Tug as they become available.