Scarlett Johansson has dropped out of the production of the drama film Rub and Tug after a social media backlash. Johansson’s casting as trans-man sparked a public debate led by LGBT+ groups and activists, who believed a trans actor should have been cast instead. Rub and Tug was set to be directed by Rupert Sanders, who also worked on the controversial film Ghost In The Shell, in which Johansson’s casting was criticized as white-washing of an Asian character.
Rub and Tug follows the life of Jean Marie Gill, who identified as Dante ‘Tex’ Gill, a crime kingpin who ran a massage parlor as a front for prostitution in 1970’s and 1980’s.
Johansson released the following statement in regards to her exit from the film;
“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…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. According to GLAAD, LGBTQ+ characters dropped 40% in 2017 from the previous year, with no representation of trans characters in any major studio release…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.”
GLAAD president Sarah Kate Ellis followed Johansson’s announcement saying, “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.”
There’s been no news on whether the production will continue on Rub and Tug and on who will be recast if it does.