New York (AP) — Scarlett Johansson has withdrawn from the film “Rub & Tug” after her plans to portray a transgender man prompted a backlash.
In a statement, Johansson said she was pulling out from the project “in light of recent ethical questions raised surrounding my casting.” Johansson was lined up to star as Pittsburgh 1970s and ’80s prostitution ring leader Dante “Tex” Gill, who was born Lois Jean Gill but identified as a man.
When transgender actors and advocates questioned the casting, Johansson initially responded with a statement that criticism “can be directed to Jeffrey Tambor, Jared Leto and Felicity Huffman’s reps.” All are cisgender actors who won acclaim for playing transgender characters.
“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,” the actress said.
Johansson previously came under fire for playing an originally Asian character in the 2017 film “Ghost in the Shell.” That film’s director, Rupert Sanders, was set to also helm “Rub & Tug.”
It’s not clear if the film, which Johansson was also producing, will go forward. A representative for Johansson didn’t respond to an email. A spokesman for New Regency, which was set to produce “Rub & Tug,” said it’s uncertain what will happen with the film.
Some critics have argued that trans roles should be played by trans actors.
“Actors who are trans never even get to audition for anything other than roles of trans characters,” Jamie Clayton, a transgender actress who stars in Netflix’s “Sense8.” ‘’That’s the real issue. We can’t even get in the room.”
Jen Richards, trans activist and creator of the web series “Her Story,” praised Johansson for stepping down.
“If you’re tired of hearing about it, you can’t imagine how tired trans actors are of talking about it,” Richards said on Twitter. “We just want to work. And with more trans and nonbinary people, of all kinds, participating, the work will be a better and richer representation of our world. This is a win.”