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The Schmooze

Scarlett Johansson Drops Controversial Trans Movie Role After Outcry

Scarlett Johansson has dropped out of “Rub and Tug,” the movie in which she was cast to play a transgender man.

The actress gave a statement to Out.com, saying, “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.” This is a departure from the Johansson camp’s original statement on July 3, Bustle reported: “Tell them they can be directed to Jeffrey Tambor, Jared Leto, and Felicity Huffman’s reps for comment” a rep for Johansson said at the time.

It’s true that Johansson was not the first cisgender person to be cast to play trans, but she is the first to drop the role. The decision likely results from the phenomenal amount of criticism Johansson received after the casting was announced. Many saw Johansson as already on strike two when it comes to poor casting choices — she courted major controversy when she played a Japanese cyborg in the 2017 movie “Ghost in a Shell” though she is white. The director of “Rub and Tug,” Rupert Sanders, also directed her in that movie. The internet expressed bitter joy in depicting Johansson’s “white washing” with especially excoriating comedy.

Many activists including a significant number of transgender actresses spoke out against Johansson’s casting. They pointed out that telling transgender stories without transgender voices no longer makes much sense — if transgender people don’t get cast in roles telling their own stories, then those stories only serve to make movie studios money and make audiences feel good about themselves. Many people felt that a cisgender person should never play a transgender person. Others felt that the crime Johansson and producers of “Rub and Tug” committed speaks to a problem that is bigger than just one movie — transgender performers just aren’t invited into casting rooms. They aren’t seen as viable to play any roles — even to play their own identities.

Johansson told Out, “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.”

Jenny Singer is the deputy lifestyle editor for the Forward. You can reach her at [email protected] or on Twitter @jeanvaljenny

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