Scarlett Johansson exits controversial transgender role following online backlash

The actress will no longer play the lead in the upcoming movie 'Rub & Tug'

Scarlett Johansson recently stirred up controversy as news broke that the actress would be playing a trans-man in the forthcoming film Rub & Tug. She has now left the film.

Johansson is set to play Lois Jean Gill in the movie, which is based on Gill’s true life story. Gill was assigned female at birth, but later assumed the identity of a man – Dante “Tex” Gill – and operated a massage parlour and prostitution business in Pittsburgh in the 1970s and 80s. Gill was later convicted of tax evasion in 1984, spending seven years in prison. He died in 2003.

However, in light of push-back from online communities, Johansson has now exited the film and released a statement.

Johansson said, speaking to Out Magazine, “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”.

Johansson 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.”

She concludes: “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”.

Johansson’s work on Rub & Tug would have seen her reunite with Ghost In The Shell director Rupert Sanders. That film courted controversy over accusations of “whitewashing”, with Johansson playing Major Motoko Kusanagi in the manga and anime-inspired movie.

The first five minutes of Ghost In The Shell have been released

Scarlett Johansson in Ghost In The Shell

Prior to this statement, Johansson initially responded to criticisms of her casting as Gill by saying: “Tell them they can be directed to Jeffrey Tambor, Jared Leto, and Felicity Huffman’s reps for comment.” This was met with even greater backlash.

Johansson last appeared in Avengers: Infinity War, in which she reprised her role as Natasha Romanoff aka Black Widow. She will appear in the as-yet-untitled fourth Avengers movie, due for release next year.