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Scarlett Johansson Drops Out Of Controversial Role As Trans Man After Outcry

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Scarlett Johansson is a beloved actress—one whose films have inspired and encouraged women to chase their dreams (as she is one of the world’s highest paid actors). However, her recent roles have caused controversy among several minority groups. She was cast in Ghost in the Shell, a film directed by Rupert Sanders which was criticized for casting Johansson as an Asian character. More recently, Johansson was tapped for another movie with the same director, playing the role of a transgender male. Find out why the controversy has dominated the media, and how this affects the transgender community.

The True Story Behind ‘Rub & Tug’

Rub & Tug is a drama based on the life of Dante “Tex” Gill. Tex owned several massage parlors in the 1970s, covering for the mastermind’s prostitution ring in Pittsburgh’s red-light district. Tex’s story includes running with and from the Mob, and a seven-year prison stint for tax evasion. He was not only a famed criminal but transmasculine as well (a born-female person whose gender identity is masculine). Several reporters and representatives for the film have fudged the truth, claiming Tex simply liked to dress as a man or was in disguise. But Tex’s obituary, which Pittsburgh’s Post Gazette published in 2003, states that “In all the old newspaper stories about Dante ‘Tex’ Gill, she was always ‘the woman who prefers to be known as a man,’ or some variation of that description…[Gill] may even have undergone the initial stages of [medical transitioning] that made her appear more masculine.” This confirms that Tex identified as a man, making him a transgender person. So, can Johansson portray that role? Many people believe it’s a bad idea, and here’s why.

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The Problem With Scarlett Johansson Playing Gill

Despite media controversy, it is clear that the character in the film was transgender. Many people believe that Scarlett Johannson, while an incredibly talented actress, should not play this role because she is a cisgender woman (a biologically female person who also identifies as a woman). Her role misrepresents Gill and takes away a potentially groundbreaking opportunity from a transmasculine actor who would more accurately fit the part. Her supporters claim that Johansson’s casting was due to her talent and audience appeal. However, several actors and actresses in the trans community are fighting back against this misrepresentation of their gender identities.

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Outcries from the Trans and Hollywood Community

This misrepresentation has caused a backlash in the trans community. Many trans actors lament their difficulty finding roles in their gender and say they could never get a cisgender role in a movie, whereas Johansson easily received a part for a gender she is not. Trace Lysette, a trans actress, said on Twitter in response to Johansson’s role, “Not only do you steal our narrative and our opportunity but you pat yourselves on the back with trophies and accolades for mimicking what we have lived.” Another trans actress, Jamie Clayton, also responded to the controversy in a tweet, saying, “Actors who are trans never even get to audition for anything other than roles of trans characters…That’s the real issue. We can’t even get in the room.” 

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Johansson’s Cutting Response to Controversy

In the wake of the controversy, people waited for Johansson or the director to make a statement about their decision. While Johansson herself did not comment, her representative told Bustle in an interview: “Tell them that they can be directed to Jeffrey Tambor, Jared Leto, and Felicity Huffman’s reps for comment.” This sparked even more criticism for the actress, as the stars she named were all cisgender and had won or been nominated awards for their roles as trans characters. Huffman, who was nominated for an Oscar for her role in Transamerica, replaced a trans actress in the role. However, as the controversy continued to garner bad press for Johansson, she made a shocking decision.

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Will Someone Else Take the Lead?

After receiving constant criticism for her casting in Ghost in the Shell and Rub & Tug, Johannson made a shocking decision. She withdrew from the role of Tex, giving this statement to Out.com, “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.” It’s good to hear that Scarlett has decided to be sensitive to the feelings of the trans community. We’re sure this isn’t the last we’ve seen of her.

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