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Scarlett Johansson
Scarlett Johansson wears Saint Laurent by Hedi SlimanePhotography by Benjamin Alexander Huseby, Styling by Jacob K

Scarlett Johansson responds to criticism over role as trans man in new film

The cis actor is playing trans man and mobster Dante ‘Tex’ Gill in Rupert Sanders’ Rug & Tug

Scarlett Johansson is once again teaming up with Ghost in the Shell director Rupert Sanders for their new film Rub & Tug, an American Hustle-style mobster biopic on Dante ‘Tex’ Gill. Gill was a notorious personality in Pittsburgh’s underworld in the 70s and 80s, and was known for owning massage parlours from which he operated a prostitution ring. 

Gill, who was arrested and served seven years for tax evasion and passed away in 2003, spent much of his life being misgendered: a transphobic obituary relates that “she was always ‘the woman who prefers to be known as a man’”. Gill wore masculine clothes and used male pronouns. However, the synopsis for Sanders’ Rub & Tug refers to Gill as “Jean Marie Gill” and uses female pronouns, painting her as a butch lesbian.

Sanders and Johansson came under fire a few years ago, when Johansson’s casting as cyborg policewoman (and Asian) Major Kusanagi in the reboot of Japanese manga classic Ghost in the Shell prompted accusations of whitewashing

Widespread criticism about her current choice of role has sprung up online, asking why a cis actor has been cast in a role for a transgender person. Johansson has issued a brief statement, via a representative. Speaking to Bustle, she said: “Tell them that they can be directed to Jeffrey Tambor, Jared Leto, and Felicity Huffman’s reps for comment.” 

Her comment refers to cis actors who have taken on major roles as trans people in the past: Jeffrey Tambor’s part as a trans woman in Jill Soloway’s Transparent – which he was fired from for sexually harassing a woman – Leto’s Golden Globe-winning part in Dallas Buyers Club, and Felicity Huffan’s role as a trans woman in TransamericaThis tradition of casting cis actors in trans narratives goes back to films like Hillary Swank’s 1999 flick Boys Don’t Cry, with Swank winning Best Actress in the Oscars and Golden Globes for her portrayal of murdered trans man Brandon Teena. 2005 saw Huffman win a Golden Globe for Best Actress for Transamerica, and Eddie Redmayne, nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor for his part as a trans woman undergoing the first gender reassignment surgery, in The Danish Girl.

Speaking to indy100 earlier this year, Kate O’Donnell, the award-winning founder of theatre company Trans Creative, said “The simple fact is that it’s more relevant and more current to cast a trans person in a trans role. When you don’t have that, it looks dated and out-of-touch.”