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Scarlett wears satin bomber jacket from Carlo Manzi and jeans by Levi's 501Photography by Benjamin Alexander Huseby, Styling by Jacob K

Scarlett Johansson drops out of controversial role as a trans man

The news that she would be playing a trans man in Rub & Tug sparked immediate, near-universal criticism

Scarlett Johansson has officially exited the now-controversial film Rub & Tug.

It was first reported (including Deadline's upsetting coverage which deadnamed Gill and used female pronouns for him) that Johansson would be playing Dante “Tex” Gill and that she would be working with Ghost in the Shell director Rupert Sanders for the film, which would chart Gill’s rise as the owner of a string of massage parlors in the 1970s and his subsequent foray into the criminal underworld in Pittsburgh. The combination of the problematic reteaming of Johansson and Sanders, as well as the fact that a cisgender female actor would be portraying a trans man, immediately drew ire from the public. 

Some raised concerns over Johansson furthering harmful, untrue stereotypes about the transgender community. Others recalled the similar controversy when Johansson’s Ghost in the Shell role was announced, noting it felt like history was repeating itself. And some illustrated the kind of casting choice made it clear that it’s more important than ever to actually cast trans folks to play trans roles.

Johansson’s initial response published in Bustle via her rep was: “Tell them that they can be directed to Jeffrey Tambor, Jared Leto, and Felicity Huffman's reps for comment.” But on Friday, it appeared that Johansson had changed her tune, choosing to release a lengthier, exclusive statement to explaining her decision to exit the film. 

“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,” Johansson's statement begins. “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.”

Her statement continues, “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. I believe that all artists should be considered equally and fairly,” before ending with a remark that her production company, These Pictures, would continue to work “with every community to bring these most poignant and important stories to audiences worldwide.” 

It remains unclear what the next steps are for Rub & Tug's production, including whether or not there is any intention to cast a trans man to play Gill.