The announcement that Scarlett Johansson was going to portray Dante "Tex" Gill, a trans man who owned and operated a string of massage parlors with criminal ties in the 1970s, sparked serious and widespread criticism. Now, however, Johansson has — for the first time in her career — stepped down from the role.
On Friday, Johansson released a full, exclusive statement to Out.com on her decision to exit the film Rub and Tug.
"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 said in the statement.
"According to GLAAD, LGBTQ+ characters dropped 40 percent in 2017 from the previous year, with no representation of trans characters in any major studio release. 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. My production company, These Pictures, actively pursues projects that both entertain and push boundaries. We look forward to working with every community to bring these most poignant and important stories to audiences worldwide."
Johansson's statement is a major about-face from a previous, glib statement made to Bustle about her choice to tackle the role: "Tell them that they can be directed to Jeffrey Tambor, Jared Leto and Felicity Huffman's reps for comment."
The Avengers actor faced intense backlash when the news was first published. Not only was the role inappropriately reported on (Deadline's announcement, appallingly, deadnamed Gill), but it also mischaracterized who Gill was in real life, with descriptions of him — as he would have been played by Johansson — using the wrong pronouns and crassly summarizing his legacy.
Immediately, critics drew connections to Johansson's last problematic role in Ghost in the Shell and others criticizing her gall, as a cisgender female actor, in taking on the role of a trans man. Critics thought Johansson's casting would further perpetuate negative stereotypes about trans people, including the false stereotype that being trans is an identity people can choose or inhabit at will.
It remains to be seen how this incident will affect Johansson's career or public image. According to another announcement made earlier this week, a film centered on her Avengers character, Black Widow, is finally moving forward.