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Amid Backlash, Scarlett Johansson Drops Transgender Role

Scarlett Johansson announced on Friday she is dropping out of the starring role in <em>Rub & Tug, </em>a film about a transgender man who ran an extensive prostitution ring during the 1970s and '80s.
Jordan Strauss
Scarlett Johansson announced on Friday she is dropping out of the starring role in Rub & Tug, a film about a transgender man who ran an extensive prostitution ring during the 1970s and '80s.

After an onslaught of criticism over the past week, actress Scarlett Johansson announced on Friday she will be pulling out of the starring role in Rub & Tug, a film based on the true story of a transgender man who ran a ring of prostitution fronts.

"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 said in a statement to

"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," the actress added.

She lamented turning down the starring role but acknowledged it has served as a catalyst for a broader conversation about transgender actors in Hollywood. "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," she said.

Johansson's casting was revealed on July 2 and was immediately greeted by backlash from transgender advocates and actors, demanding the role be recast with a transgender lead.

Actress Trace Lysette aired her frustrations in a string of tweets, writing, "Not only do you play us and steal our narrative and our opportunity but you pat yourselves on the back with trophies and accolades for mimicking what we have lived."

Following the initial hostile reception, Johansson had defended the casting by noting several famous cisgender people had won top prizes for past performances.

Cisgender is the term for people whose gender identity matches the sex that they were assigned at birth.

"Tell them that they can be directed to Jeffrey Tambor, Jared Leto and Felicity Huffman's reps for comment," her representatives told Bustle in a statement.

Tambor, Leto and Huffman all played transgender characters in Transparent, Dallas Buyers Club and Transamerica, respectively.

GLAAD President and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis responded on Twitter to Johansson's Friday decision, calling it and the collective social media outcry "game changers for the future of transgender images in Hollywood."

"Hollywood changed how Americans understand gay and lesbian lives, and TV is starting to do the same for transgender people with authentic transgender portrayals being major hits with critics and audiences. The film industry has a real opportunity to do the same," she wrote in a follow-up tweet.

Deadline reported Johansson is a producer on the $30 million film, which is "a co-production between Silver Pictures, [Tobey] Maguire's Material Pictures and Johansson's These Pictures banners." Rupert Sanders is directing.

This is the second time the actress and Sanders have come under fire over controversial casting. Sanders cast Johansson as an Asian woman in 2017's Ghost In the Shell.

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Vanessa Romo is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She covers breaking news on a wide range of topics, weighing in daily on everything from immigration and the treatment of migrant children, to a war-crimes trial where a witness claimed he was the actual killer, to an alleged sex cult. She has also covered the occasional cat-clinging-to-the-hood-of-a-car story.
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