Scarlett Johansson will not play a transgender character on the big screen after all.
Last week, news that she would play real-life transgender man Dante “Tex” Gill in a new movie called Rub & Tug sparked a backlash from members of the LGBTQ community and their supporters, who felt her casting stole an acting opportunity from transgender actors and highlighted an ongoing problem of lack of diversity in 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 said in a statement to Out magazine on Friday. “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. According to GLAAD, LGBTQ+ characters dropped 40% in 2017 from the previous year, with no representation of trans characters in any major studio release.”
Rub & Tug is based on the real-life story of Gill, who was born female and later lived life as a man. He became a crime kingpin, using his massage parlors as a front for prostitution in the ’70s and ’80s. He died in 2003 at the age of 72.
“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,” Johansson said. “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.”
GLAAD said in a statement on Twitter, “Scarlett Johansson’s announcement, together with the transgender voices who spoke out about this film, are game changers for the future of transgender images in Hollywood.”
Johansson’s rep had previously told several media outlets, in response to the backlash, “Tell them that they can be directed to Jeffrey Tambor, Jared Leto and Felicity Huffman‘s reps for comment,” referring to three stars who have played transgender characters onscreen.
The news comes a year after Johansson sparked controversy for her role in the 2017 movie Ghost in the Shell, a film adaptation of a Japanese manga series. The director of both that movie and Rub & Tug is Rupert Sanders. He has not commented on the recent criticism over the actress’ casting or about her exit.