Scarlett Johansson has dropped out of a forthcoming film project in which she was cast as a transgender man after sparking controversy for taking the role.
Johansson caused an international backlash when it was announced she would be playing prostitution ring leader Dante “Tex” Gill in film Rub & Tug. Many thought her response last week to the criticism was insensitive, which only furthering the furore.
On Friday, the Bafta-winning actress gave a statement to LGBT website Out.com saying she will no longer be part of the film “in light of recent ethical questions raised surrounding my casting.”
Gill was a gangster in Pittsburgh in the Seventies and Eighties, and was born female. However, she identified as a man. Many transgender actors and advocates publicly criticised the casting, suggesting that greater diversity on screen would be achieved by casting a trans actor – rather than Johansson, a woman who is cis, or born female.
Johansson initially responded with a statement that criticism “can be directed to Jeffrey Tambor, Jared Leto and Felicity Huffman’s reps.” All are cisgender actors who have won acclaim for playing transgender characters.
“Actors who are trans never even get to audition for anything other than roles of trans characters,” Jamie Clayton, a transgender actress who stars in Netflix’s Sense8, said. ”That’s the real issue. We can’t even get in the room.”
Johansson had changed her tune 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 realise it was insensitive,” she said, adding that she had “great admiration and love for the trans community.”
“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,” the actress added.
Johansson previously came under fire for playing an originally Asian character in the 2017 film Ghost in the Shell, which was directed by Rupert Sanders, also set to direct Rub & Tug.
It’s not clear if the film, which Johansson was also producing, will now continue. A representative for Johansson is yet to respond and a spokesman for New Regency, which was set to produce Rub & Tug, has said it’s uncertain what will happen with the project.
Jen Richards, trans activist and creator of the web series Her Story, praised Johansson for stepping down.
“If you’re tired of hearing about it, you can’t imagine how tired trans actors are of talking about it,” Richards said on Twitter. “We just want to work. And with more trans and nonbinary people, of all kinds, participating, the work will be a better and richer representation of our world. This is a win.”
GLAAD, formerly known as the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, said in a statement: “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.”