Actress Scarlett Johansson is facing criticism for taking on the role of a transgender man in Rupert Sander’s Rub & Tug, an upcoming biopic about Pittsburgh resident Dante “Tex” Gill, who gained notoriety in the 1970s for running massage parlours as fronts for a prostitution business. Many have pointed out on social media that a trans person should have been cast in the role.
Gill, who spent seven years in prison for tax evasion, was assigned female at birth but according to an obituary published after her death in 2003, she identified as a man and told “everyone she wanted to be known as ‘Mr Gill’”.
“She may even have undergone the initial stages of a sex change that made her appear masculine,” the report in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette said.
In response to the backlash, Johansson’s representative told Bustle that one should ask the “reps [representatives]” of Jeffrey Tambor, Jared Leto, and Felicity Huffman to comment on the issue.
Tambor, Leto and Huffman are all cisgender (who identify with the sex they are assigned at birth) actors who earned glowing reviews and awards for their performances as transgender women in film and television, even though there was some criticism over their casting. Tambor won an Emmy award for his role in the Amazon series Transparent, from which he was ousted earlier this year over allegations of sexual misconduct. Leto won an Academy Award for his performance in Dallas Buyers’ Club (2013). Huffman earned an Academy Award nomination for Transamerica (2005).
Johansson had also starred in Sanders’s Ghost in the Shell (2017), based on a Japanese anime series of the same name. At that time too, there was criticism over the decision to cast a North American actress as a cyborg who was ostensibly Japanese. The character had been voiced by Japanese actors in animated adaptations of the original manga as well as in video games, and was hence presumed to be Japanese.
Some Twitter users also came out in support of Johansson, arguing that an actor should be allowed to take on any role of their choice.