Scarlett Johansson under fire for taking transgender role in movie

Scarlett Johansson attends the Met Gala on May 7, 2018 in New York City. Noam Galai/Getty Images for New York Magazine

Scarlett Johansson is set to play a transgender man in the upcoming movie Rub & Tug, and she’s facing a lot of backlash for accepting the role.

Johansson, 33, a cisgender woman — meaning her sense of personal identity and gender corresponds with their birth sex — has been cast in the drama as Dante “Tex” Gill, a real-life person who owned a massage parlour in 1970s Pittsburgh. Gill was born a woman, but dressed like a man, had short hair and sideburns and preferred being called “Mr. Gill.”

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While Gill was never officially identified as “transgender” (the term didn’t even exist then), all accounts of his life indicate that he presented outwardly and lived privately in the male gender.

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Social media users condemned Johansson for accepting the role in the first place, especially considering the conversations currently going on around transgender people and diversity casting.

The social-media counterargument to Johansson playing Gill is that all actors — men and women — play characters who are different from their real-life selves, so what’s the harm of a cisgender woman playing a transman?

Regardless, with more trans roles popping up in movies and on TV, Hollywood needs to work towards a solution to this issue.

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For her part, Johansson doesn’t seem bothered by the outrage.

“Tell them they can be directed to Jeffrey Tambor, Jared Leto, and Felicity Huffman’s reps for comment,” she said via her representative.

Over the years, multiple cis actors have played trans characters, including Hilary Swank in 2000’s Boys Don’t Cry, Huffman in 2005’s Transamerica and Leto in his Oscar-winning Dallas Buyer’s Club role. On TV, Tambor played a trans woman on Transparent.

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Controversy over roles isn’t new for Johansson, either. She faced backlash for playing an Asian character in 2017 manga-inspired movie Ghost in the Shell. Among other things, she was accused of whitewashing the character and critiqued for accepting the role in the first place.

Johansson responded to the backlash, telling Marie Claire she “certainly would never presume to play another race of a person.”

“Diversity is important in Hollywood, and I would never want to feel like I was playing a character that was offensive,” she said. “Also, having a franchise with a female protagonist driving it is such a rare opportunity. Certainly, I feel the enormous pressure of that — the weight of such a big property on my shoulders.”

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As of this writing, Johansson has not directly spoken out on the Rub & Tug casting.

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