Scarlett Johansson continues to make problematic decisions when it comes to taking on new roles. The backlash from Ghost in the Shell definitely didn’t teach her to pass on characters she has no business portraying. Now she’s once again joining forces with her Ghost director Rupert Sanders to portray a man who history strongly suggests was transgender.
Johansson will be the star of Rub & Tug, a biopic of Dante “Tex” Gill, who ran an empire of massage parlors in the the '70s that, if you couldn’t tell from the title, fronted as prostitution rings in Pittsburgh’s red-light district. Gill feuded with the mob and also served a seven-year prison sentence for tax evasion. A larger-than-life character, it’s no surprise there’s a film being based on Gill's life. Unfortunately, Johansson’s claim on such a compelling story is a disservice to Gill's legacy.
It’s hard to know what pronouns a historical figure might have used, but ScreenCrush summons Gill’s 2003 obituary, which clearly states he “may even have undergone the initial stages of [medical transitioning] that made her appear more masculine,” “insisted she was a man,” and wanted to be called “Mr. Gill.” Marquee Hollywood publications like Deadline, THR, and Variety all misgendered Gill as a woman, and one outlet conflated his sexuality with his gender. A Birth.Movies.Death. piece suggests the issue started at the top: "The film's synopsis and trade announcement refer to Gill as 'Jean Marie Gill,' use female pronouns in reference to Gill, and describe Gill as being a lesbian that preferred to wear men's clothing."
It’s pretty obvious Sanders, Johansson, and various publications were either too lazy to Google or simply ignored foundational facts about Gill’s life. Rub & Tug's casting is Hollywood’s latest disservice to the trans community, continuing an ongoing discussion about who gets to control these narratives.
Bustle obtained a response to critics via Johansson's rep (categorized by the site as originating "from the actor herself"): "Tell them that they can be directed to Jeffrey Tambor, Jared Leto, and Felicity Huffman's reps for comment."
All three being fellow cisgender white actors who've taken on trans roles.
Check out some reactions to Johansson's casting below.