South O’ the Highway

Scarlett Johansson Backs Out of Transgender Role, Film’s Future at Risk

Without an A-list actress in the lead, "Rub & Tug" may never see the light of day.

Earlier this month, Amagansett resident Scarlett Johansson was set to play Dante “Tex” Gill, a transgender man who became a significant part of the Pittsburg crime scene in the 1970s and ’80s, in the upcoming film, Rub & Tug. Expectedly, backlash from the LGBTQ community quickly followed, with many stating that an actual transgender actor should be cast in this important role.

The initial response from Johansson’s people was rather harsh, but now it would appear that the actress has had a change of heart, announcing this week that she is backing out of the role. Johansson told Out magazine, “I have great admiration and love for the trans community and am grateful that the conversation regarding inclusivity in Hollywood continues.” She added, “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.”

While this statement is indeed admirable, although surprising, the ramifications for Rub & Tug may be dire in a business sense. According to Movieweb, there is now a great deal of uncertainty over whether the movie will continue production now that it’s lost its main star. Despite a list of talented trans actors available, it’s likely the film’s plug will be pulled without a Hollywood A-lister in the lead role.

Unfortunately, trans actors rarely receive top-billing, because they aren’t cast in many roles to begin with. Therefore, casting a trans actor in a starring role sounds like a victory for diversity, but it doesn’t count for much if the film bombs or gets cancelled altogether. It’s a dismal catch-22 situation.

The story of Dante “Tex” Gill, is a truly complex one, with the potential for a fascinating, even groundbreaking film. While it’s still uncertain what the future holds for Rub & Tug, many are holding on to hope that this story will be told, with fair representation and respect to the man it’s based on.

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