Future of ‘Rub & Tug’ Film in Limbo After Scarlett Johansson’s Exit

Transgender activists objected to Johansson playing a trans man

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The future of “Rub & Tug” is in limbo following Scarlett Johansson’s exit from the project because of objections to her playing a trans man.

According to an individual with knowledge of the project, it is unclear if “Rub & Tug” will actually go into production. The insider indicated it doesn’t look good for the movie, which still has director Rupert Sanders attached.

Johansson’s production company, These Pictures, was a producer on the project, and it’s unclear whether Johansson and These Pictures will stay on to produce. Joel Silver’s Silver Pictures is also listed as a production company on the film, but Silver did not respond to requests for comment.

Last week, Johansson exited the project after a backlash, especially from trans actors who said a cisgender woman should not play Dante “Tex” Gill, a massage parlor owner in Pittsburgh in the 1970s and ’80s who identified as a man.

People in Gill’s time sometimes called him “the woman who prefers to be known as a man,” according to a 2003 Pittsburgh Post-Gazette obituary, which referred to him using female pronouns throughout. But Gill’s cousin, Barry Paris, told TheWrap last week that Gill definitely identified as a man and wanted to be referred to with male pronouns.

After the initial backlash to Johansson playing the role, she fueled anger with a pithy statement suggesting her portrayal of Gill was no different than past portrayals of trans characters by cisgender actors. Critics also noted the “whitewashing” accusations that resulted from her role in the 2017 film “Ghost in the Shell,” which was based on a Japanese anime with Asian characters.

“In light of recent ethical questions raised surrounding my casting as Dante Tex Gill, I have decided to respectfully withdraw my participation in the project,” Johansson told Out Magazine last week. “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 realize it was insensitive. I have great admiration and love for the trans community and am grateful that the conversation regarding inclusivity in Hollywood continues. According to GLAAD, LGBTQ+ characters dropped 40 percent in 2017 from the previous year, with no representation of trans characters in any major studio release.”

“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,” Johansson continued.

Representatives for Johansson, Sanders, production company New Regency and screenwriter Gary Spinelli did not immediately respond to TheWrap’s requests for comment.

Trey Williams contributed to this report.