Scarlett Johansson has dropped out of her role in upcoming drama film Rub & Tug after backlash over her playing a transgender character.
The actor was set to play crime kingpin Dante “Tex” Gill, who was born Lois Jean Gill but identified as a man. Gill operated his massage parlors as fronts for prostitution in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in the 1970s and 80s.
The announcement of Johansson’s casting was met with criticism for not allowing a trans actor to play the role.
“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.
“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.”
That initial response, through a representative for Johansson, asked for inquiries “to be directed to Jeffrey Tambor, Jared Leto and Felicity Huffman’s reps for comment,” referencing the three cisgender actors who played trans roles in Transparent, Dallas Buyers Club and Transamerica respectively.
At the time, Transparent actor Trace Lysette said the decision was reflective of the film industry at large, tweeting, “I wouldn’t be as upset if I was getting in the same rooms as Jennifer Lawrence and Scarlett for cis roles, but we know that’s not the case. A mess.”
In the new statement, Johansson cited research by advocacy group GLAAD that found the number of LGBTIQ characters in films had dropped 40% in 2017 from the previous year, with no trans representation in any major studio film at all.
“I have great admiration and love for the trans community and am grateful that the conversation regarding inclusivity in Hollywood continues,” she said.
“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.
“I believe that all artists should be considered equally and fairly.”
GLAAD President Sarah Kate Ellis said Johannson’s decision was a “real opportunity” for the film industry to build on the “authentic transgender portrayals” that have been seen on TV.
Actor and trans activist Jen Richards also praised Johansson, tweeting, “To exhibit the spirit of generosity I earnestly want to see more of, I am going to take Scarlett Johansson at her word that she listened to feedback, realized that despite her intentions this was going to cause harm, and made the right decision to step down. Well done.”