What does Scarlett Johansson exit from Rub & Tug mean for the future?

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 30: Scarlett Johansson attends the American Museum Of Natural History's 2017 Museum Gala at American Museum of Natural History on November 30, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 30: Scarlett Johansson attends the American Museum Of Natural History's 2017 Museum Gala at American Museum of Natural History on November 30, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images) /

The casting of famed actress, Scarlett Johansson, in the role of a transgender man in the upcoming biopic, Rub & Tug, has stirred up massive controversy, which has now led to the actress exiting the role. What could this mean for the future?

As we head into the second half of 2018, it comes with no question that the idea of increased inclusiveness in the film industry has received massive amounts of attention as of late. From last year’s Adapted Screenplay win for the Luca Guadagnino film, Call Me by Your Name, to the Best Picture win for the LGBTQ drama, Moonlight, the year before that one. As these films have paved the way for more inclusive casting, it has also caused a backlash on the formerly normal practice of casting straight actors in gay or transgender roles. This is something Scarlett Johansson recently experienced.

She was cast as a transgender man in the upcoming biopic based on the life of Dante “Tex” Gill, Rub & Tug. The story of Dante Gill, a crime kingpin who ran a massage parlor and prostitution ring in the 1970s, is the kind of story that seems essential to bring to the big screen, given the story’s general craziness and intriguing descent into crime.

Dante, who was legally born a woman, transitioned into a man later on in life. It was the aspect that lit a fire under many LGBTQ and transgender activists who were outraged that a cisgender actress like Scarlett Johansson was cast in the role over other transgender actors who might’ve fit with and identified with the role more naturally.

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This isn’t the first time that Scarlett has received backlash over a role. Her still-controversial casting as the lead in the live-action American adaptation of the 1995 Japanese anime classic, Ghost in the Shell, prompted heavy talks on white-washing and ‘Americanizing’ a Japanese film. Despite the controversy, Scarlett maintained her ground and filmed the movie, which released early last year to mixed reviews. But she still took the tole nonetheless, so why drop this role? Rub & Tug, if marketed correctly, can be prime Oscar material, seeing as how the Academy has a soft spot for historical dramas. What has made the backlash for this casting so particularly nasty, but passionate?

A Fantastic Woman

Part of the reason why the backlash against Scarlett Johansson and Rub & Tug has been consistently strong and passionate may actually be due to timing. Yes, the issue of casting transgender actors in films has existed for a long time, but in 2018, the release and positive support of a particular 2017 film may have helped tipped the scales. It is a film that may not have nearly as much attention and support from the general audience due to it being a foreign language film, but its exposure at this year’s Oscars may be a contributing factor to the backlash against Scarlett.

From Chile, the Oscar-winning drama known as A Fantastic Woman made some waves at this year’s Oscars not just for its win in the Best Foreign Language Film category, but for its star, Daniela Vega, being a transgender woman who starred in the lead role. She was even a presenter at the ceremony, becoming the first openly transgender performer to do so.

The crowning of A Fantastic Woman may have been the kick that activists and supporters of the transgender community needed to push for trans actors to receive more roles in the film industry and, more importantly, in the mainstream. A Fantastic Woman, a great drama on its own, is far from a mainstream type of film, having been subjected almost strictly to screenings at film festivals and releases in foreign countries, allowing for limited to no access for American audiences.

It is hard to make an impact on the industry when the industry itself is slow to acknowledge your presence, even with its win at the Oscars. But its impact shouldn’t stop there. For activists and supporters everywhere, taking a look at A Fantastic Woman could be instrumental in further understanding the need for a trans actor to take the role of Dante in Rub & Tug. It is the kind of film that understands perfect casting, something which the creators of Rub & Tug may need to reassess on.

Scarlett Johansson is a great actress, no doubt, and if she were in the role, I personally can’t imagine the performance being anything less than intriguing to study. But take note: if the Oscars can finally acknowledge trans actors as having a presence in the film industry worth rewarding, then maybe it’s time Hollywood finally do the same.

Next: Scarlett Johansson in Rub & Tug: Why it is best for her to exit the role

What do you think? Do you think that it was the right call for Scarlett Johansson to drop the role or should she have gritted her teeth and went on with the role? Sound off in the comments below!