Scarlett Johansson's portrayal of transgender man in new biopic 'Rub & Tug' faces harsh criticism

Scarlett Johansson's portrayal of transgender man in new biopic 'Rub & Tug' faces harsh criticism
Scarlett Johansson (Source : Getty Images)

With 'Avengers 4' being announced to release in May 2019, Scarlett Johansson had plenty of time to pick on new projects, and she chose Rupert Sander's directorial biopic 'Rub & Tug.' However, the new details about her role as a trans person have irked the transgender community. 

New Regency outbid five others to win the auction for 'Rub & Tug,' which has been described as an 'American Hustle-type' true story which will revolve around a woman, Dante "Tex" Gill, who thrives in the male-dominated business of massage parlors and prostitution by taking on the identity of a man. It is set in 1970s Pittsburgh. 

A former blacksmith, Gill is one of the most fascinating characters from the previous century and whose story includes that of running an empire of massage parlors that served as a front for prostitution in Pittsburgh's red-light district, fronting a steroid ring that directly benefited the Pittsburgh Steelers at the time, feuding with the mob, and serving seven years behind bars for tax evasion.


Johansson's 'Ghost in the Shell' had come under criticism for its all-white cast (Source: Noam Galai/Getty Images for New York Magazine)

The film is set to be directed by Rupert Sanders ('Snow White and the Huntsman') and will star Scarlett Johansson star in the titular role. The pair will be reteaming after they worked together on 2017's science fiction action film 'Ghost in the Shell,' which followed Johansson's Major, a cyborg supersoldier who investigates her mysterious past.

However, certain aspects of the movie have not sat well with the transgender community. As per numerous accounts, Gill identified as a transgender man, whereas an official description for the movie erroneously suggests that she simply liked to dress up as one.

In the same vein, Johansson's casting has irked a few as well, with her identification as a cisgender woman jarring with that of Gill's, who according to Screenrush, lived her life as a transmasculine person. The community has also taken an issue to her description as 'sexually ambivalent.'


The website points to Gill's obituary published in Pittsburgh's Post-Gazette in 2003 as further proof. The article states that she was always "the woman who prefers to be known as a man" and that she "looked and acted the part." She also reportedly went through the initial stages of medical transitioning in a bid to appear "more masculine" and "insisted she was a man" who wanted to be known as "Mr. Gill."

This is not the first time that Johansson has been involved in a controversy over casting either. 'Ghost in the Shell' drew accusations of racism and whitewashing for featuring an all-white, Caucasian cast for a movie that is as Asian as it gets — featuring themes of Japanese cult manga, ground-breaking anime, Hong Kong-inspired locations, and Eastern philosophy-based story.

The fact that the filmmakers had commissioned the use of CGI and other visual effects testing to alter Johansson's appearance to make her appear 'more Asian' drew further flak, though Paramount quickly defended its actions by claiming that the tests were short-lived and did not involve Johansson in any capacity.


The script for 'Rub & Tug' has been penned by Gary Spinelli, with Joel Silver, Tobey Maguire, Johansson, Matthew Plouffe, Spinelli, and Jonathan Lia serving as producers. Silver Pictures president Hal Sadoff will be exec producer with Ethan Erwin, Sarah Meyer, Richard Weinberg and Brendan Koerner.

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 Scarlett Johansson as transgender man in biopic Rub and Tug criticised