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Scarlett Johansson Withdraws From Transgender Role After Backlash

Category: Art & Culture,Arts

The actress Scarlett Johansson has withdrawn from her role in the newly announced movie “Rub & Tug” after facing a backlash, mainly from transgender actors, for taking on the role of a transgender man.

Ms. Johansson made the decision because of the ethical questions raised surrounding her casting, she told Out magazine in a statement. Online, actors raised the issue that hiring cisgender people for transgender roles takes acting opportunities away from members of marginalized communities. (Cisgender people identify with the sex they were assigned at birth.)

“Rub & Tug” is based on the story of Dante Gill, a.k.a. Tex, who ran a string of massage parlors in the 1970s and ’80s that became fronts for prostitution dens. Ms. Johansson was cast to play his character.

“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,” she said.

Some people have argued that casting a non-transgender person to play a transgender part is offensive. Others say the best actor should be chosen for the role no matter the gender identity.

But transgender actors are underrepresented. In her statement, Ms. Johansson cited statistics from Glaad, formerly known as the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, an organization that monitors L.G.B.T. representation in the media: “L.G.B.T. characters dropped 40 percent in 2017 from the previous year, with no representation of trans characters in any major studio release.”

Sarah Kate Ellis, the president and chief executive of Glaad, responded to Ms. Johansson’s message in a statement, saying that Ms. Johansson and the transgender people who spoke out about the film are “game changers.”

“Hollywood changed how Americans understand gay and lesbian lives, and TV is starting to do the same for transgender people with authentic transgender portrayals being major hits with critics and audiences,” Ms. Ellis said. “The film industry has a real opportunity to do the same.”

The transgender actress Trace Lysette, one of the Twitter voices who led to Ms. Johansson’s decision, said she thinks the move is a step in the right direction. She still hopes that a transgender man is cast in the role of Dante and that she would love to see Ms. Johansson still participate in the film in some capacity, whether in a supporting role or as a producer.

Shows like “Pose,” which focuses on the lives of L.G.B.T people, have been praised in the past for casting five transgender women to play transgender characters.

High-profile cisgender actors have been cast as transgender people in various projects. Jeffrey Tambor played a transgender woman on “Transparent.” Jared Leto played a transgender woman in the 2013 film “Dallas Buyers Club,” and Elle Fanning starred in the movie “3 Generations” as a transgender boy in 2015.

Activists took to Twitter after the announcement, mostly in praise of the decision, but also to stress the importance of creating more opportunities for transgender actors in Hollywood.

“Many of us have been consistently working on this issue for many years, both loudly in public and quietly behind the scenes,” tweeted Jen Richards, a transgender activist and actress. “I have seen hearts opened and minds changed, at all levels of the industry. Change is slow, but it happens. Thanks to all of you for amplifying our voices.”

The movie’s director, Rupert Sanders, and New Regency, the production company, did not immediately respond to request for comment.

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