Scarlett Johansson is being massively criticized and trolled online for taking on the role of a transgender man in her upcoming movie Rub and Tug.

Directed by Rupert Sanders, the film is a biopic about Dante ‘Tex’ Gill, a 1970s Pittsburgh crime lord who used to earlier in life identify as Jean Gill.

As per the obituary printed in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette in 2003 when Dante passed away, the pronoun term was used as ‘she’ while the rest of it said that, “For years, according to police, Ms Gill ran a string of [massage] parlours as fronts for prostitution, all the while insisting that she was a man and telling everyone she wanted to be known as ‘Mr Gill’.”

The obituary further said that, “She may even have undergone the initial stages of a sex change that made her appear masculine.”

Johansson is being heavily condemned for taking on a trans role when not being one herself along with the majority of the trans community and even actors questioning why exactly wasn’t a trans actor chosen for the role.

Not The First Time Johannson Is In Hot Water

This is not the first time that Scarlett Johansson has been criticized for whitewashing or taking on a role that was not suitable for her.

Earlier in 2017, she starred in Ghost In The Shell, also directed by Sanders and was accused of whitewashing since the character was Asian as the movie was based on the Japanese manga comic created by Masamune Shirow of the same name.

At that time also, several people including noted actor and director George Takei called out the whitewashing of the character and premise and asked why were Asian actors not chosen for the roles when the story was literally written for them.

This time too, the trans community is extremely angry over a role that should ideally have gone over to them, since anyway trans representation is so negligible on screen, was once again given over to a white actor.

Johansson fired back at those criticizing her when her representative gave the following comment to Bustle, “Tell them that they can be directed to Jeffrey Tambor, Jared Leto, and Felicity Huffman’s reps for comment.”

The comment is directed at other actors who have played trans roles previously and is meant as a way to say that she is not the only one to do so.

Which is just further angering the people and the trans community who just want some good representation from people who can actually relate to those life experiences that come from being a transgender person.

Read More: This Transgender Festival In South India Is The Only Chance They Get To Be Married

Where Is The Representation?

To be honest, more than anything the thing that is getting on everyone’s nerves is the fact that even with all the discussion and proclamations to include diversity in the film industry, it is not really showing properly.

This was a really good opportunity to help integrate transgender actors into the mainstream entertainment industry and that too in a pivotal role. But once again, it was given over to a cisgender actor who is not from that community.

And it shows a very wrong scale where on one hand, cisgender actors are allowed to play both cisgender and transgender roles, on the other hand, transgender actors are not given the same freedom.

So if they cannot play cisgender roles and then on top of that even transgender characters that they can play are given to those, not from the community, then where do they go?

American show Transparent’s actor Trace Lysette and Ian Harvie who are both transgender people have lashed out on Twitter.

Trace also tweeted on the fact how these very actors then get awards for such roles by saying that, “And not only do you play us and steal our narrative and our opportunity but you pat yourselves on the back with trophies and accolades for mimicking what we have lived… so twisted. I’m so done…”

Netflix’s popular show Sense8’s actor Jamie Clayton also tweeted that, “Actors who are trans never even get to audition FOR ANYTHING OTHER THAN ROLES OF TRANS CHARACTERS. THATS THE REAL ISSUE. WE CANT EVEN GET IN THE ROOM. Cast actors WHO ARE TRANS as NON TRANS CHARACTERS. I DARE YOU #RupertSanders @NewRegency #ScarlettJohansson.

Several other people on Twitter have also trolled Johansson for taking on the role.

South Indian Film Industry Trans Friendly

Hollywood can probably take some tips from our South Indian film industry that is quite trans friendly, or at the very least gives trans people roles that suit them.

In 2011, Kalki Subramaniam a popular transgender entrepreneur and founder of Sahodari Foundation made her acting debut in Narthagi that focused on issues the transgender people face.

In 2015’s ‘I’ directed by acclaimed director Shankar, transgender make-up artist Ojas M. Rajani had a pretty prominent role to play in the film. Although it was of an antagonist, but just the fact that Shankar had a transgender role instead of a typical cisgender female created a good balance.

Upcoming film Peranbu starring mega-star Mammootty will have the first transgender actor playing a lead role in a south Indian film. Transgender actor Anjali Ameer will be one of the first trans actor playing a female lead in the movie directed by Ram.

The trans-model who had a sex change in her 20s was actually referred by Mammootty himself for the role.

“Two years back, I was part of a television show where I saw people who were unimaginably pretty, and they were those who had undergone sex reassignment surgery. In Peranbu, my upcoming movie, there is a character who has undergone the same surgery. When its director Ram was planning to cast a popular actress, I suggested that they choose a person who has gone through the same experience. That was the same time that I attended the TV programme. And I met Anjali Ameer there and later introduced her to the director. And she joined our film. In the film, she is my heroine,” the south Indian actor said.

A lot of people defended Johansson by saying how other straight actors have portrayed LGBTQ characters and cisgender actors have previously essayed trans roles.

The problem with that happening now is that times are changing and there is a growing need for representation and diversity within the film industry.

It is not just about the role but the fact that trans actors should be given the attention and focus they deserve especially when the character is literally them.

The above examples of South Indian films and them embracing the fact that trans actors are as important as cisgender ones is good to see.


Image Credits: Google Images

Sources: BBC News, HuffPost, The Indian Express + more


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