Yesterday it was announced that Scarlett Johansson is set to play massage parlour owner Dante “Tex” Gill in a mob drama called Rub & Tug.
Gill was born as Lois Jean Gill, but identified as a man. The Hollywood Reporter wrote that Gill had “succeeded in Pittsburgh’s 1970s and 1980s massage parlor and prostitution business by assuming the identity of a man, Dante ‘Tex’ Gill.” Meanwhile, Gill’s obituary stated that “she may even have undergone the initial states of a sex change that made her appear masculine,” and mentioned the fact that Gill wanted to be known as ‘Mr. Gill’, which suggests that he might have wanted people to use non-female pronouns.
It’s this aspect that has caused outrage from people, questioning why the role could not have been given to a transgender actor as opposed to a cisgender woman. Whilst it can be applauded that such a role is set to be presented in a Hollywood movie (considering GLAAD’s recent report that saw zero transgender characters in any movie releases from the major studios last year), it is a role that has yet again been taken away from transgender talent.
Writing on Screencrush about the news of Johansson’s casting as Dante “Tex” Gill, trans writer E. Oliver Whitney said
All of this opens up a much bigger discussion about how we interpret history through a modern lens, especially the history of a much-maligned and oppressed community. But as a trans person myself, I can tell you it’s clear from just a little research that both Gill and Barry didn’t identify as women. It’s especially worrisome that Hollywood is about to distort their stories and further erase trans identities from the screen. This, among many reasons, is why we need trans and gender nonconforming people consulting on projects, and especially, writing these scripts themselves.
The film will be directed by Rupert Sanders, who most recently worked with Johannson on Ghost in a Shell. What makes this Gill casting decision even more ludicrous is that fact that both Sanders and Johannson faced tough criticism for the casting in Ghost in a Shell too, with many accusing the move as “whitewashing”. Why haven’t they learnt from their lesson?
Joanne Mason, Chair of Sparkle – The National Transgender Charity, told QWEERIST:
Unfortunately, trans actors, and especially trans masculine actors, aren’t given the opportunities or roles that cisgender actors are, meaning that they will never rise to a level where a mainstream film will receive financing off the back of their name.
This means we’re trapped in a cycle of protesting the casting of cisgender actors in trans roles. We need more trans screenwriters, more trans directors, and more trans producers, who can bring authentic trans stories to the big screen, and create more opportunities for trans and non-binary performers.
People outraged at the news, including trans actors, critics, and writers, shared their upset and thoughts on social media.
Dear Hollywood, here are the rules we the Trans decided: Until the world stops erasing/oppressing/murdering us, trans women play trans women, trans men play trans men, nonbinary people play NB people. If your project needs a “star” for financing, then it’s simply not good enough.
— Jen Richards (@SmartAssJen) July 3, 2018
“Only trans actors should play trans characters” IS NOT A BAD POSITION. I’m so tired of people offering this take–worst of all, coming from someone like you. Scarlett’s response was awful but that is NO EXCUSE for other members of the LGBTQ community to throw us under the bus. https://t.co/tnyjnkkkFQ
— Danielle Solzman (@DanielleSATM) July 4, 2018
It’s important to see yourself represented in the media. It’s important to see that there are others like you. It’s important to see that trans people can be successful in whatever career they go after. Stop oppressing trans people. HIRE TRANS ACTORS FOR TRANS ROLES.
— Ryan Cassata (@ROCassataMusic) July 3, 2018
That’s not art, it’s just lazy. There’s a host of brilliant trans actors who are waiting for this kind of opportunity. Give it to them. Surround them with your box office candy and make them a star. It’s not that hard. #ScarlettJohansson 2/
— Annie Wallace (@anniewallace) July 4, 2018
Meredith Talusan, Executive Editor of them, stated that it has “never been ethically or politically justifiable for cisgender people to play trans roles,” adding:
And as long as we live in a society where trans people see a fraction of the opportunities afforded to cis people, it will continue to be deeply unjust when cis actors steal parts from trans talent.
Following the backlash, Johannson released a (smug) statement to Bustle simply saying: “Tell them that they can be directed to Jeffrey Tambor, Jared Leto, and Felicity Huffman’s reps for comment.”
As E. Oliver Whitney suggests, the name-dropping of cisgender actors who have received awards or nominations for their depictions of trans characters suggests she is more interested in the Oscar potential than she is in supporting transgender people.
That potential Black Widow movie seems a bit less interesting to us now.