'Transgender' movie Rub & Tug may be scrapped after Scarlett Johansson departure

Ben Arnold
Scarlett Johansson (Credit: Mario Anzuoni/Reuters)

Rub & Tug, the planned movie about a mob-linked massage parlour owner in 70s Pittsburgh, may be canned after a backlash led to the departure of its lead Scarlett Johansson.

Rupert Sanders is set to direct the movie, but sources tell The Wrap that now Johansson has walked, the whole project is in doubt.

Johansson was also set to produce the film through her company These Pictures, but it’s unclear now as to whether she will continue to be involved, while Silver Pictures, director and producer Joel Silver’s company which was also involved, is now not responding to requests for comment.

The backlash flared up last week when it emerged that Johansson was to play Dante ‘Tex’ Gill, who ran massage parlours as a front for prostitution.

Gill was born a woman, but dressed as a man, had relationships with women, and referred to himself as ‘he’, leading many to judge him to be transgender by today’s definitions.

It’s said that he underwent some of the initial stages of a sex change, but this remains unconfirmed.

This 1979 photo shows transgender man Dante ‘Tex’ Gill, flanked by masked Frank Cocchiara, left, and Donna Potts while leaving the Public Safety Building in Pittsburgh, Pa. (Credit: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette via AP)

Johansson had initially kicked back against the criticism that the role had not gone to a transgender actor, and when quizzed on the casting said ‘tell them that they can be directed to Jeffrey Tambor, Jared Leto, and Felicity Huffman’s reps for comment’, referring to actors who have played transgender roles in the past.

However, in backing out of the movie, she said in a statement last week: “In light of recent ethical questions raised surrounding my casting as Dante Tex Gill, I have decided to respectfully withdraw my participation in the project.

“Our cultural understanding of transgender people continues to advance, and I’ve learned a lot from the community since making my first statement about my casting and realize it was insensitive.

“I have great admiration and love for the trans community and am grateful that the conversation regarding inclusivity in Hollywood continues. According to GLAAD, LGBTQ+ characters dropped 40 percent in 2017 from the previous year, with no representation of trans characters in any major studio release.”

Meanwhile, Barry Paris, Gill’s cousin and a film critic for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, has said that Tex, who died in 2003, would have ‘laughed’ at the furore, but would have likely wanted a transgender man in the role were he alive today.

“I’d say it’s a toss-up, but I think it’s slightly more likely he would have liked to be played by a man because he identified as a man,” he told TheWrap.

“I’m sure he would have liked to have been played by a transgender man, but in his day that was very rare.

“He totally identified as a man from the time my cousins and I first knew him. He was always overtly masculine.  He hated to be called ‘she,’ and that’s what the police always did, and the papers. It annoyed and upset him.”

Johansson also received flack for her last project with Sanders, Ghost In The Shell, which was accused of whitewashing after Johansson was cast the role of a Japanese character from the original Manga on which the movie was based.

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