Scarlett Johansson may best be known as Black Widow in Marvel Studios’ ongoing cinematic universe, but she also portrayed another heroic figure in Rupert Sanders’ 2017 Ghost in the Shell live-action adaptation. It was a role she accrued criticism for, with fans of the original work contesting that casting Johansson was “whitewashing” it. Johansson’s newest acting gig was announced this week, again causing controversy.


Johansson and Sanders are teaming up again for Rub & Tug, a story about a transgender man named Dante “Tex” Gill. Johansson is set to play the lead role, a man who spent the 70s and 80s running massage parlors in Pittsburgh that were fronts for secret brothels.

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As Johansson is cisgender (meaning she identifies as the sex she was born as), she’s receiving criticism from people who believe a transgender actor should portray the role. Trace Lysette, a transgender actress best known as Shea on Amazon’s Transparent, expressed disappointment in the news and in Hollywood’s treatment of transgender actors and actresses. She tweeted out the situation is a “mess,” noting how transgender talent cannot play cisgender characters while cisgender people can portray transgender characters.

One of Johnsson’s representatives responded to the backlash to Bustle, saying, “Tell them that they can be directed to Jeffrey Tambor, Jared Leto, and Felicity Huffman‘s reps for comment.” This rebuttal, which itself has generated controversy for appearing dismissive, makes note of three cisgender actors who have portrayed transgender characters in films before to critical acclaim.

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