Scarlett Johansson is Scarlett Johansson-ing again. After being the focus of ire (and cheeky memes) for playing a character who was Japanese in the source material in Ghost In The Shell (though, to be fair, the rights-holders of the story were enthusiastic about her casting), Johansson is back in the doghouse after New Regency announced she’ll be reteaming with Ghost In The Shell director Rupert Sanders to play a transgender character in Rub and Tug, the biopic of Dante “Tex” Gill, whose real life story is so wild that some of my fellow transpeople are mad they didn’t know about him already.
Gill owned massage parlors in 1970s and ’80s Pittsburgh and used the parlors as a front for a prostitution ring, using contacts within the gay community to help circumvent the mafia. So who do you get to play a transmasculine crime kingpin from the ’70s and ’80s who is pushing 250 pounds, grizzled, gruff, and looks like this? Scarlett Johansson, of course. The casting led to plenty of jokes and critiques, which we’ll get to in a moment.
Johansson responded to the initial criticisms by fanning the flames, issuing this statement to Bustle:
“Tell them that they can be directed to Jeffrey Tambor, Jared Leto, and Felicity Huffman’s reps for comment.”
Yeah, that’s… not good. Especially considering Tambor was fired from Transparent after multiple allegations of sexually harassing transwomen on set. Maybe don’t evoke him as a defense? And transgender actors are rarely if ever allowed to audition for cisgender roles, so saying other cisgender people have taken the only roles Hollywood lets transpeople audition for isn’t so much a defense as it is a reminder to be even more ticked off because this just keeps happening.
So, as a transman, it behooves me to say a few words before we get to the jokes, which are the only silver lining to this cumulus cloud of bullsh*t. I almost never see myself represented in any form of media. (I mean, do you know how many times I watched Just One Of The Guys as a kid?) When I do see a transgender character, they’re almost always a woman (either a transwoman, or — on extremely rare occasions — a transman being played by a woman), and they’re almost always either being murdered, murdering other people, or “deceiving” people by just existing all sexy-like.
And here’s another story of a transgender person being a criminal. I get it. Gill was interesting; it’s an interesting story. But is this all we are? Criminals or victims? And you can’t even cast a transman to play him? And, if you insist on casting a cisgender person, you cast a cisgender woman instead of a cisgender man? And you cast someone who is at least 150 pounds lighter than Gill was? You can’t even look for an actor who could maybe sort of resemble the guy? I mean, Lea DeLaria was right there.
Look, I get it. You can’t get funding without casting an A-lister. That’s the constant refrain in Hollywood. And if that’s the case, cast Johansson as the cisgender girlfriend of Gill’s, not as Gill. Better yet, just scrap the transman biopic, rewrite all the characters played by cisgender actors as cisgender characters, and re-title this Scarlett Johanssen Makes Out With Alexandra Daddario For 90 Minutes And Also They Do Crimes.
Anyway, I’m not the only one responding to this news with sarcasm. Folks on Twitter also weighed in. Some asked for help picking out a new headshot. Others feared what roles she’d take next: