Scarlett Johansson Admits She 'Mishandled' Transgender Casting Controversy

The actress says she was "uneducated" when it came to her response to backlash after she was cast as a trans man in 'Rub & Tug.'
Bettina Makalintal
Brooklyn, US
November 26, 2019, 5:59pm
Photo by Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic via Getty Images

After working together on Ghost in the Shell in 2017, actress Scarlett Johansson and director Rupert Sanders announced in July 2018 that they'd be joining creative forces yet again, this time on Rub & Tug. The biopic would focus on the life of Dante "Tex" Gill, a trans man who ran a string of massage parlors in Pittsburgh in the 1970s, with Gill played by Johansson, of course! Because, really, what could go wrong there!?


Following immediate backlash resulting from complaints that the role should go to a trans actor, Johansson issued a statement stating, "Tell them that they can be directed to Jeffrey Tambor, Jared Leto, and Felicity Huffman’s reps for comment"—her point, presumably, being that other cis actors have previously played trans roles, and even received acclaim for that work. (What that argument misses, clearly, is all the backlash those actors have gotten.) Still, she pulled out of Rub & Tug a week later, issuing a new statement that read in part, "While I would have loved the opportunity to bring Dante’s story and transition to life, I understand why many feel he should be portrayed by a transgender person."

That could have been the end of that, but Johansson revived her casting controversies with an even more controversial statement this past July in a widely cited—and mercilessly memed—interview with As If magazine. "You know, as an actor I should be allowed to play any person, or any tree, or any animal because that is my job and the requirements of my job," Johansson claimed at the time.

But according to a Vanity Fair interview published today, Johansson now sees the reasoning behind some of her casting controversies. In the story, the actress acknowledges that she not only misjudged the Rub & Tug project, but also that she handled the response poorly:

"In hindsight, I mishandled that situation. I was not sensitive, my initial reaction to it. I wasn’t totally aware of how the trans community felt about those three actors playing—and how they felt in general about cis actors playing—transgender people. I wasn’t aware of that conversation—I was uneducated. So I learned a lot through that process. I misjudged that…. It was a hard time. It was like a whirlwind. I felt terribly about it. To feel like you’re kind of tone-deaf to something is not a good feeling."

While Johansson might have taken one step forward when it comes to cleaning up her casting drama, her comments immediately preceding those statements might have been two steps back, as she reiterated her support for friend and director Woody Allen.

"I only have a close proximity with Woody… he’s a friend of mine. But I have no other insight other than my relationship with him," she said. When the interviewer pointed out that Johansson's comment equated to doubting Allen's accusers, the actress added, "But just because I believe my friend does not mean that I don’t support women, believe women. I think you have to take it on a case-by-case basis. You can’t have this blanket statement—I don’t believe that."

Well, as they say, the devil works hard. Scarlett Johansson's PR rep might work even harder.