Earlier today, ScreenCrush’s E. Oliver Whitney pointed out something that had previously been missing from coverage (ours included) of the casting for Scarlett Johansson’s new movie Rub & Tug—that the most accurate description of Dante “Tex” Gill, the Pittsburgh massage-parlor-and-steroids kingpin Johansson is set to play in the biopic, is not as a “cross-dressing lesbian,” but as a transgender man. Whitney’s conclusion is based on Gill’s 2003 obituary, which says that Gill preferred to be called “Mr. Gill,” “insisted [he] was a man,” and “may even have undergone the initial stages of [medical transitioning] that made [him] appear more masculine.” Our vocabulary around gender has evolved quite a bit since Gill’s heyday in the ‘70s and ‘80s, but as Whitney correctly points out, although he might not have explicitly called himself transgender, Gill definitely preferred to be referred to as a man.
Misgendering Gill in casting reports—we’ve corrected ours, and apologize for not researching it more thoroughly—is bad enough. But the project is also a reunion for Johansson and Ghost In The Shell director Rupert Sanders, a film that was criticized for casting Johansson as Major Motoko Kusanagi—or “The Major,” as it was whitewashed for the remake. With criticism of ciswashing (i.e., casting cis actors in trans roles) growing alongside criticism of whitewashing in cinema, it’s hard to believe Johansson would make the same mistake twice. Until you read her response to Bustle, which shows that she knows exactly what she’s doing, and doesn’t care:
“Tell them that they can be directed to Jeffrey Tambor, Jared Leto, and Felicity Huffman’s reps for comment.”
Those are all cisgender actors who have won awards for playing transgender characters, one of whom was fired from said role for allegedly harassing trans women on set and another everyone seems to agree is just plain obnoxious. (The third is Felicity Huffman.) In her response to the Ghost In The Shell whitewashing controversy, Johansson said that “I certainly would never presume to play another race of a person” and that “diversity is important in Hollywood.” Lip service though it may have been, at least she acknowledged there was an issue. This time, however, she’s basically saying, “fuck you, I want that Oscar.”
Whether the dismissive attitude reflected in today’s statement ends up hurting the hypothetical awards chances Johansson is apparently willing to alienate trans people and their allies over remains to be seen. How about it, new Academy members?