Actress Scarlett Johansson responds to online backlash over transgender role

She is set to play a true-life role of a woman transitioning to a man

Actress Scarlett Johansson responds to online backlash over transgender role

Scarlett Johansson attends the Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute Benefit on May 7th 2018 | Image: Sonia Moskowitz/Zuma Press/PA Images

US actress Scarlett Johansson has responded to a barrage of criticism online, after being cast in the role of a transgender man who ran a chain of American brothels.

'Rub & Tug' tells the true-life story of Dante "Tex" Gill, who managed an empire of illicit massage parlours in Pittsburgh during the 1970s.

Transitioning from female to male during the film, Gill flourishes in the male dominated mob world of prostitution and crime.

However, some people have called Johansson's casting highly problematic.

People on Twitter were quick to react, with nefertariey writing: "So first scarlet johansson, a white cis woman, takes the role of ghost in the shell and now she's playing as a transgender person with the same director?"

Cisgender, or cis for short, is the term for people who identify as the sex they were assigned at birth.

Another Twitter user, Taylor, imagined a conversation between the trans community and Hollywood directors.

They wrote: "trans actors: nobody will hire me cuz they only want cis people / film industry: hey, we gon make a movie about a trans person / trans people: finally! a role perfect for me / film industry: no sorry lol we got scarlett Johansson / this time haha maybe the next one?"

User Antiomi wrote on Twitter: "Roles portraying members of oppressed communities should be played by actors from those communities. It's really not that hard. Scarlett Johansson has done this twice now. There's no excuse."

Others could see no issue with the casting, with Sid Woodram tweeting: "If people can only play roles that represent them, LGBT actors will have a lot less roles".

After an influx of comments on his post, he later added: "I'd love to see more LGBT roles. I'd love to see more trans actors in cis and trans roles. I do think casting directors should look for actors that fit the character's description. I just don't think it should be mandatory."

And trans tweeter Basil wrote: "Scarlett Johansson can play any character, I don't care. If she plays a trans man, fine. As a trans person myself (female to male) I have no problem with it. Leave her be, guys, it's just a film role. #ScarlettJohansson."

Johansson's reply

Johansson herself has addressed the controversy, giving a comment to online magazine Bustle via a representative: "Tell them that they can be directed to Jeffrey Tambor, Jared Leto, and Felicity Huffman's reps for comment."

The three actors mentioned all received acclaim for their portrayal of transgender characters.

Tambor won an Emmy for his portrayal of Maura Pfefferman in 'Transparent', Leto won an Oscar playing a trans woman in 'Dallas Buyers Club' and Huffman was nominated for an Oscar for her role in 'Transamerica'.

Jared Leto (right) won an Academy Award for his role in 2013's 'Dallas Buyers Club' | File photo

This is not the first time Johansson has faced a backlash over her choice of role, nor is it the first time she has worked with director Rupert Sanders.

The 33-year-old actress faced accusations of "whitewashing" after being cast as cyborg soldier Mira Killian / Major Kusanagi - a role originally written as east Asian - in futuristic crime drama 'Ghost In The Shell'.

The 2017 film was also directed by Sanders.

'Rub & Tug' is due to go into production early next year, and lists both Johansson and 'Spider Man' actor Tobey Maguire among its producers.

Gill, who was born Lois Jean Gill but lived her life as a man and married her long-term partner Cynthia Bruno, died in 2003.