Scarlett Johansson says she was “tone-deaf” about playing a transgender man in film

Actress Scarlett Johansson attends 'Under The Skin' Premiere during the 70th Venice Film Festival on September 3, 2013 in Venice, Italy.
Actress Scarlett Johansson attends 'Under The Skin' Premiere during the 70th Venice Film Festival on September 3, 2013 in Venice, Italy. Photo: Shutterstock

Last year, actress Scarlett Johansson was at the center of a controversy when she announced that she would play the role of a transgender man in a movie, and she eventually withdrew from the project.

Now, a year later, she admits that she “mishandled the situation.”

Related: Watch these trans men audition for Scarlett Johansson movie roles

Johansson was cast as Dante Tex Gill – who ran massage parlors in Pittsburgh that were thinly-veiled fronts for illegal sex work in the 70’s and 80’s – in the movie Rub & Tug.

Gill, who passed away in 2003, lived his life as a man: he took a male name, told people to call him “Mr. Gill,” and “may even have undergone the initial stages of a sex change that made [him] appear masculine,” according to his obituary.

So it was an odd choice to pick a cisgender woman to play a transgender man because it’s very uncommon for a woman to play a man in a major Hollywood production.

Transgender actors also complained about how hard it is to find work in either cis or trans roles.

But Johansson was snide in her response to criticism. “Tell [transgender activists] they can be directed to Jeffrey Tambor, Jared Leto, and Felicity Huffman’s reps for comment,” referring to three cisgender actors who won major awards for their portrayals of transgender characters, portrayals that transgender activists spoke out against at the time.

Johansson eventually pulled out of the project. “In light of recent ethical questions raised surrounding my casting as Dante Tex Gill, I have decided to respectfully withdraw my participation in the project,” she said in a statement.

Now she told Vanity Fair that she didn’t handle the controversy well.

“In hindsight, I mishandled that situation,” she said. “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.”

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