Posted By Raabiya

Update: As of July 13 2018, Scarlett Johansson has withdrawn from her role in Rub & Tug.

Every year Hollywood pays a candle light homage by depicting LGBTQ+ characters in their movies, thus increasing their earnings financially and socially. While our visibility is questionably increased, it is channelled through queerbaiting and Oscar baiting as most of these roles are taken up by cis-heterosexual actors which just throws the community under the bus.

Recently, Scarlett Johansson got the lead role in the film Rub & Tug, based on the real life story of Dante “Tex” Gill. Gill was a crime boss in the 1970s and ran several illegal massage parlours. Gill also happened to be a trans man. Several people took to Twitter with their criticism and anger towards this news. 

While many supporters have argued that “it’s just acting”, what they fail to realise is that the movie is actually a biopic. Are the producers telling us that they consider Dante Gill to be a woman ‘pretending’ to be a man? Well, of course they are! Just look at Eddie Redmayne’s role of Lily Elbe in The Danish Girl. Hollywood has been known for misgendering trans actors and characters for a long time. For them, being transgender is about ‘crossdressing’  and exaggerated behaviours, rather than understanding how self-perception works.

Hollywood has been known for misgendering trans actors and characters.

The media has constantly misgendered Gill. In breaking the news to the public, Deadline called Gill a ‘queen’, used his dead name, and constantly misgendered him throughout the article. “Jean Marie Gill… who took on the mob… through her empire of illicit massage parlors… all the while cross-dressing and leaning on her allies in the gay community to help grow her empire,” Mike Fleming Jr writes for Deadline.

News outlets too have always misgendered Gill. In his obituary, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette called him ‘sexually ambivalent’ with a ‘different lifestyle’ and ‘the woman who prefers to be known as a man.’ Hence, Scarlett Johansson, a cisgender (denoting or relating to a person whose sense of personal identity and gender corresponds with their birth sex) woman playing Dante’s character is a deplorable action from her and the film-makers.

Also Read: Living Like ‘The Danish Girl’ In Today’s India: A Trans Woman’s Account

Under-representation of trans actors in Hollywood is a huge problem that hasn’t been addressed at all. Try to remember more than five trans mainstream actors. I am pretty sure it will be tough for you because it is indeed hard for trans people to break into the movie industry. Often they are told to hide their identity in order to get good roles, or are cast as victims or sidekicks, so when a trans biopic is being made, it is only fair to cast a trans actor for the role. Trans actress Alexandra Grey in an interview with Screen Crush puts it aptly when she says, “I believe that anyone can play anything, but I think what the fight is, is we’re saying we’re not even given the opportunity so at least give us the opportunity to play ourselves.” 

The ideal situation would be a situation where trans actors are cast in all types of roles. But as Jamie Clayton points out in her tweet, film-makers need to cast trans actors for trans roles as a starting point.

This is not the first time Scarlett Johansson has represented a minority character. She played a Japanese woman in Ghost in the Shell. The movie was criticised heavily for whitewashing and it seems she is yet to learn a thing or two about appropriation and representation. Johansson has also actively supported problematic figures in Hollywood like Woody Allen so it comes to no surprise that she is not apologetic about the controversy she’s embroiled in.

Also Read: The Sex Life Of Trans Men And Why Our Sexuality Matters


A progressive queer feminist, Raabiya is pursuing Literature from Delhi University. She aspires to be a journalist and create queer-sensitive coverage in media. Follow her on Facebook and Instagram.

Featured image source: LaughSpark

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