Movie “Rub & Tug” endangered after transgender protests lead to Scarlet Johansson’s withdrawal

As I reported the other day, Scarlett Johansson was set to star in a movie called “Rub & Tug”, recounting the life of Dante “Tex” Gill, a transgender man who transitioned at a late age, and then was jailed for tax evasion after having run a string of massage parlors that were fronts for prostitution. After an outcry from the transgender community, Johansson apologized and withdrew from the movie. Now, as many predicted, the movie’s future is dicey because its big bankable star is gone. Click on the screenshot below to read about it in The Wrap.

A quote:

The future of “Rub & Tug” is in limbo following Scarlett Johansson’s exit from the project because of objections to her playing a trans man.

According to an individual with knowledge of the project, it is unclear if “Rub & Tug” will actually go into production. The insider indicated it doesn’t look good for the movie, which still has director Rupert Sanders attached.

Johansson’s production company, These Pictures, was a producer on the project, and it’s unclear whether Johansson and These Pictures will stay on to produce. Joel Silver’s Silver Pictures is also listed as a production company on the film, but Silver did not respond to requests for comment.

Now this is not a time for Schadenfreude—to call out the transgender community for foolishly insisting that a transgender actor must play a transgender man. That is their right, and I can see some justification for it. But the upshot is that the movie may not get made, and is that the outcome they wanted?

The issue is whether there were qualified transgender male actors to play the role, and whether they would have brought as many tuchases to the seats as Johansson would have. Some sites have given lists of such actors (e.g., here), though I haven’t heard of any of them save Chaz Bono.

That doesn’t, however, mean they shouldn’t have been given auditions. Yet it’s more than acting quality that helps decide whether a movie will be made because, after all, movies are profit-making ventures. My view is that if the point of the movie was to portray a transgender life, presumably with some sympathy, it’s more important to get the movie made than to ditch it because they can’t find an actor that can make the movie profitable and of good quality. And, after all, Scarlett Johansson is a woman, and she’s an actor, and a woman actor could conceivably play a woman who became a man with some authenticity.

This kerfuffle will play out again and again as identity politics demands that characters be played only by actors with the proper ethnicities and genders.  We need to consider that view if qualified actors have been discriminated against because of their genders or backgrounds. After all, you can’t become a transgender star unless you’re given a chance. But in the end the decision here rested on economics, not transphobia.

As I wrote before, there are times when gender and ethnic identity really does matter: we wouldn’t want to see an Asian Albert Einstein, as that simply prevents us from suspending disbelief. And it would be crazy for Clint Eastwood to have cast a bunch of Caucasian men as Japanese soldiers in his WWII trilogy.  There’s an article here waiting to be written: what is the proper way to behave when casting members of minority groups? (There is, of course, no problem with casting minorities in “Caucasian” roles, such as a black Hamlet.). In the meantime, readers can weigh in.


  1. W.T. Effingham
    Posted July 17, 2018 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

    At least our Lawd ‘n Saver still has his fair skin, sandy blond hair, and bright, blue eyes.

  2. Ken Kukec
    Posted July 17, 2018 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

    Clint Eastwood’s WWII trilogy? Are you counting Kelly’s Heroes along with the pair of Iwo Jima movies?

    • Dave
      Posted July 17, 2018 at 2:32 pm | Permalink

      If you include “Where Eagles Dare”, we can make it a quadrilogy!

  3. Liz
    Posted July 17, 2018 at 2:02 pm | Permalink

    “…what is the proper way to behave when casting members of minority groups?”

    I think it’s best to cast someone who will be convincing in the role. That’s probably not the easiest thing to do. Throughout I Am Sam with Sean Penn, I kept thinking of how he is an actor playing someone with intellectual disabilities. Some of his friends were convincing, though. I’m not sure if his friends in the movie were really challenged or not.
    I Am Sam (2001) – Shoe Shopping Scene
    Out Late Trailer

    On a different note, Out Late is a good documentary that I’ve seen about people coming out later in life. One of the women was transgendered and born male. She transitioned later in life.

  4. Ken Kukec
    Posted July 17, 2018 at 2:23 pm | Permalink

    So if someone were to remake Sidney Lumet’s classic Dog Day Afternoon, would they have to cast a bisexual man as the bank-robber played in the original by Al Pacino (a casting decision that would be sure to supply even more grist for the always grinding Hollywood rumor mill) — or would they need two actors, a straight one to play the scene with the straight wife, another, gay one to play opposite the gay wife?

  5. Harrison
    Posted July 17, 2018 at 2:37 pm | Permalink

    The broader lesson for Hollywood is that no good deed goes unpunished, and any attempt at films with progressive themes or messages are at risk of being assaulted for not being progressive enough. Better to put even more money into inoffensive lowest common denominator popcorn fare or potentially even pander to conservatives instead. They may grouse about Hollywood, but in apparent contrast to liberal audiences they at least will consent to being pandered to.

  6. jaxkayaker
    Posted July 17, 2018 at 2:40 pm | Permalink

    The important thing is that a non trans person didn’t steal a part playing a trans person from a real trans person. Mission accomplished!

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted July 17, 2018 at 8:40 pm | Permalink

      Own goal securely scored. Foot firmly shot. Schadenfreude setting to 11.

      “Now this is not a time for Schadenfreude—to call out the transgender community for foolishly insisting that a transgender actor must play a transgender man. That is their right, and I can see some justification for it.”

      Was it the transgender ‘community’ if such exists, or just a few greedy transgender actors? I don’t know.

      ‘That is their right’ – well, they have a free-speech ‘right’ to call for anything they like, up to and including mansions and private jets for every transgender person in the US (I don’t think they’d get it). That does not give their demand any more weight than the opinion of the dumbest Trump supporter.
      (There’s a possible implication in PCC’s sentence that ‘right’ suggests they somehow carry extra weight in that respect – which I would disagree with).

      ‘can see some justification for it’. I can’t. It’s acting. Whatever looks best on the screen. The camera can’t tell a transgender from a ‘straight’ person, but the audience can certainly tell good acting from bad.


  7. Jacques Hausser
    Posted July 17, 2018 at 3:08 pm | Permalink

    To put themselves convincingly in the skin of somebody else is the basis of actors’ skill. I consider somebody like Dustin Hoffman a far better actor than for example the monolithic John Wayne*
    To ask actors to play only the roles fitting their sexual orientation, ethnic origin (Hey, Zorba the Greek was of Irish and Mexican origin*) or, why not, religion, is to deny an actor the possibility to play – to be an actor and not a representative of any human group.
    * Yes, I’m an old guy…

  8. James
    Posted July 17, 2018 at 3:12 pm | Permalink

    The idea that an actor has to be of the same ethnicity, gender, or whatever as the person being portrayed is insane. They’re ACTORS; it’s their job to portray people other than themselves.

    Let’s take this to a moderate extreme: Let’s say there’s a movie made about European settlers and their conflicts with the natives of North America. Which groups get to play which? Can only those of English ancestry play the settlers of Jamestown? Can only natives of the correct tribes play those the settlers encounter?

    Additionally, the concept of race has a temporal component. Go back far enough, and our modern view of race completely falls apart. If we’re going to portray, say, a Mesolithic story, who gets to play the part? What about Star Wars/Trek? What race is Luke Skywalker? (Remember, Vader was voiced by a black man–which is forbidden by race politics, as Vader was white!) Can only French people portray characters in The Time Machine?

    Fantasy is right out, I guess. I mean, unless someone claims elvish ancestry. Not sure what would happen if The Lord of the Rings would get a remake–could only folks with dwarfism play dwarves? How about the hobbits?

    At a certain point you just have to accept that not every role can be played by someone who is that identity. Or you have to abandon the idea of making movies.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted July 17, 2018 at 8:22 pm | Permalink

      Lord of the Rings employed, I believe, many of the extras and stunt actors who had for years been playing every nationality under the sun in Renaissance Pictures long-running ‘Hercules’ and ‘Xena’ TV series – made in Auckland for the US market because NZ production costs were cheaper. (Oh yes, just like LOTR in fact).

      Renpics spent a million dollars a week so were a significant boost to the local economy for 6-7 years. LOTR presumably spent a lot more, but for a shorter period.

      That raises so many issues of cultural identity and financial fairness I defy the PC Police to decide what was ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ about it.


  9. Posted July 17, 2018 at 3:28 pm | Permalink

    I disagree. There are no rules. You can make an asian Einstein just fine. Whether people will appreciate it, is another story.

    Through the lens of art, to hell with any oughts. They can cast a cat to play Hamlet.

    Through the lens of commerce and business: What sells is correct. They can cast Danny Glover as Tom Sawyer and set the adventure in medieval england, where the king is played by a disabled aboriginal woman who greets them in a modern day wheelchair.

    Through the lens of design — between art and commerce, correct is what is consistent with the aims of the design. If the purpose is to bamboozle them, then perhaps it’s better when the king is the modern-day wheelchair, carried by the aboriginal woman. If the design asks for something “safe” then you’d obviously leave the cat away, and set it in Vancouver.

    The result of years of “educate yourself ! DIE CIS SCUM!” is only that well-intentioned people rationalize what possibly could be “problematic”, without having any idea. Nobody seems to know.

    It’s also preposterous to demand that artists somehow check with the Ministry of Tokenism to inquire what the percent of women/muslim/disabled/trans/… in a given medium is in total so that the artist refrains from writing about a black poor lesbian, because that quota has been met this month, but there’s still a slot for single-trans-mother with hearing impairment. This is ridiculous.

  10. drsloan
    Posted July 17, 2018 at 3:50 pm | Permalink

    Actors act. It’s really that simple, IMHO. Imposing rules and restrictions on who can play what kind of role will only lead to a lot of bad casting decisions.

    Spencer Tracy portrayed a Cuban fisherman in “The Old Man and the Sea.” The reason they didn’t cast a Latino is obvious: there were no Latino actors at the time with the star power and professional clout that would, as Jerry pointed out, put butts in the theater seats. Tracy was a major draw at the time. There was no intentional discrimination; it was simple Hollywood calculus.

    I simply do not understand why this point seems to be lost on the social justice warriors. Are they being deliberately obtuse?

  11. J. Quinton
    Posted July 17, 2018 at 4:08 pm | Permalink

    The movie The Danish Girl did not have a transgendered actor play the title role.

  12. Craw
    Posted July 17, 2018 at 4:56 pm | Permalink

    Actually this is exactly the time for schadenfreude. This was the result of the bullying of the columnist who defended Johansson and had her column pulled. Bullies losing is the right time.

    • Posted July 17, 2018 at 7:54 pm | Permalink

      The radical left once again more concerned about being right than being effective.

      How dare Hollywood seek to make money off a movie, when they could instead jump through all our ally hoops?!@#%!

      Congratulations, now no one will watch your stupid movie about your trans role model.

      • Ken Kukec
        Posted July 17, 2018 at 8:04 pm | Permalink

        What makes you think it would’ve been a stupid movie?

        • Posted July 17, 2018 at 8:07 pm | Permalink

          Just a turn of phrase, Ken.

        • Posted July 17, 2018 at 8:09 pm | Permalink

          cf. Heather Nova, “Sugar”:

          And when you got me pregnant I stopped the party and I stopped the typewriter and I stopped your dumb ball game in the red barn

  13. Doug
    Posted July 17, 2018 at 5:15 pm | Permalink

    Could a trans actress such as Laverne Cox play a cis woman? Could she, for instance, play a pregnant woman? That’s someone else’s lived experience that she has no first-hand experience of.

    • Posted July 19, 2018 at 3:08 am | Permalink

      No, but intersectionalists assert that it’s a cis people’s world so she has a cis person’s lived experience as well.

  14. max blancke
    Posted July 17, 2018 at 6:28 pm | Permalink

    I am pretty sure that this is an instance of people not realizing that submitting to one set of demands from the identity politics people only emboldens them to make greater and more absurd demands.
    Their goal is not whatever the controversy is about. Their goal is obtaining acts of submission.
    Some of the dialog about this film consists of people insisting that SJ continue to finance the film, even after withdrawing from acting in it.

    • Posted July 17, 2018 at 7:56 pm | Permalink

      We’re like this far from demands for cis reparations.

      • Craw
        Posted July 17, 2018 at 9:56 pm | Permalink

        Is that a Trump penis joke?

        • Ken Kukec
          Posted July 18, 2018 at 10:17 am | Permalink

          The Donald assured us during the campaign that there’s “no problem down there.” He would never lie about a thing like that.

  15. infiniteimprobabilit
    Posted July 17, 2018 at 8:09 pm | Permalink

    “As I wrote before, there are times when gender and ethnic identity really does matter: we wouldn’t want to see an Asian Albert Einstein, as that simply prevents us from suspending disbelief. And it would be crazy for Clint Eastwood to have cast a bunch of Caucasian men as Japanese soldiers in his WWII trilogy.”

    I don’t think it’s a hard-and-fast thing, even though I have a strong preference for authenticity where it matters.

    But what about black Hamlet? Or more relevantly, Ben Kingsley as Gandhi? (Kingsley was only half-‘Indian’, his father was born in Kenya of Indian descent. I seem to remember hearing some snark about that).

    Since one of Clint’s movies was ‘all about’ Japanese soldiers, I agree that authenticity dictated that he use Japanese actors as far as possible.

    On the other hand, when Renaissance Pictures were making the ‘Hercules’ and ‘Xena’ TV series in New Zealand, the same pool of white, NZ Maori and Pacific Islander actors and stunties made up the extras in almost every setting from ancient Britain to Greece to Siberia to Japan and everywhere in between. And quite adequately for the purpose, since the story was concentrated on the leads and usually a couple of imported supporting actors, so the ethnicity of the extras was not a distraction. Had the producers been required to be ‘ethnically authentic’ most of the episodes could not have been made, certainly not within budget.


    • Posted July 18, 2018 at 11:27 am | Permalink

      Those shows were also not meant to be historical dramas, either.

  16. Deni Pisani
    Posted July 17, 2018 at 8:30 pm | Permalink

    Clear case of Johansson claiming freedom to act when in fact it is ‘hate acting’.

    And if the lines are unclear (ha, pun!), then I am just the person to tell you just when and where hate acting starts and ends.

    These right wingers using their ‘actors can play anything’ trope as a cover for hate acting.

    And of course a transgender person CAN play a cis person… Hate acting ONLY occurs when acting privelege + power combine. Thus, a transgender person can NEVER trigger this, and can thus play any role – cis, race, religion, small furry animal…whatever.

    Please don’t acuse me of cis-phobia.
    (By the way, if a trans person DOES get Johansson’s role, AND it’s a flop…I think we can safely blame the pervasive global transphobia for this outcome, rather than any specific acting paucity…clearly so, because the Oscar will be given.

    Of course, I could be misspeaking.
    Maybe when I said ‘it IS hate acting’ I meant to say ‘it ISN’T hate acting’.
    Apparently I can do that.
    So my post can mean anything.


  17. Graham
    Posted July 17, 2018 at 8:50 pm | Permalink

    As I mentioned in the previous discussion of this, the whole notion that you need an actor of the correct orientation/gender combination to play a role is functionally identical to requiring an author of fiction who has written a book about a murder to have killed someone so they can ‘authentically’ describe the killer.

  18. John Black
    Posted July 17, 2018 at 10:54 pm | Permalink

    What happens if/when they find a suitable trans actor to star in this flick, but one who hasn’t owned any prostitution shops? Can the pimps of the world demand that an ex-pimp be cast in the role? I mean, can you really just appropriate the lived experience of such people so callously?

    …and down the rabbit hole we go…

  19. Posted July 17, 2018 at 11:24 pm | Permalink

    Opera is filled with problematic representations. Some people just do not look the part, but some performers can make you forget the waist..their voices can carry the weight of disbelief away.

  20. Filippo
    Posted July 17, 2018 at 11:40 pm | Permalink

    “(There is, of course, no problem with casting minorities in “Caucasian” roles, such as a black Hamlet.)”

    I contemplate the reactions to a non-black playing Othello.

    • Filippo
      Posted July 17, 2018 at 11:43 pm | Permalink

      I saw “Othello” at the Washington (DC) Shakespeare Company (IIRC the company’s official name.) The title role was played by a gentleman of Pakistani heritage, IIRC. Don’t recall hearing of any kerfuffle about it.

    • Posted July 18, 2018 at 5:36 am | Permalink

      I’ve seen Orson Welles’ version of Othello, for which he blacked up, although the effect is somewhat muted by the film being in black and white.

      Laurence Olivier also had a crack at it (in colour), but I haven’t seen that version.

      On a slight variation, Frances de La Tour has done Hamlet.

  21. Deni Pisani
    Posted July 18, 2018 at 12:23 am | Permalink

    Also, Hamilton (the musical) must be banned.
    I must have dreamed the notion that it was lauded for allowing racial diversity in the roles.
    Oh wait, putting white guys out of a role is fine.
    Scarlett – well, she’s white, but as we go down the oppression ladder, she’s also a women – problemo.
    In this context, even if she was a black woman, still higher on the ladder than a trans person.
    Etc etc.

    Just for outrage sake: if the film is about transition, should a non-trans person play the role pre-op, and then a trans-person post-op?

    Now that is deliberately simplistic, with shades of truth.

    If I was trans, I’m sure I could empathise with some feeling that something is not right. But I would not change my basic thoughts that there should be equality in auditioning (with appropriate controls to ensure it is fair and meaningful – not tokenistic), but I would not be outraged in a fair choice based on box-office potential, acting skill, etc etc.

    But I cannot say that and know that because I am not trans. But that means no one should speak for me either, and what I feel.
    (Apparently, as a white guy, everything about me is known. Except I fear walking across a quiet park at night alone, I was racially bullied as a child (Italian parents, but still ‘white’), I am very sensitive and emotional – but cast as a brute just because I look like a white guy – so much for the ‘spectrum’ of gender – that’s for others apparently, not for me…)

    Hmmm – sorry…this post got away from me…

    • Posted July 18, 2018 at 5:41 am | Permalink

      Why has ’empathise’ taken over from ‘sympathise’?

  22. Posted July 18, 2018 at 5:31 am | Permalink

    Is the point of acting to ‘act’ – pretend you are someone that you are not in order to portray a character or story? Nowadays black actors are sometimes given roles in historical dramas where one might not have expected to see a black person – but does that matter? Is it just reflecting society today rather than the ‘historical’ truth?

  23. Posted July 18, 2018 at 5:40 am | Permalink

    The fictional character James Bond is a privileged white guy. Does this mean we can now expect people to stop suggesting black actors to be the next one?

  24. Bob
    Posted July 18, 2018 at 8:29 am | Permalink

    Where was the outrage over the 1983 film “The Year of Living Dangerously?”

    The film stars Mel Gibson as Australian journalist Guy Hamilton, and Sigourney Weaver as British Embassy officer Jill Bryant.

    Linda Hunt was cast as the male dwarf Billy Kwan, Hamilton’s local photographer contact, a role for which Hunt won the 1983 Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress.

    Linda Hunt cost a male dwarf an opportunity.

    The Year of Living Dangerously is still one of my favorites.

  25. Posted July 18, 2018 at 8:52 am | Permalink

    Shoot Your Mouth Off Films have been making stuff using actors with disabilites and learning difficulties for years.
    E.g Stranger Hero which is (I think) the first action series to star someone with Down Syndrome

    Good luck getting this sort of thing to the mainstream of course (though even on their budgets it still has better fight scenes than Iron Fist ever managed)

    All that said: There is a thing called acting.

    Having someone with Down Syndrome play someone with Down syndrome makes a lot of sense–there is a convincing look to convey.
    Having a transgendered person play someone trans may or may not make sense. A lot depends on the ability to convincingly play the role,not actually be the person.

    How many action stars do their own stunts? A few (Cruise, Reeves, Yeoh, Chan) but most don’t. And watch someone like Gina Carano (who can actually fight in reality) try acting (such as in Haywire). She can’t. Alas. Much as we all wanted her to be able to.

    A lot of actors don’t even provide their own bodies–using body doubles or morphing for sex scenes. So–why the fetish to have the role played by someone who has one feature of the character but (almost certainly) not others? I think some folk have a tough time telling fantasy from reality. Which is a thing they might want to have a think about

    (That said-David Carradine totally stole the Kung Fu “grasshopper” role from Bruce Lee–godammit!)

  26. Posted July 18, 2018 at 8:59 am | Permalink

    I’m an old school lefty from the 60’s. In those days we honoured everyone who respected another’s human rights. It seems to me today’s regressive left has strict rules about what and who is OK. If one does not fit into one of their narrowly defined categories there will be blood. To me, that is the antithesis of respecting people for who they are and of respecting everyone’s human rights.

    Scarlett Johansson would do well to take a stand against these people who want to define who can do what and when. The regressive left is really an alternate hard right conservative group that imposes their views onto everyone else by saying “This is what we set up and we demand you fit into it. “ The regressive left is just totalitarianism by a different name.

  27. Posted July 18, 2018 at 11:29 am | Permalink

    I think an “Asian Einstein” is a bit different because we’re dealing with a historical character.

    Another important case is don’t *deliberately* exclude, as seems to have happened with “Hollywood Indians” (native americans) for a while.

    • James
      Posted July 18, 2018 at 2:06 pm | Permalink

      I think that’s the key. If ethnicity, sex, or some other characteristic is important to a role, looking for actors/actresses with that trait makes sense. But “makes sense” and “is an absolute requirement and we will destroy your movie if you violate it” are two different worlds.

      There’s a middle ground between huga-muga Indians and the current push for a Morality Police.

  28. Posted July 18, 2018 at 11:29 am | Permalink

    Dwayne (ex “The Rock”) Johnson has been criticised for “taking a role from a disabled person”. He plays an amputee in his latest movie. But the protestors are missing one of the greatest injustices ever done int he name of ableism. I refer, of course, to the role of Tarzan

    • RPGNo1
      Posted July 18, 2018 at 12:01 pm | Permalink

      Tom Cruise played a paralyzed war veteran in “Born on the Fourth of July”.
      I am waiting for the protests, that any screening of the film should be banned, as Cruise “stole” the role from a disabled actor.

      • Doug
        Posted July 18, 2018 at 2:41 pm | Permalink

        And Daniel-Day Lewis in “My Left Foot,” John Hurt in “The Elephant Man,” Tom Hanks [mentally challenged]and Gary Sinise [amputee] in “Forrest Gump,” Patty Duke in “The Miracle Worker,” Jamie Foxx in “Ray” . . .

        • RPGNo1
          Posted July 19, 2018 at 10:11 am | Permalink

          Oh yes, so many fantastic films. 🙂
          And so many great actress and actors, who are not not disabled, paralyzed, mentally handicapped etc.

          • Martin Levin
            Posted July 22, 2018 at 8:49 am | Permalink

            I’m pretty sure Bela Lugosi and Christopher Lee weren’t real vampires.

      • Posted July 19, 2018 at 11:34 am | Permalink

        I was just a kid, so my memory may be wrong, but I seem to remember people *did* complain about BotFoJ.

      • Posted August 7, 2018 at 8:01 am | Permalink

        I’m offended that Wolverine–a character that is canonically 5’3″ tall and ugly–has been stolen by a tall good-looking actor in the Marvel franchise…

  29. Damien
    Posted July 18, 2018 at 4:49 pm | Permalink

    Quick fix : Scarlett Johansson could declare herself, as of today, a FtoM transgender person.

    Who would be so heartless as to challenge that ?

  30. Florent
    Posted July 20, 2018 at 1:32 am | Permalink

    “There’s an article here waiting to be written: what is the proper way to behave when casting members of minority groups? (There is, of course, no problem with casting minorities in “Caucasian” roles, such as a black Hamlet.).”

    Why would it be no problem ?

    • Posted July 20, 2018 at 6:51 pm | Permalink

      Personally, I have had a problem with the black Achilles and Zeus broadcasted by the once-respectable BBC.

  31. Posted July 20, 2018 at 6:49 pm | Permalink

    Just about two hours ago, I watched on TV Caster Semenya blow away a bunch of silly women who seemed not to realize that they belonged in the kitchen. I had read a lot about Semenya on this site but had never seen him. People are right that a picture is worth a thousand words. I hate so much to be right in such cases – namely, that the weapon-grade political correctness accumulating around gender disorders will destroy women’s sport and many other things women had.
    As a lowly cis woman, I am indulging now in Schadenfreude.

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