A couple of years ago, Scarlett Johansson waded (again) into the waters of appropriation, intending to star in the movie Rub & Tug in the role of a trans man, Tex Gill, who ran a massage parlor empire in Pennsylvania in the 1970s (Tex Gill’s life sounds so cinematic). She was rightly called out for (again) taking on a role from an underrepresented and marginalized community, and she handled her response poorly. She ultimately backed out of the role, but I wondered at the time if she would remain a producer on the project, and perhaps support a trans man in the role as a way of offering true allyship and support for the community she harmed. Rub & Tug was to be the first credit of These Pictures, ScarJo’s production company. I pointed out that she could stay on board in a supporting role, and see through the production, or she could abandon the project since she wouldn’t be the star. Well, Rub & Tug has been revived, and neither ScarJo nor her production company are anywhere to be seen.
Rub & Tug will now be a television series, produced by New Regency and written by Our Lady J, a classical pianist and television writer/producer known for Transparent and Pose. Casting is TBD, but the producers are committed to casting a trans actor as Gill. Ultimately, everything has worked out for Rub & Tug, and by extension Our Lady J, who gets another great project under her belt. But it sure does look like ScarJo tossed all the toys out of her pram when this project no longer served her purposes. As she pointed out in her snappish response to the initial backlash, cisgender actors playing trans roles has often resulted in awards (see also: Eddie Redmayne, Jeffrey Tambor, Jared Leto, Hilary Swank, Felicity Huffman). This gives the impression that Johansson thought Rub & Tug was a potential Oscar ticket, and when she could no longer play the “flashy” trans lead, she dumped the whole thing. As far as I can tell, New Regency, who was backing her production company two years ago, is now fully in control of the project and These Pictures is no longer involved. I wonder if anyone will dare ask Johansson about her involvement in the new, television version of the project?
ScarJo aside, I am glad Rub & Tug will finally see the light of day, and I am glad the new approach centers trans creators and actors. It’s really not THAT hard to do. The talent is there, it just takes someone willing to support that talent and give them an opportunity. And that’s really what this story has always been about: opportunities, and who gets them. ScarJo operated like she should have every opportunity to play any kind of character, and in an ideal world, sure, anyone could play anything. But we don’t live in an ideal world, we live in a world where marginalized communities still struggle to tell their own stories. In order to build that ideal world, those with literally all of the privilege need to use that privilege to amplify marginalized voices. That’s the part Johansson couldn’t seem to grasp. In the end, though, Tex Gill’s story will be told, and it will be his community leading the way.