A couple weeks ago Lainey wrote about Scarlett Johansson’s legendarily awful response to criticism after she was cast as transman Dante “Tex” Gill in the biopic Rub & Tug. Please revisit this PR nightmare that they are probably already teaching in Publicity 101. (Can you imagine the face of the poor person who had to call that into Bustle? Is Scarlett Johansson actually repped by PubLIZity?) However, on Friday, news broke that ScarJo has now dropped out of Rub & Tug. That has, of course, created backlash to the backlash because shouldn’t actors be able to play any role? Isn’t that the whole point of acting? Ideally yes, but let’s not pretend like there are equal opportunities for trans actors, a point made by Transparent actress Trace Lysette:
Oh word?? So you can continue to play us but we can’t play y’all? Hollywood is so fucked... I wouldn’t be as upset if I was getting in the same rooms as Jennifer Lawrence and Scarlett for cis roles, but we know that’s not the case. A mess. https://t.co/s8gBlBI1Sw— Trace Lysette (@tracelysette) July 4, 2018
In a perfect world, anyone could play any role because everyone would have equal opportunities. But we don’t live in that world yet, we’re still living in the M&M analogy where there is one bowl overflowing with M&Ms and one bowl with only a few M&Ms. This isn’t even the conversation I want to have because it is obvious we’re still struggling to create opportunities for marginalized communities and they should be supported and empowered to tell their own stories and not be used as trophy bait for actors who can literally play any other role on the table.
The conversation I want to have is about producing. Because ScarJo wasn’t just going to star in Rub & Tug, she was also one of the producers. In her second statement, this time provided to Out, she says in part, “My production company, These Pictures, actively pursues projects that both entertain and push boundaries. We look forward to working with every community to bring these most poignant and important stories to audiences worldwide.” But there is no follow-up on whether or not she intends to be involved with the project in a different capacity.
The obligatory argument is that world-famous Scarlett Johansson has more box office value than any trans performer, and that without a marquee name, the movie won’t get made. That used to be true but then the Movie Star went the way of the dodo and that sh*t just doesn’t matter as much anymore. But even if ScarJo withdraws from playing Gill, she could still be in the movie. If her name is THAT important, if the financiers won’t back it without her, then she could play, say, one of the sex workers who worked for Gill. There’s got to be another role she could take, albeit supporting, that would keep her name above the title. But apparently that rather obvious compromise didn’t occur to anyone, or if it did, well, it didn’t pan out which leads to unflattering conclusions.
And even if she’s not IN the movie, ScarJo could still keep her name on as a producer. She could still lend the story her support. Maybe it wouldn’t get made for as much as initially agreed upon (reportedly over $30 million), but if she really cares that much about “working with every community” to “bring important stories to audiences”, there are ways she can do that besides playing Gill. But is she? No one knows. There has been no clarification or statement of intent to indicate whether or not ScarJo will support this project, or if she just stone cold quit because everyone called her out. Everyone is applauding her for doing the right thing by vacating the role, but the project is in limbo and no one is asking if she intends to continue to support it with someone else as the lead. Is Scarlett Johansson still producing Rub & Tug? Or did she take ALL her toys and go home? And how much should we be applauding her if she did?