Pop Culture Fix: Scarlett Johansson Cast as Trans Man, Defends This Very Bad Decision Very Badly

It’s 4th of July week right in the middle of the week and that means the news cycle is dead, which also means it was the worst possible time for Scarlett Johansson to announce she’s playing a trans man in a new movie and then lash out at the backlash in the worst possible way. It started when The Hollywood Reporter broke the news that ScarJo would be teaming up again with Ghost in the Shell director Rupert Sanders for a film called Rub and Tug, “a drama about a real-life transgender massage parlor owner.” The LGBTQ community was not happy about the announcement, obviously, and when Bustle reached out to Johansson’s agent for comment, she said, “Tell them that they can be directed to Jeffrey Tambor, Jared Leto, and Felicity Huffman’s reps for comment.” Invoking Jeffrey Tambor as your defense at this moment in time is some kind of something.

Jen Richards has repeatedly, eloquently laid out the arguments for why hiring cis people to play trans roles is harmful to trans people; she re-upped her most popular Twitter thread on it yesterday.


It’s infuriating and honestly kind of unbelievable that we’re still having this conversation!

Here’s what else on this slim news week:

Over at Paper: Janet Mock on why Pose is so “deeply revolutionary.” 

Syd’s coming back to One Day at a Time!

Screencrush talked to Alexandra Billings, Trace Lysette, Alexander Gray on what it’s like to be a trans actor in Hollywood.

Riverdale‘s Ashleigh Murray and The Flash’s Candice Patton chatted with Shadow and Act about the racist reactions they’ve received because of their characters.

Lauren German, who played Buried Gay Leslie Shay on Chicago Fire feels the same way about Kate McGrath that you do.

Wynonna Earp will be at San Diego Comic-Con again this year.

Vulture wants to know where all the celebrities are in The Handmaid’s Tale?

Mara Wilson knows why lesbians love Matilda.

Claws has been renewed for a third season!

Shadow and Act breaks down the diversity stats from the latest Nielsen study.

55 essential queer horror films. (I’ll have to take your word for it.)

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Heather Hogan

Heather Hogan is an Autostraddle senior editor who lives in New York City with her wife, Stacy, and their cackle of rescued pets. She's a member of the Television Critics Association, GALECA: The Society of LGBTQ Entertainment Critics, and a Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer critic. You can also find her on Twitter and Instagram.

Heather has written 1718 articles for us.


  1. scarjo is obnoxious and should not have gone yellowface in ghost in the shell, but it’s not certain that tex gill was a trans man and this would be akin to demanding that, idk, a man play leslie feinberg or else it’s transphobia, i.e. it’s simplifying something that seems way more complex in real life. (yeah, tex apparently preferred “mr.” and there are second-hand reports that they “preferred to be considered a man”; on the other hand, tex died as recently as 2003, and although it doesn’t always prove something bc family can be jerks, the actual obituary from the family and memorial posts from friends/family use she/her pronouns, daughter, etc). all the media unequivocally calling tex a trans man could benefit from a bit more nuance and understanding of lesbian history (and its intersection with trans men, ofc), tbh.

    • Right but the film is definitely portraying Tex as a trans man, which means it will be a cis woman playing a trans man, regardless of the historical accuracy of Tex’s gender.

      • that’s fair then! i didn’t realize that. i have seen more than a few articles say tex as historically, definitely a trans man, and maybe they just aren’t making the differentiation like they should.

      • Actually it’s not, here is the official summary of the film.

        “Rub & Tug” is based on the life of 1970’s Pittsburgh crime kingpin Jean Marie Gill, a woman who masqueraded as a man in order to run a massage parlor and prostitution business. She also ran a an anabolic steroids ring for NFL team the Pittsburgh Steelers, and used her connections in the gay community to circumvent the mob. The film will also focus on Gill’s fiery romance with her girlfriend Cynthia.

        Scarlett Johansson is not playing a trans character in the movie and has not been cast as a trans man and has done nothing wrong (this time).

    • That’s very interesting but Johansson didn’t point to the complicated nature of this person’s gender identity, she cited cis actors playing trans characters to justify herself.

    • Ten why did his obit mention how he was insisting to be identified as a man and called Mr?

  2. The ScarJo news has been very infurationg and the cis people(some who are lgbtq) on the site on vist daily have really been awful. One person was like if Neil Patrick Harris can play a straight man, why can’t a Scar play a man? It’s not the same? Like just look at how well of a show Pose is or if you ignore that it’s an awful cis man playing Maura, Transparent is. Why, because it’s stories about the community made by the community, and for the most part staring the community.

  3. Look, here‘s an idea:
    Someone cast Lauren German on Supergirl.
    Either as Lena‘s ex from boarding school, college, or as her scientific assistant who, through an accident during an experiment develops superpowers and/or a crush on Ms.Luthor. Or as anything really.
    This admiration/crush thing totallly worked on Brooklyn 99, why not here?

  4. I read Jen Richards arguments with much interest and while they were compelling for the most part the last part of the arguments was rather troubling to me. That anyone playing a role in a story actually CAUSES acts of violence! Now I don’t want to to make light of the many tragic cases that Jen describes because that do happen with depressing frequency, but I have a problem with the idea that works of fiction make it happen. Whither it’s blaming rap music for cop killings or pornography for rape, it always feels tragically misplaced.

    No work of media good or bad has even been proved to actually make someone violent bigoted if they aren’t that way to begin with. That’s not were prejudice or violent tendencies start. The most these works and performances could be blamed for is reinforcing preexisting outlooks and attitudes, but it can’t decide what someone does with it. They make the choice. It same flawed logic that’s behind the notice positive LGBT portrays with make you want to “try it out.”

    Saying the people will die because of any writing or acting in my mind takes the blame away from the real culprits and potentially legitimizes a lame temporary insanity defense before the courts (or in this case quite possible a trans-panic defense). Most of Jen’s criticism makes scenes and I don’t doubt she’s coming from a real place of sadness from first person experiences I could never have myself, but claiming to know theirs a casual cause and effect between casting and violence is questionable at beast.

    • Maybe leave the analysis to someone who has experienced the transgressions this involves?

    • It’s naive to assume that the way trans people are represented in media doesn’t reenforce the way people see trans people in real life. Positive representations in media serve to humanize, and likewise poor casting choices can reenforce broad cultural misunderstandings about what it means to be transgender. Of course it’s not likely that someone watches one movie and then goes out and commits an act of violence; Like all violence born of bigotry, it exists within a larger cultural context.

      Jen Richards’ point about violence is how the way media influences the cultural context in ways that promote anti-trans violence.

      The choice in particular of casting a cis woman in the role of a trans man just reenforces that trans men are “really women”. For the large majority of misinformed and uninformed people, who don’t know trans people, and who aren’t affected by the misinformation, it’s easy for this to reenforce the idea.

      • All very true. I suppose it was the lack of cultural context in Jen Richards posts that left me puzzled and troubled as to the exact implications of her argument. Which is admittedly hard to present in a forum as limited as twitter. Yes it is the “influence of implied messages” that lies at the heart of any issue of cultural misrepresentation.

        • It’s deep in the thread, but here’s a video that Jen made re: the casting of Matt Bomer as a transwoman in the film “Anything.” She breaks down her explanation more and illuminates some of the backstory behind her audition for a role in “Anything” (not Matt Bomer’s part) and the conversation she had at the time with the casting director:


    • Frak, actually a lot of people care, you just never bothered to listen until now.

    • I love whenever anyone says “oh who cares” to an issue they’re barley familiar with. It’s like their saying “if it doesn’t concern me, than it shouldn’t concern anyone else.” So you become offended that other people are offended at a thing that dodsn’t offended you.

  5. Lauren German’s massive, shameless crush on Katie McGrath is my favorite thing right now

  6. Johansson is extremely shallow and self interested and that’s been clear literally for years now if anyone was paying attention. She was a global ambassador for OxFam once and she took an endorsement deal for SodaStream. OxFam told her that was in conflict with her position since SodaStream manufactured their product on illegally occupied Palestinian lands. So what did she do? She dropped the ambassadorship, not the endorsement, of course! Never mind the fact that she was already a millionaire. Gotta get every last cent! Can’t worry about trivial things like war crimes and whatnot.

    • I feel like the one reason why i didn’t crush on Miss Honey then is because I had a real life Miss Honey to crush on instead (she taught me about her love of wolves and witches and fiction and I STILL LOVE HER TO BITS years later).

  7. Wow, does she have a goal of playing every minority/member of a marginalized community she shouldn’t, in a row?

  8. It just occurred to me ScarJo referenced Jeffery as Maura, a character actually written by an lgbtq person about their lgbtq moppa. Did she forget Jeffrey Emmy speech where he essentially said he wants to be the last cis(man) actor playing trans(woman)? Or the fact he got fired for sexual harassment?

  9. Wow, that THR link should have come with “do not read comments” alert. I usually don’t but that article was awfully short

  10. – I think another angle to the Matilda thing is how she discovers this new thing about herself that’s thrilling and powerful but she has to keep it a secret

    – SYD!!! <3

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