This story has been UPDATED with a statement from Scarlett Johansson.
Black Widow star Scarlett Johansson dropped out of playing a trans man in the film Rub & Tug last summer after the announcement of her casting was met with outcry from the trans community and allies. In a recent interview with As If magazine, Johansson doubled down on her assertion that because she’s an artist she should be allowed to play any part she likes, although she has sent a statement via a representative that the quotes were taken out of context for "clickbait."
“As an actor, I should be allowed to play any person, or any tree, or any animal because that is my job and the requirements of my job,” Johansson said in As If, according to the Daily Mail.
“I feel like it’s a trend in my business and it needs to happen for various social reasons, yet there are times it does get uncomfortable when it affects the art because I feel art should be free of restrictions,” she continued.
“I think society would be more connected if we just allowed others to have their own feelings and not expect everyone to feel the way we do.”
Johansson now says that her intent was mischaracterized and has clarified her meaning in a statement sent to The Advocate:
"An interview that was recently published has been edited for clickbait and is widely taken out of context. The question I was answering in my conversation with the contemporary artist, David Salle, was about the confrontation between political correctness and art. I personally feel that, in an ideal world, any actor should be able to play anybody and Art, in all forms, should be immune to political correctness."
"That is the point I was making, albeit didn't come across that way. I recognize that in reality, there is a widespread discrepancy amongst my industry that favors Caucasian, cisgendered actors and that not every actor has been given the same opportunities that I have been privileged to. I continue to support, and always have, diversity in every industry and will continue to fight for projects where everyone is included."
The backlash from trans activists and allies was fierce in the wake of Johansson’s landing the role Dante "Tex" Gill, a trans man who ran massage parlors and prostitution rings in ’70s-era Pittsburgh, in Rub & Tug from director Rupert Sanders. And that was not the first time a Sanders project involving Johansson stirred controversy. Previously, she played an Asian woman in his movie Ghost in the Shell.
Responding to the outrage from trans actresses including Jamie Clayton, Trace Lysette, and Jen Richards last year, Johansson initially defended her decision to play Gill. When faced with criticism for agreeing to play trans, Johansson, referring to cisgender actors whose performances in trans role have been roundly praised, said through her representative, "Tell them that they can be directed to Jeffrey Tambor, Jared Leto, and Felicity Huffman's reps for comment.”
Eventually, Johansson dropped out of the role, giving an exclusive statement to The Advocate’s sibling publication Out magazine:
"In light of recent ethical questions raised surrounding my casting as Dante Tex Gill, I have decided to respectfully withdraw my participation in the project, Our cultural understanding of transgender people continues to advance, and I’ve learned a lot from the community since making my first statement about my casting and realize it was insensitive.
"I would have loved the opportunity to bring Dante’s story and transition to life, I understand why many feel he should be portrayed by a transgender person, and I am thankful that this casting debate, albeit controversial, has sparked a larger conversation about diversity and representation in film," she continued, "I believe that all artists should be considered equally and fairly. 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."