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Scarlett Johansson casting in a transgender role sparks debate on Twitter

Scarlett Johannson has been cast as a transgender

Scarlett Johannson has been cast as a transgender character in the mob drama "Rub & Tug." Credit: AFP/Getty Images/Angela Weiss

Scarlett Johansson’s casting as a transgender character in an upcoming film has sparked controversy over what some call the gender equivalent of whitewashing, with comedian Jon Lovitz and activist and #OscarsSoWhite creator April Reign debating the issue on Twitter.

“Scarlett Johansson received considerable backlash for Ghost in the Shell, when she played a whitewashed Asian character. The movie tanked,” Reign initially tweeted on Tuesday. “Undeterred, she has teamed up WITH THE SAME DIRECTOR to play a trans male character in Rub & Tug,” an upcoming crime drama about massage parlor owner Dante “Tex” Gill, who was born Lois Jean Gill but identified as a man.

Reign noted in the tweet that a representative for Johansson had responded to critics of the role’s announcement Monday by telling in a statement, “Tell them that they can be directed to Jeffrey Tambor, Jared Leto and Felicity Huffman’s reps for comment.” Those non-trans actors played trans characters in “Transparent,” “Dallas Buyers Club” and “Transamerica,” respectively.

“It’s a business,” Lovitz responded Thursday in a tweet to Reign. “The movie wouldn’t get financed, otherwise. Plus, the director has a vision of his film. I respectfully disagree with you. She didn’t take an opportunity away from anyone. She created an opportunity, a job, an acting career, since she’s 8 years old, for herself.”

“I understand it’s a business,” Reign replied in a tweet. “Her name would get it financed. As producer, she could use her platform to cast trans actors who don’t often get what could be a high profile opportunity. Vision will only be enhanced by someone who can bring their personal experience to the role.”

Others who objected to what critics call “ciswashing” or “transface,” analogous to blackface, include transgender “Transparent” star Trace Lysette, who had accused Tambor of sexual harassment last year. “Oh word??” she tweeted Tuesday. “So you can continue to play us but we can’t play y’all? ... 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.”

On Wednesday, Lysette tweeted that in response to her criticism of Johansson’s casting, she had received “death threats for being trans and speaking my mind... nothing new.”

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